The food in the markets of the Yucatan usually takes people a little getting used to, and some people will never get used to it. When you go to the mercado, which is the public market, where the locals go, the chickens and pork legs are hanging hooks. Depending on the size of the mercado you’d go to, there could be a hog head hanging on a hook.
None of these mercados are air-conditioned. So if it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit that day and you go to the mercado, the chicken, pork, and beef are all hanging on hooks and it’s hot outside. Some people wouldn’t think about buying anything there. They buy all their meats from Sam’s Club or a similar grocery store chain, where everything is like what it was back in the US where everything is refrigerated and wrapped. I have personally bought food from the mercado and never had a problem. When I go to the mercado, I arrive at around 7 AM when it’s still cold and everything is just being brought out.
I came here to the Yucatan by myself. When I decided I was coming to Mexico, my wife said, “You’ve lost your mind.” So we made an agreement that I would come here by myself to see what it’s all about and see if I could survive. When I first arrived in Mexico, I lived in Playa del Carmen (an extremely popular expat location in the state of Quintana Roo in the Riviera Maya). The old apartment that I rented is located far from 5th Avenue, which is where the American-style stores and malls are located. My old apartment was situated where the locals live, which is probably eight blocks from the tourist area. I would go to the little tienda, which is a little store that’s about 6 feet wide and 8 feet deep and has basic foods for sale. I went to the tienda and got someone, who could teach me a couple of Spanish words so I could tell them what I wanted.
I would say, “Jamon (ham),” so I could buy sliced ham and make a sandwich. The storekeeper opened her little refrigerator and started pulling out pieces and she asked, “cuando? (how many?)”, to ask me how many pieces I was buying. And I said, “No.” I had to explain to her that I wanted the whole pack of the sliced ham. So she reached in and grabbed a whole pack and opened it.
Then I told her that I needed queso, which is cheese. Again, she opened the cheese and started pulling out pieces. I told her, “No, I need a whole pack of cheese.” So she got me the pack. Then I said I need pan, which is bread. She again started reaching for bread and pulled out pieces. And again, I said, “No, I want the whole loaf of bread.”
Once I left there and got home and fixed my sandwich, I got myself thinking that this is a really great idea. If you are down on your luck that day and maybe you didn’t make any money and you’ve only got 12 pesos in your pocket, you could go to the little tienda and get two slices of ham, two slices of bread, one slice of cheese, and two cigarettes. So you had lunch that day, you had smoke afterwards, and that’s good!
(Cheese in a little store, Mexico, pictured.)