A Gourmet Walking Tour of Mercado de San Juan with Eat Mexico

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My visit to the Mercado de San Juan in Mexico City, which was unlike any other time I’ve gone to a food market, was an unforgettable experience. It is common practice for fresh markets to provide a variety of fruits, vegetables, and fresh meats among their wares for customers to choose from. The fact that practically all of the items sold at Mercado de San Juan may be classified as odd is, on the other hand, what sets it apart from other markets and makes it stand out from the competition.

When I say “exotic,” I mean that you may purchase everything from mangoes from the Philippines or meats and cheeses from Europe to extremely exotic armadillo, crocodile, lion, and tiger meat. Mangoes from the Philippines are relatively unique. Meats and cheeses from Europe are more common. You may even get mangoes that are considered to be of a semi-exotic kind in the Philippines.

I had the opportunity to spend the day in Mexico City with Eat Mexico, during which I not only visited the San Juan market but also sampled some of the most mouthwatering street food the city has to offer. The kinds of people that the company looks for in order to fill the roles of tour guides is one of the things that I like most about this particular company. Adrian, our tour guide, is a real chef who has worked in a variety of kitchens all over the world. He has a wealth of knowledge to share with us. His descriptions of the meals really let his enthusiasm and passion come through, which is a testament to the fact that he is both extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about food.

Before you leave for your vacation, I strongly suggest that you read this article to find out whether or not you need to get travel insurance for Mexico, and that you check out my packing list for Mexico as well. Both of these can be found on my website.

Looking for other great things to do in Mexico City? Click here to check out my guide!

Our guide, Adrian

Our tour began with a stop at a seafood restaurant that has been open since 1974. The venue started as a street food stall, but it has since become so popular that you can now find multiple locations throughout the city. Adrian told us it had to be our first stop because, if we had tried coming later in the day, we wouldn’t have been able to get a table.

Apparently the place does everything seafood related really well, but we were there for the crunchy seafood tostadas. I chose to go with a shrimp tostada, as they were (sadly) out of octopus.

After one bite, I could tell why this place is so popular. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, and I loved the crunch of the tostada with the different topping textures, including avocado and fresh onion.  Of course, I added the obligatory spicy salsa and squeeze of lime to my dish.

As we ate, we learned why the seafood was such high quality — Mexico City has the second largest seafood market in the world (the first is in Japan). Even though Mexico City is not on the coast, much of the country’s seafood is processed here in the capital city before distribution.  This means Mexico City restaurants get first dibs on seafood.

After this first stop, I quickly realized I would need to pace myself on this trip. Adrian promised we had a full day of eating ahead of us, so I held off, even though I could have easily gone for a second tostada.

Next up, we tried a very local drink — pulque.

I say very local because pulque is not readily available outside of Mexico. Due to its production process, it spoils within a few days.

Like tequila and mezcal, pulque is made of agave, but it is fermented rather than distilled. You would need to drink quite a bit of it to get drunk — pulque has a maximum 6% alcohol volume. It is, however, full of probiotics, so you can catch a buzz off something that’s actually good for you!

Pulque is not a new drink. In ancient times it was a sacred ritual drink consumed to connect with the gods. However, pulque has seen a reemergence in popularity (and has now become borderline hipsterish).

We tried pulque at a local pulqueria that literally serves nothing but the stuff — not even water. Fortunately, they did offer a variety of pulques, as I didn’t really care for the original version. It tasted too fermented, a lot like kombucha, and the viscous consistency is more evident without the benefit of added flavors.

I did really like the flavored versions — especially the cinnamon sprinkled strawberry variety.

Next we arrived at the Mercado de San Juan. At first it felt like a typical market scene — busy, crowded, vendors chatting with shoppers as they bagged up orders and collected money. It was only when I took a closer look at what was being bought and sold that I realized this market wasn’t typical at all.

One of the first things we saw were row after row of bugs for sale.

Scorpions, ants, spiders, flying roaches — every type of bug you can think of. They even sold bugs as candy! We found chocolate covered scorpions

and pastries covered in huge black ants

I thought we would maybe breeze past these concoctions, but no luck — our guide found a vendor and had a “Oaxacan snack platter” assembled:

We tried crickets in salt and lime and grasshoppers in garlic and olive oil. These weren’t actually all that bad, but I didn’t care for the dried crayfish at all.

Fortunately, we were able to get the crayfish taste out of our mouths with some mezcal:

I’ve had mezcal before and knew that I liked it. But this time we learned the proper way to drink it, and I have to admit that I appreciate it more now than I did before.

As we walked along, Adrian explained the market to us. When the Spanish settlers came to Mexico City, they missed their favorite foods from home. To meet this need, the market began importing jamon and aged cheeses, foods considered exotic at the time. The vendors noticed their customers were responding well to exotic offerings and began importing more products from around the world, getting more and more unique as the market expanded.

The high quality and unique items for sale at the San Juan market have made it the preferred chef’s market. You can often find some of the best chefs in the city among the crowd, selecting items that will end up on their menus.

As I mentioned before, the market also sells controversial exotic meats such as lion and tiger. We didn’t try them on this tour, but I did  manage to grab a photo of one of the dishes containing tiger, boar and lion:

We exited the market, and our next stop may have been my favorite of the day: fresh made tlacoyo, or bean stuffed blue corn masa:

The lady selling them expertly filled the masa and then tossed it on the pan to put a perfect char on the outside. When it was finished I topped mine with cactus, onion, salsa and cheese and enjoyed it as we stood on the street.

This simple dish was easily my favorite of the day — I loved the char on the masa and the consistency of the beans. This dish is sold all over the city, but this is the best version I’ve ever tried.

Next we passed through a second market to try flautas, deep-fried stuffed tacos the size and shape of flutes.

These were really good, if not a bit greasy/heavy. I can see how they make for a great hangover food.

Our last stop of the day ensured we didn’t go home hungry (as if that would have even been a problem). This stand proclaims to have the best tacos in all of Mexico City. I’m not sure if that’s true, but judging by their line down the sidewalk, there are certainly quite a few who agree.

These are known as Campechano tacos — half beef steak and half chorizo.

As soon as the vendor passes you your tacos, make your way to the condiment bar and customize your selection with salsa and lime.

These were as delicious as they were messy! Stuffed and staving off food comas, we said our goodbyes and made peace with the fact that we wouldn’t be eating again for the rest of the day!

Would you consider visiting  Mercado de San Juan yourself? Which stop looked best to you? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Practical Information:

I obligated myself to eat in Mexico. These were without a doubt some of the highlights of the trip for me, but I won’t give away all of the stops since I want you to have some surprises in store for when you book your own tour. Visit their website in order to make a reservation for yourself for this excursion. They are also active on Facebook and Instagram, where you can discover them.

Disclosure: I would like to express my gratitude to Eat Mexico for the opportunity to spend this vacation as their guest. As always, each and every viewpoint is just mine.