For a little taste of Mexican shopping, venture beyond the tourist shops and head south of the Zocolo into the heart of commercial Oaxaca. In just a few blocks you”ll find the excitement and busy bustle of the Mexican shopper. Unlike our department store shopping, here the shops are squeezed together, each offering a different product. You´ll find shoe shops, fragrance shops (where you can have your own fragrance made for a fraction of the usual cost), pharmacies, bakeries, cafes, battery stores, hardware stores, coffee, chocolate, and mezcal stores, toy and candy shops, and clothes stores. Along the street are venders of CDs and videos, hair ribbons and jewelry. Music blasting from shops urges you to dance down the street to salsa, hip-hop, or reggae.
For more adventure, head to one of the three markets located in this part of town. The most fascinating are Mercado Benito Juarez, and Mercado 20 de Noviembre. These markets are a maze of booths selling everything from mounds of grasshoppers to meats to strings of paper decorations.
In Mercado Benito Juarez, we went in search of chiles for our culinary artist friend, and found the enchanting booth of Ma. Leticia Cuevas Jimenez. The interior of the mercado is so large it has street names. Her booth is No. 191, Pacillos Canada esq. Zapoteco. She had large barrels of different chilies. She gave us bags, and we scooped the chilies into the bags, labeled them with the name and hotness and tied the ends. We selected eight types of chilies, flowers of hibiscus, sticks of vanilla, several bags of chocolate, and salt of gusano (the worm in the maguey). Sra. Jimenez suggested uses for everything, for example using the sal de gusano for flavoring fruit drinks and mezcal, or as an ice cream topping.
The apex of mercados is the Mecardo Central de Abastos. This market, across the now defunct railroad track on Periferico, is open on Sundays and covers eight city blocks. It is an unbelievable beehive of activity, and worth the trouble to visit.