Mexico Life
Pollo Ismael, a family business at the Mercado Portales.

Mexico City’s Mercado Portales celebrates 62 years with birthday bash

'In light of statements by [US President] Donald Trump, we invite the public to consume 100% Mexican'

Mercado Portales celebrated its 62nd anniversary on August 10 with live music, festive decorations and gifts for customers.

Every year on the anniversary of the market’s opening, owners and operators of the 600 individual puestos throw a public party to commemorate the history of the market and to show appreciation to their clientele. This year, in addition to mariachis playing up and down the narrow passageways, they included a stage with traditional Mexican performers.

Many vendors give away small items to commemorate the anniversary. Gifts ranged from calendars and Tupperware to traditional Mexican food and tequila.

“Lots of people come for their gifts, so we always sell more on the anniversary,” said Ismael Flores Valdez, proprietor of Pollo Ismael.

This year Flores gave away tostadas de tinga de pollo, a traditional dish prepared from chicken, tomatoes, onions, and chipotle and served on fried tortillas. Like many workers in the market, Flores puts in seven days a week. He inherited the puesto from his family and has been working there for over 20 years.

Araceli Chavira has worked at Fruta Ara for 28 years.
Araceli Chavira has worked at Fruta Ara for 28 years.

Araceli Chavira, owner and operator of Fruta Ara, says she does not see much of an increase in sales during the anniversary. “The same people who come to me all year to buy fruit will come today, but the rest are just here for the party.”

Chavira has worked in Mercado Portales with her sister for 28 years. They inherited the business from their mother, the original owner when the market opened in 1957. It will pass to a third generation, her children, when she decides to retire.

Chavira has seen the growth in the size and popularity of the market first-hand. “The market expands every year. They put up more and more puestos outside and now it goes for blocks. To see it from the outside, it’s not the same market.”

She also works seven days a week. “When you sell fruit, if you take a day off, your fruit starts to spoil. Then you must sell it at a lower price than you bought it for. The only way to make money is to come here every day.” Chavira says she rests “when necessary.”

In Viveros Portales, Guadalupe Zenón offered free plates of three traditional Mexican dishes — mole verde, pipián, and tinga de res — to thank her regular customers.

“This year the anniversary falls on a Saturday, so we have far more customers today. When it falls on a weekday, it’s never as big.”

A mariachi band plays for the market's anniversary.
A mariachi band plays for the market’s anniversary.

Zenón is the third generation in her family to run the only puesto for plants in the market. “My grandmother sold flowers here, but around 45 years ago we started selling live plants.”

Zenón’s only workers are other family members. She does not have children, but when she retires her niece and nephew will inherit the business and continue the tradition for a fourth generation. Her nephew is finishing a university degree in biology, which Zenón says he chose because of the nature of the family business.

At Mercado Portales, the Mexican tradition of working hard for your family business is alive and well. Those who choose to shop here instead of big-box stores owned by multinationals are deciding — consciously or unconsciously — to support this proud tradition.

A large sign in Spanish hangs in the back of the market. It reads: “In light of the recent statements Donald Trump has made against our country, we invite the public to consume 100% Mexican products to support Mexican farmers. Get your basic needs at high quality.”

• Mercado Portales is located on the corner of Santa Cruz and Alhambra, Benito Juárez. It’s open seven days a week, 11-6 weekdays; 9-7 Saturday and Sunday.

The writer lives and works in Mexico City.

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