Last time I discussed food I showed you how far your money could go if you shopped at Antigua Guatemala’s Mercado (Farmers’ Market). Now I want to give you a virtual tour of what it looks like and what you can purchase there. You’ll be surprised (or scared!) at what “delicacies” you may be able to find.
El Mercado in Antigua Guatemala is enormous and easy to find, though at first, the entrance may not be visible. It’s located behind Alameda Santa Lucia, a relatively busy road, on the side away from the city. There are unmarked alleyways with stalls selling all sorts of items: clothes, home furnishings, DVDs, etc.
One of the Mercado’s many entrances
Once you get past those stalls, you’ll get to the entrance of the main building housing the bulk of the stores and permanent structures built from cement-block.
The most “official” of all entrances
The market is open for business on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. You can find a smattering of stalls open on off days, though those days are where major cleaning operations and unloading of fresh produce occurs.
I’ve mentioned before that the market is very clean and free of the typical rotten-food odor you can catch a whiff of at other farmer’s markets. I’m guessing cleanliness of the market is strictly enforced, based on the big sign stating (translation):
“It is strictly prohibited to urinate and defecate in this sector.”
I’m usually not in favor of applying silly little rules, but this one I’m glad is in place.
“It is strictly prohibited to urinate and defecate in this sector.” Just this sector???
There’s a couple of sections to the market. One section is devoted to food, and in the other half, you can find clothes, florists, bookstores, jewelers, bonsai tree sellers, and all other sorts of knick-knacks. The produce section sticks more closely to the 3-day schedule while the hard goods section is usually open all week.
Most sellers at the Mercado are Maya
Beans and corn are a staple of Guatemalan diet, and the variety available is not surprising.
A large variety of legumes
There are many different fruits here that are not easy to obtain in the USA. Tamarind (left in the pic) is not common in its whole fruit form in the states, although ethnic stores are likely to carry bottled tamarind-based juices and sweets.
Tamarind fruit and other seeds
Pacaya (left, green) is an edible flower and very common as it is a traditional Easter Week dish. It is eaten sauteed with egg fritters and tomato sauce. I’ve had it, and it’s similar to baby corn, although it has to be prepared right to remove a somewhat bitter taste.
Jocotes are another favorite fruit here in Guatemala. It tastes similar to a small plum, though more tart and has a large, inedible seed.
Jocotes are beloved in Guatemala
Below is another fruit that is popular here and in Southeast Asia, known as sour-sop. It has a very interesting texture, soft and lots of pulp, with a hint of coconut flavor. Usually prepared as a drink or eaten raw.
Sour-sop or guanabana
Starfruit (left, yellow), which is also grown in Florida and may be familiar to more people up North. Sweet and tart, it has sort of an acquired taste to it.
Starfruit – Carambola
Mangoes and grapes are abundant here, but I’d never seen nances (left, yellow) or lichas / rambutan before (red fruit in the center).
Nances I did not particularly care for, though they are a favorite here – so are lichas, which I found interesting to eat. Lichas look like the mean cousin of strawberries. Unlike jocotes, the hard, spiky shell is not edible, and the seed is huge. The pulp is sweet and tasty.
Clockwise from top: lichas, mangos, grapes, nances
In addition to the above, there are various stalls dedicated to selling fish and meats. The seafood sellers spread their wares around blocks of ice to keep them cold. This is not the most sanitary arrangement, as someone has to be on hand constantly swatting flies away.
I usually steer clear of purchasing seafood here, preferring to buy it at better-refrigerated establishments outside the market.
Fish market inside the Mercado
If you’re hankering for eating mean-looking catfish, you’re in luck here!
Catfish and shrimp for sale
Butchers are usually a little more sanitary than the seafood vendors, though it’s not uncommon to see the butcher, with their blood-stained aprons, handle meat without gloves. As with any produce or food from the market, it is better to wash them thoroughly with purified water before taking a bite, just to be safe. I have not had any issues with any food I’ve bought at the market… yet.
Meat section at the Mercado
If catfish aren’t your thing, may I interest you in some roasted armadillo? A whole one goes for 140Q according to the quoted price. Alligator meat is also available at a slightly lower price.
In the mood for roasted armadillo?
Nuns also like shopping here. Good Friday was safely in the rear-view mirror, so she was ready to go for some steak action.
Nuns shop for groceries too
The other half of the market is loaded with cheap clothing, shoes, and tons of pirated movies. While the Police here routinely cracks down on people producing pirated content, they seem to leave the small-time sellers alone.
A DVD goes for 10Q, although if you know how to bargain you can get them for 5Q each. Quality will depend on whether the movie is a recent release or a rip of an original DVD of a movie that has already been released. They have a TV and DVD player on hand to test the quality of movies before you buy.
You’ll save more money the harder you bargain, although prices for meats rarely change no matter how much you want to bargain them down.
Bootleg DVDs for sale
Angry Birds shirts are pretty popular this year.
Clothes for sale too
If you want to buy your deli meats and other assorted items at a “normal” supermarket, the place to go is La Bodegona, right across the street from the market. It is the biggest supermarket in town. So big it has two entrances, the one below on 4ta Calle Poniente and the other entrance at 5a Calle Poniente.
Entrance to La Bodegona
La Bodegona entrance on 5a Calle
La Bodegona is split into two sections, one-half selling household goods and the other half a conventional supermarket. There’s a second floor devoted to furniture and a small bookstore.
View from the second floor
Office supplies and crafts on the second floor
The deli section is popular, as store employees routinely hand out deli meat samples and other things.
There are other specialty stores here that sell imported goods, organic items, etc. Pretty much everything you need can be found in Antigua. Being able to eat healthy on the cheap here is great.