Yucatecan food is everywhere throughout the city of Mérida and the state. Every kitchen, every family, has its take on the classic recipes. While some fall by the wayside, others become classics and even destinations in their own right. Here are five markets and what foods to look for in each one.
Mérida’s Santiago Market: Relleno Negro, Cochinita, and Lechón
I visited Santiago market and La Lupita late, after spending far too much time in the bowels of the massive Lucas de Galvez market in Mérida’s Centro, unsuccessfully hunting down some elusive Mestizas and their Tamales Colados that had been recommended. Perhaps the pandemic has curtailed their activities temporarily.
The personnel at La Lupita, decked out with blue uniforms behind a Covid-aware roped-off seating area, greeted me with an apologetic “we’re out of Cochinita and Lechón.” Assuming these are their best-sellers, I had to “settle” for Relleno Negro, for which I am very grateful. It was one of the best versions of Relleno Negro I have had in Yucatán – and I have eaten this dish everywhere!
It came with the traditional double corn tortilla, plenty of turkey, and stuffing. The Relleno Negro broth was served in a little cup on the side, presumably to satisfy those finicky eaters who either want more or less moisture on their taco. This also helps to maintain some of the tortilla’s integrity, which would otherwise fall apart.
Mercado Santos Degollado
Location: Calle 57 x 70, Centro, Mérida
Tixkokob Market: Relleno Negro, Mondongo, and Escabeche
The Tixkokob market is a must, especially on a relaxed Sunday. Make the effort, get in your car, and drive out early. Find a parking spot and step inside the bustling (understatement) market. Gorge on chef Silvio’s (of Pueblo Pibil fame) Pavo en Relleno Negro at his family’s stand that goes back generations. It’s just a few steps from serious-looking doña Marce, who wields a giant soup ladle and continually dishes out hot Mondongo into to-go containers with flair. She’s a sweetheart. I asked to sample the broth and she wouldn’t charge me for a small container of this hangover-curing classic.
Next to Silvio, his wife Angélica is also equipped with a ladle, knife, and cutting board serving up orders of Escabeche de Pavo to eat there or take home. The incredible soup – sublime and oh-so-satisfying – is by itself worth the trip out from Mérida.
Make sure to listen to the voice on the loudspeaker, broadcasting live to the general public in the area and announcing what each of the vendors is offering up inside.
Mercado Municipal de Tixkokob
Calle 21, Tixkokob
Progreso Market: Chilpachole
The Progreso market is not as fishy as you would think; there are the usual vegetables and fruit; a little of everything, like anywhere. But if you are going to eat something fishy, Progreso’s market is where you know it’s going to be as fresh as possible.
Within the market, in the restaurant area complete with picnic-style tables separated by clear plastic dividers that will supposedly eliminate or reduce your chance of catching Covid, you will find Leos. Choose from far too many items on their extensive menu, but especially recommendable is the Chilpachole, a rich, deep-red shrimp and crab broth with a touch of spice. Perhaps not 100% Yucatecan, but if you are a soup and broth fan, absolute perfection when accompanied by a Barra, that short French-style bread you dip in to soak up the liquid.
There are many fat and juicy shrimp in there, so you will have yourself a perfect morning meal. I recommend buying it to go and enjoying it outside somewhere or at home.
Mercado Municipal Francisco I. Madero
Calle 80 x 25 y 27, Centro, Progreso
Motul Market: Huevos Motuleños
The legend of Doña Evelia and her Huevos Motuleños goes way back to their creation, with an ongoing, yet friendly argument, over who exactly came up with this recipe.
Huevos Motuleños (eggs, Motul style) made by Doña Evelia are simply better than anywhere else. When giving your order to your rushed waiter you can specify one, two, three, or even four eggs on top of those tostadas. The rest of the dish consists of refried black beans and exquisite toppings of tomato sauce, peas, ham, cheese…and fried plantain. Her fame and the quality of her food are such that people wait around the edges of the second-floor dining area like vultures, ready to pounce on the first available table.
Mercado Municipal 20 de Noviembre
Calle 24, Centro, Motul
Mérida’s Chuburná Market: Lechón
The Chuburná market, located off most people’s radar in the Colonia of the same name, is where one can have a truly masterfully prepared Torta de Lechón.
Since you can get Lechón just about anywhere, in any market, and on most street corners on the weekend, it comes down to the minutest details. The soft (not hard or brittle) crisp crunch when biting into the sandwich. The texture and moisture of the pork. The degree of flavor and salt of the pork. The all-important pork to bread ratio. The sharpness of the onion, cilantro, and lime salsa drizzled on top. The chile habanero to add fire. All these factors combine to make the perfect Torta de Lechón eating experience and that experience can be had at the second food stall in the market, just off the street. Sublime.
Mercado de Chuburná
Calle 20-A x 19 y 21-A, Col. Chuburná de Hidalgo, Mérida
Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
A Yucatecan born in Germany and raised in Canada, with a degree in Hospitality and Tourism from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Ralf has experience in leisure tourism, journalism, research, editing, writing, and creative writing. He’s also a musician.
Photography by Ralf Hollmann, Olivia Camarena, and Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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