Mercado Central: Mendoza´s Food Culture
Behind the noise of billboards, souvenir shops, Asado restaurants, and a steady stream of city traffic, is a hidden doorway that leads straight into the heart of Mendoza´s Central Market, known as Mercado Central.
As Mendoza´s only indoor food market featuring fresh and dry goods, the market has become a household name amongst the locals, and a tourist landmark for travelers looking to get a bite of something fresh.
And that something fresh, isn´t just about the food.
A fearless traveler once taught me one universal truth: a bag of groceries is a cultural exposé. From the million tiny bags of Indian spices, used to flavor a bubbling pot of something packing heat. To the rice cracker snacks that smelled strangely of fish, sold at vending machines in Taipei. To the Esponja Bob (sponge bob) Rice Krispy treats, lining Mexican supermarkets.
She taught me where to look for culture, and how to enjoy it – without emptying my pockets for a pricey cost of admission. She´d scoop up the spices, fill her basket with fruits we couldn´t recognize, and banter with the vendors at the borderline between two languages.
And she would love Mercado Central.
She´d love it for the butcher who sets up shop just inside the Las Heras Street entrance. Who chops and cleaves, and fills his bins with guts, innards, outards, and all manner of unappealing eats. She´d love the way he gently smiles as passersby grimace in confusion.
And she´d weave through the stands of sliced cheeses, cured meats, dried fruits, nuts, roasted chickens, filleted fish, and everything in between.
The market is an extended circuit of “I Spy,” a playful game you´ll only ever win if you must the courage to ask what´s behind the counter. Because the vendors pack as many products as they can into their shops, many of the products are behind the counter and hidden for view. The market is a goldmine of imported products that would perhaps be commonplace on the shelves of a US supermarket, but are difficult to come by in Argentina. Rare ingredients include quinoa, tobacco sauce, black beans, rice wine vinegar, Japanese sake, and a passable imitation of peanut butter.
How to best enjoy Mercado Central:
Walk through the aisle of the market, chat with the vendors, and forage together enough sustenance for a picnic lunch:
- a crusty loaf of bread with pancetta and goat cheese
- A medley of olives, cheeses, fruits and nuts
- Hot-from-the-oven empanadas
- Caprese pizza
Once you´ve filled your basket, take a 20 minute walk west of Mendoza downtown and settle in the grassy shade of San Martin Park. The park is Mendoza´s most expansive green space, and a beautiful spot to enjoy a siesta time picnic or to wait out the hours of mid-day heat.
Keep in mind:
The market is a busy place, so keep your personal items close at hand. Also, vendors only receive pesos and are particularly appreciative of small bills for making change. If you´re hoping to take some pre-made food out to the park or back to your hotel, ask for it para llevar (take out).
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