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The Wondrous World of Mexican Tiendas

A Mexican "tienda" is a shop or store. And it's like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're going to get.   The farmacia that specializes in imported medications also sells cans of Costco tuna and children's toys.  You might come upon a tienda that sells nothing but watches from China next to an artisanal shop that sells beautiful handwoven sarapes and Mexican tiles.  A candy shop is lined floor to ceiling with not only sweet treats but...what?....yes, every type of styrofoam container known to man!  I remember one time in Mexico City I came across a tienda that sold nothing but blenders and blender parts. We thought it would be fun and helpful too to showcase the sweet, the bizarre, the unique examples of tiendas in La Paz and El Centenario.  They're fascinating!


Mercado de Abastos

Ahhh, there’s something so satisfying about going to a market. It’s a hive of constant movement, a busy dance full of color and rich in ripe smells.  I enjoy being part of that time-honored exchange between vendor and buyer, especially when the vendor is also the owner of the business.  If you want to get back to your primal roots in the marketplace, head to MERCADO DE ABASTOS.  Having opened in 1980, it’s not the oldest market in town, but it’s certainly the largest. It’s a great place to get everything you need in one stop….fruit, veg, pork, chicken, beef, cheese, eggs, olives, tortillas, seeds and chiles, medicinal plants, paper and plastic products, cleaning products and petfood.

The entrance to the U-shaped market is on Calle Olachea, between Ley’s and Calle Colosio.  The first half of the U is for wholesale (mayoria), and the second half is retail (menudeo).  Near the bottom of the U on the wholesale side, you will find a yellow building, PLATANERA TECOMAN.  (A platanera would be called a bananery in English. Isn’t that a good word?) ​ 

Senor Rafael Benitez Nuñez and his large family moved from Ciudad Constitucion to La Paz in 1990 and opened the Tecoman bananery, where they bought and sold nothing but bananas.  He and his son, Ernesto Benitez Castro, run the business together.  Although they now sell more than just bananas, Don Rafael taught me a lot about my favorite fruit.  Rough translation:  “Only 11 months after planting, the banana will bear fruit.  It will continue to produce one batch of fruit per month for the next 25 years, at which time it will die of exhaustion.”   

 

I just feel good shopping here. They have excellent produce but more than that…they are good people. (At Christmas, they gave a great discount to the Amigos de Navidad, a special group of volunteers in El Centenario.) 

It also doesn’t hurt that they are handsome and charming....    Rafael, Ernesto #1, Mario and Ernesto #2.

                                                                                                                           

 

         

 

As you continue across the bottom of the U, straight ahead of you will see the FRUTERIA CABRERA II.     I                                  

I have known the owner, Salvador Cabrera Barriga, for 10 years. Not only is he a human adding machine, but he also a very big fruit and vegetable eater…2 valuable characteristics of a good produce seller. Salvador is from Michoacan, and he has been in the Mercado de Abastos since 1984.  At that time, the market was all just wooden "stands".  Times have changed, selection has grown, and now Salvador's son, Marco, is the manager. If Marco is the brains of the operation, then Salvador is still its beating heart.              Grab yourself a basin and get shopping.  Lovely fruits and vegetables, plus a big perk…there is a large fridge unit so you can buy produce not always available in a mercado…celery, beets, herbs, peppers, lettuce, green onions, cauliflower, broccoli.  You can also find bulk peanuts, jamaica, beans, honey, grocery staples and piñatas. 9 years ago Salvador and his lovely wife, Lucila Moreno, could not believe that I had never had a piñata!  They insisted that I return on my next birthday to get one.  I went as promised, and there was a beautiful girly piñata waiting for me…filled with great candy too!  What a memorable gift, my first piñata!             FYI:  Salvador often has butternut squash.

 

Right next to the fruteria is LA CENTRAL, a seed/chile store or una tienda de semillas y chiles. 

Alejandra Garcia is the owner, and she’s absolutely delightful…happy smile and eager to serve you.  She has only been in the Mercado for 4 years but she has brought this tienda to life. Here you can buy medicinal plants, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, spices, staples, petfood, teas.  The volume and selection of bulk chiles is wonderful!  Bring your dictionary or phone so you can look up stuff, because there are things in the bulk bins that are tantalizingly mysterious.  And then there is the floor to ceiling corcho...a massive selection of all things Styrofoam.  For you bakers,  “La Central” is a great place to buy almonds, pecans, raisins, prunes, dried fruit.  And my favorite… pepitas or shelled pumpkin seeds.  Once toasted, pepitas are my go-to snack food.

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So there you have my 3 favorite places in the Mercado de Abastos. A great deal of the produce is coming from nearby Ciudad Constitucion, so it’s decidedly fresher than what you’ll find in the large box stores and grocery chains.  Plus, when you do your shopping here or at any market in the city, you are directly supporting the local economy and contributing to the Mexican economy all up and down the supply chain. It’s convenient. It’s satisfying. I encourage you to enjoy the benefits of market shopping.  Get in touch with your fruits and vegetables.  Your food will taste better.

 

If you have a favorite tienda in La Paz or El Centenario that you would like to see featured in our newsletter and on our website, please submit the name to fernwoody@gmail.com