As a traveler, one of my favorite things to do upon reaching a new destination is to explore the local market.
The market, after all, is a focal meeting point. Ladies of old have long come together at the local market. It is a meeting point to exchange recipes, gossip, and goods. A market also tells you a lot about the local customs. It is mostly made up of women or men? Are the people dressed up or in their work clothes? Are there international, brand name items available, or is everything foreign to the visitor?
Markets are a special place for cultural observation. You can learn a lot about a people by just watching them as they shop, talking to them as you buy, and attempting to do as they do. You can also learn a lot about yourself in the process! I suspect this is one of the reasons why travelers enjoy markets so much.
Unfortunately, several “local” markets no longer cater to their locals. The Sunday night Chiang Mai market comes to mind. I was very excited to visit this popular market on my first trip to northern Thailand. What I found was street after street and stall after stall of knick knacks made for tourists. The market is one big shopping experience for the tourists in Chiang Mai, but you will not find a local Thai buying their own groceries, kitchen supplies, or clothes there. It is not a locals market.
At the Mercado Miguel Hidalgo in Tijuana, I was very happy to discover that it has retained its strong local culture. This is not a market for the tourist. This is a market for the local people. It is popular and well known, and I have no doubt that tourists come to visit and tour the market. However, on the day that we went, there were no obvious tourists around. We walked amidst the noise and choreographed chaos of local sellers and buyers. Tijuanenses, the residents of Tijuana, were going about their day purchasing fruits, candies, the best tamales in town, or a piñata for an upcoming birthday party.
As a cultural experience, I highly recommend a visit to Mercado Hidalgo. As a food source, our lunch, dessert, and dinner there were amazing. There are several stalls that sell the local, Mexican candy. Made out of goats milk or dried fruit, Mexican candy is sweet without added refined sugars. Popsicles are also made out of fresh fruit in Mexico and readily available at the local markets. Of course, you can also opt for saladitos or dried apricot in orange sauce.
Lunch at Mercado Hidalgo is full of possibilities. There are countless taco stalls, burrito stands, and restaurants. We chose to sit down and enjoy lunch at “El Rincon del Oso”. As their menu suggests, the house specialty is Birria. What is Birria?, you ask. Birria is a traditional Mexican stew, usually spicy, made from goat meat. It can also be prepared with beef or mutton or chicken, but the dish is best when the original recipe is followed. It is delicious!
This pipping hot stew is the perfect lunch on a cold day and certainly gives you the energy to continue with your shopping. This is Birria:
My kiddo is obsessed with quesadillas. Yes, quesadillas. She has one for dinner at least five nights a week. Obsessed. The Quesadillas with carne were delicious and she ended up ordering a second one. We can vouch for their yummy cheese quesadillas. And, as a bonus, if you really like the special house cheese they use, its also for sale!
We were completely stuffed after lunch, but who can walk around and not eat dessert? Look at all the decadent options! Pilonsillo? Chocolate covered churros? Frozen inspired marshmallow doll? Ah, the choices…
And after a day of walking around and enjoying the local market who really wants to go home and cook? Not me! So we bought some of the best tamales in town at “Tamales Munoz” (chicken in salsa verde to be precise), fresh coconut juice and some fresh coconut meat with lime, salt, and chilli powder. OMG!!!
What other fun things did you see at Mercado Hidalgo? Well, take a look at just some of my favorite observations of the day… and then get yourself down to Tijuana and explore this authentic local market for yourself!