“Golpe, golpe, golpe!” shout men weaving through the aisles of Oaxaca’s lively markets with teetering carts of bread, vegetables, and electronics. While a translation would be something along the lines of “I’m gonna hit you!” it’s said with more good humor than menace—just another part of the exhilarating rush of the Mexican marketplace.
Smack dab in the city center only a few blocks southwest of the Zócalo, Mercado Benito Juárez is the oldest market in town. Named after the Oaxaca native and 5-term Mexican president, the market is a great place to find the beautiful artesanía (crafts) for which Oaxaca is known.
From colorful, finely-woven baskets to lovely ceramics and intricately embroidered aprons, Benito Juárez has you covered. This here is Valería, who sets up shop on the east side of the market. When asked where she gets her designs, she laughed and said that they were all in her head.
Just across the street from Benito Juárez is Mercado 20 de Noviembre, named to commemorate the beginning of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. 20th de Noviembre is home to numerous comedores, sit down food stalls where you can sample all kinds of soups, moles, and empanadas.
20 de Noviembre’s best culinary offering, however, is probably the wide, smoky aisle on the east side of the market, where vendors prepare carnes asadas, topping them off with a mouthwatering assortment of condiments. It’s a particularly lively scene on the weekends, and you shouldn’t be surprised if a Mariachi band shows up!
Moving away from the city center and towards the west end of town, you run into the huge, sprawling scene of Mercado Abastos. Reputed to be the largest open-air market in all of Mexico, it’s without question the biggest in Oaxaca, and where the local community, as well as people from neighboring towns, go to buy—well, pretty much anything and everything.
From cellphones to sugarcane, toys to tamales, beauty salons to baked goods, and everything in between, this market has it all. Though your first impression may be one of overwhelming chaos, there’s a method to the madness; as in most markets, wet goods (food, flowers, etc.) and dry goods (home products, clothing, etc.) are kept separate, and similar products tend to be clustered around the same spot.
But these are only the markets in Oaxaca city itself. Just about 18 miles from the capital one of the oldest, most vibrant markets in the entire state can be found in the town of Tlacolula de Matamoros.
On Sundays, eight blocks of the town are closed off for the more than 1,000 vendors who flock there to display their wares. Tlacolula is the commercial center for the region, so the Sunday Market draws hordes of farmers and ranchers from the surrounding rural areas to shop and sell.
Of course, they also just come to hang out. As any market-lover will tell you, beneath the exchange of cash and goods, a million equally important interactions are taking place—the sharing of jokes, gossip, stories, recipes, thoughts, and feelings that form the invisible bonds of community.