El Mercadito

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Find creative interpretations of tacos, guacamole and great drinks at Mercadito Chicago, 108 West Kedzie St.

My neighborhood’s mercadito appeared every Saturday, quietly unrolling an elaborate tapestry of tents at dawn. Overnight, with the mystery of an ancestral spell, our street became the usual host of a festival of flavors, scents and sounds that enchanted the whole block.

Like everywhere else in Mexico, at el mercadito, magic intersected with practicality in the most fascinating of ways- turn one corner, and find  a merolico offering a variety of remedies to mend anything from broken hearts to calluses. Turn another one, and find furniture, jewelry, imported toys, flowers, shoes or someone ready to change your curtain fixtures.

Mercado. Querétaro de Arteaga, México.
Photo credits: Alicia Ramírez Presburger

I remember farmers offering the fruits of their crops with the pride of someone who has managed to talk the earth into creating edible jewelry, and parents always making the point to stop with their kids to either try an orange, a mango or to happily claim their free tostadas con crema at the dairy counter. Inventories were easily altered and could accommodate almost any request:

¨Señito, next week would you like me to bring your chicken alive or dead?¨ 

Food was always local, always seasonal and I am pretty sure, always organic. I am not quite certain anybody realized what a treat that was.

We were just used to it.

One of my favorite Saturday rituals was visiting el mercadito to get sopes, tlacoyos or quesadillas made from fresh nixtamal. These delicious dishes were conjured by skilled marchantitas, sorcerers of their comal. Cheese, green or red salsa, beans and freshly made tortillas delighted the hosts, who managed to rotate and sit by the dozens under a tiny canopy. Cactus, zucchini blossoms, potatoes with poblano peppers and cream as well as a variety of meat dishes, were just a few delicacies that anyone could choose from to stuff their quesadillas. Señoras in charge of this stand would charm masa into capricious forms, while adding numbers and crossing conversations by yelling the total of patrons’ bills. They never seemed to have a written tally, but knew with incredible precision who had eaten what, and how much the total amounted to.

I am not sure if this vignette has been genetically impressed upon me like a Diego Rivera mural or perhaps it is that mercado tarps are the fabric of my childhood memories. Whatever it is, I can’t help to smile when I think of Saturdays, and the magic they bring.

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One Response to El Mercadito

  1. Enrico Bellomo says:

    The word painting is both artistic and magical. I can feel the warm sunshine and almost taste the food! What wonderful memories to protect.

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