fish at the public marketYou'll always find fresh fish in Puerto Escondido's public market.

Public market represents traditional way to shop

The heart of most Mexican towns is its public market, and Puerto Escondido is no exception. The Mercado Benito Juarez is located between 8a and 9a Norte and 3a and 4a Poniente. It is a typical Mexican market with hundreds of stores and stalls selling everything from fresh fish and produce to clothing and kitchenware.

To the uninitiated, the Oaxacan marketplace can seem more hectic, exciting and confusing than the floor of the stock market. For this shopper one of the most exciting things about shopping here is just listening to the symphony of voices, dialects and languages and watching the unfolding kaleidoscope of images, colors and scenes.

No matter how many markets you go to, there is always something new to see, smell, hear, taste or learn.

Puerto Escondido’s Benito Juárez market is fairly typical of Mexican markets, but perhaps somewhat better ordered than most.

The market is open every day, but Wednesday and Saturday are the days that suppliers from around the state and beyond bring in their fresh produce. On these days the market is busier, the surrounding streets more congested as itinerant merchants peddle every kind of product you didn’t know you needed. The newer, airy, high-vaulted market structure is where you go for your food shopping: Rows of stands neatly piled with fruits and vegetable in a mosaic of shapes and textures rendered with a palette of every conceivable hue, sections for meat, chicken, fish, cheeses and baked goods.

You’ll find a row of fresh juice and licuado stands, where the proprietor can mix you up a nutritious, therapeutic or merely delicious concoction of your choice. There’s a glorious row of flower stalls which is a feast for the senses. And don’t miss the adjacent rows of regional products. Here you’ll encounter everything from brown ranch eggs, sunflower seeds, beans, dried shrimp, garlic, chocolate, moles, herbs and medicinal plants to charcoal, banana leaves for cooking tamales, metates for grinding corn and pestles for mixing your salsa. There’s also a section of small restaurants serving extraordinarily good food at the cheapest prices in town.

The old original market building also has some good eating. Here you’ll also find a large selection of arts, crafts and souvenirs, including great clothing: embroidered peasant blouses, colorful print dresses, shawls, shirts and loose cotton pants. There is a section of eclectic services: watch and shoe repairers, piñatas and party supplies, locksmiths, scribes, jewelers, stationers, as well as those ubiquitous stalls of cheap clothing, plastic and other imported trash, which seem to proliferate at a deplorable rate.

It truly is one-stop shopping; the original mall, but without the muzak, where you can buy sandals, a hat, a saddle or medicine for your sick goat. We each tend to have our favorite juice stand, favorite place to nibble sopes, our regular fish, chicken and vegetable ladies. The market might not be the most efficient place to shop, but it is a deeply rich and satisfying experience. Shopping involves meaningful human interaction and becomes part of a timeless ritual.

—Warren Sharpe