The legendary Mercado de La Merced (La Merced Market) in Mexico City, was named after a Monastery of the order dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy, which was established in the homonymous Barrio de La Merced in 1594. Among locals, the name La Merced will today evoke images of a monumental market, the second largest in town, and perhaps the most iconic. In the halls of this shopping colossus, the bizarre and the ordinary collide into the most fascinating explosion of colors, sounds, aromas and flavors.
I find it so fitting that, as in the case of La Merced, many large mercados in Mexico are named after saints or other religious figures. While I understand these names were assigned for practical purposes in colonial Mexico, I find there is something powerful about food, something almost spiritual. Like its people, Mexican food is mestizo- an amalgam of ingredients transformed by fire and knife into a colorful, flavorful, complex creation. As an art form or a cultural artifact, food provides the ultimate level of interactivity – communion.
Mercados are living museums, and a fun and delicious way to sample everyday life including the local fare. Wherever I go, I always make a point to add them to my list of must-see places.
Sadly, La Merced has declined a bit in recent years, and if you are not in the mood for an adrenaline-fueled adventure, a wonderful alternative to get a taste of Mexico is El Mercado de San Juan.