Fresh-cut flowers, fried fish, incense and salon perms – the smells of the neighborhood market. Put a 100-peso bill to your nose, it’s all there.
The newest Marvel movie plays on a flat screen, while a little girl in a plaid skirt works on her homework below, eyes jumping between screen and page. Butchers smack their cleavers into chicken and beef. Sewing machines and blenders whir. Commerce.
Right at the center of the blissful, upper-middle-class, family-oriented neighborhood of Escandón, just below Jardín Morelos Park, sits Mercado Escandón.
A trip to the Escandón Market is worth it for the regular stuff you might need throughout the week, if only to avoid the pain and confusion of a nearby Soriana Hiper – where first you lose your cart, then you lose your mind.
At the market entrance on Martí, friendly Emilio Flores Romero has been selling children’s costumes at his booth with no name for 20 years.
He has a wide selection and says people come from all over to buy, “for birthday parties or just because they like to dress up,” he says. “Right now we’re selling a lot of animals and butterflies, because Día de la Primavera [the first day of spring] is coming up.”
Plumbers and handymen have offices at Mercado Escandón. There are flower arrangers, toy salespeople, religious goods and free parking! It’s downright wholesome. Escandón is the only market I’ve ever been to that gives you a city-issued legal receipt for your five-peso bathroom purchase.
Just don’t forget that this is Mexico, and the vendors are still lamenting the loss of 40 million pesos that the government allocated for renovations in 2013, half from the Office of Economic Development (SEDECO) and half from the borough of Miguel Hidalgo.
And what have they done? Barely fixed the roof? Improved the parking garage? Where did the money go? Many point the finger at then delegate and current mayor Víctor Hugo Romo, claiming he simply failed to use the money for improvements.
The roof still leaks in places, and there’s a pretty major crack in the ceiling of the bottom level of the parking garage.
Unfortunately, there are no improvements in sight. Yet, as they continue to fight alleged corruption, vendors continue to do what appears to be a brisk business.
At the popular lunch stand Los Tucanes, known for enchiladas, croquettes and huge chiles rellenos, where a full meal with an agua del día, consommé, rice and salad runs 50 to 70 pesos (US $2.60-$3.60), I meet Miguel Ángel Sánchez, who’s worked at the market for 32 years.
His family has been in Escandón for generations, and his father was one of the founders of the market when it began in 1958. “My dad sold fruits and vegetables before the market was here. People sold out of carts or on blankets. There weren’t any supermarkets, so people came together to sell in this spot.”
Undoubtedly the most popular restaurant, that can be quite the party on weekends, is Marisquería Playa Escondida. Their marlin, shrimp and scallop cocktails are the visible favorites, but the encrusted tuna or grilled salmon steaks are probably among the best you’re likely to find.
Escondida is one of the few consistently full counters and the only place you’re likely to see anyone drinking a michelada on a Monday.
There are always a number of locals enjoying the wares, but the nearby Hotel & Villas Patriotismo brings in a steady line of tourists from Europe and South America.
Mercado Escandón isn’t the weirdest or fanciest of Mexico City’s markets. In fact it’s the market’s ordinary, no-nonsense posture that makes it so enjoyable.
The consistent line in front of Pollería Zani tells you it’s good. Maybe not the cheapest fruits and vegetables you can find, but they’re always available. And you’re likely to get some extra service, like a bit of manteca rubbed on your freshly cut steak to keep it moist on the grill.
As Miguel Ángel Sánchez tells me, “Supermarkets changed our local markets a lot, but here you can still get meats and fish with less preservatives. It’s more natural.”
• Mercado Escandón is located on the corners of José Martí and Agricultura, Colonia Escandón, Mexico City; open Monday through Sunday, 8:00am to 8:00pm.
• Every Tuesday on José Martí, just east of the market, runs Tianguis Escandón, an extended “market on wheels” from 8:00am to 6:00pm.
This is the third in a series on the markets and weekly tianguis (markets on wheels) of Mexico City.