how to shop for produce at the market

Oaxaca city is full of wonderful markets bursting with amazing produce. Many of them are unassuming, tucked away through a doorway, down an alleyway, or around the corner. Access to fresh & delicious produce is one of my absolute favourite things about living in Mexico.

Before you go: produce markets in Oaxaca

I’m yet to find a mercado that’s disappointed me, they all have excellent produce for sale. I’d recommend visiting a few different ones to get a feel for it, but ultimately the one closest to where you are living or staying is probably going to be the best choice.

This is far from a comprehensive guide! But a couple of my favourite mercados (markets) in Oaxaca Centro are:

  • Mercado Sánchez Pascuas
  • Mercado Organico la Cosecha
  • Mercado de la Merced
  • Mercado de abastos
  • Mercado Centenario

At the market: buying your produce

Once you’ve decided which vendor to shop from, the next step is choosing what to buy. They will have a stack of some kind of basket or plastic tub for you to take one, and fill it with the fruits and vegetables you want.

Now is the fun part – choosing what you want to buy from the many piles of gorgeous looking fruits and vegetables. I always come home with so much more than I planned, because all of the wonderful produce is so tempting! So get to work, filling up your basket.

Sometimes, certain things like fresh herbs will be behind the counter. So if you don’t see what you want right away, don’t be afraid to ask!

One your basket is full, hand it to them and they will weigh up, count, and work out the price for you. If you struggle with Spanish, they will almost always have a pen and paper or a calculator to write the total down for you as well.

At the market: some useful words & phrases in Spanish

Although you may come across vendors who speak some English, a large majority of them will not. And besides, your visiting one of the most beautiful and traditional parts of Mexico – so using one of the local languages is not only part of the experience, but it’s part of being a considerate guest!

  • Estoy buscando / I’m looking for
  • ÂżTienes …? / Do you have … ?
  • Necesito una bolsa / I need a bag
  • No necesito bolsa / I don’t need a bag
  • ÂżCuánto cuesta? / How much is this?
  • ÂżCuánto va a ser? / How much will it be?
  • ÂżAceptan tarjetas de crĂ©dito o dĂ©bito? / Do you take credit or debit cards?
  • ÂżTiene cambio de un billete grande? / Do you have change for a large bill?
  • ¡Muchas gracias! / Thanks very much!
  • aguacate / avocado
  • tomate / tomato
  • cebolla / onion
  • tomatillo / tomatillo
  • plátano / banana
  • manzana / apple
  • frambuesa / rasberry
  • mora / blackberry
  • arándano / blueberry
  • fresa / strawberry
  • papa / potato
  • toronja / grapefruit
  • naranja / orange
  • limĂłn / lime
  • champiñón / mushroom
  • zanahoria / carrot
  • ejote / green beans
  • mango / mango
  • guayaba / guava
  • piña / pineapple
  • carambolo / starfruit
  • lechuga / lettuce
  • espinacas / spinach
  • pepino / cucumber
  • rábano/ radish

At the market: what does produce cost in Oaxaca?

The pricing for produce here is quite different from the USA, New Zealand, or Canada; for example. I love arriving into Mexico and enjoying the abundance of fresh, seasonal, and locally grown produce. But what does it cost? Here’s a breakdown of my most recent produce trip to the mercado:

Breakdown of my most recent produce trip:

cucumber x1 = 9mxn ( 0.43usd)
mushrooms, 1 packet = 55mxn ( 2.61usd)
kale sprouts, 1 packet = 38mxn (1.81usd)
blueberries, 1 punnet = 10mxn (0.48usd)
green beans, 1 large handful = 6mxn (0.29usd)
avocados x2 = 43mxn (2.04 usd)
basil, 1 bunch = 10mxn (0.48usd)
heiroom tomatoes x 5 = 14mxn (0.67usd)
lettuce, 1 = 14mxn = (0.67usd)
gala apples x 3 = 45mxn (2.14 usd)
limes x2 = 13mxn (0.62 usd)
carrot x1 = 2mxn (0.10usd)
garlic, 1 bulb = 10mxn (0.48usd)

Total price: $269mxn (at the time of writing in 2022 this is $12.79USD)

Once you get home: preparing your produce

Many of the things that make produce in Oaxaca so darn wonderful also make it a little problematic to eat right out of the bag. This is not a situation unique to Oaxaca, and is something you will encounter right across Mexico.

Everything is grown locally, often organically, and fertilised here in the Oaxaca valley with cow manure. Once it arrives at the mercado, as well as during the journey, it’s often sitting on the ground, in the dust, or on dirty truck beds and mercado floors. The dirt and bacteria that produce collects can make many people sick, so it’s important to prepare your produce properly – like locals & restaurants all do.

How to prepare fresh produce from the market in Mexico. This is done right when you get home from the mercado, before putting them away into the fridge and cupboards! It can take a little time, but it’s worth it to know all of your fruits, vegetables & salads are safe to eat right off the shelf.

  1. Trim & shake

    Shake off any visible dirt, and trim off things like roots, old leaves, and any parts of the fruit or vegetable which look undesirable/bad. It’ll go a long way to cleaning them if the dirt is already off!

  2. Rinse them off

    Take your produce and give them a rinse off in some water to get any loose dirt and particals off, it doesn’t need to be purified water at this point – under the tap is just fine

  3. Soak & Sanitise

    You can buy microdyn from just about any supermarket, and many mini-marts and oxxos. It’s a disinfecting liquid, and you add a few drops to a bowl of water, then put in your produce to soak. I tend to leave things up to 15 minutes – especially those which collect a lot of dirt and don’t have a peel or skin, such as lettuces and fresh herbs.

    Some fruits in particular such as rasberries and strawberries can become waterlogged, so in those cases I soak them a bit less and/or use a separate citrus seed oil spray on them.

  4. Drain & dry

    Once they are finished soaking, leave them to dry. I like using a drying rack, or a colander. The most important thing is to place them somewhere clean, and not right back on the surface you were preparing the pre-soaked produce on.

  5. Into the fridge and onto the shelves!

    Now, place your produce however you like to store them. It doesn’t matter how, the main thing here is that you don’t put them back into the bags or containers they arrived in unless the containers have also been thoroughly washed & sanitised. Otherwise you will just be undoing all your hard work!

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