Where to Buy Anything: The Market of Tlacolula
If it’s legally sold in Mexico, you can find it here. The Sunday market, or tianguis, of Tlacolula is a bewildering maze of market stalls selling everything from iron tools, to artisanal crafts, livestock, clothing, traditional medicines and much, much more.
This is not a tourist attraction. This market, which takes over the streets of this town 45 minutes east of Oaxaca City is where Mexicans from all over the region come to shop, bargain, and purchase whatever they might need. By mid-morning around ten city blocks have been converted into one of the largest markets in the area.
Tlacolula was originally inhabited by the Zapotec people when the Spanish forcibly relocated them there from Yagul five centuries ago. Since then, it has been a center of Zapotec culture and traditions.
On this particular Sunday, we caught a bus (7 pesos) from the periferico, just south of the center of town for the ride to Tlacolula. We arrived amid what at first might appear to be a chaotic jumble of market stalls, blue and green tarps shading them from the sunlight. However, it soon became apparent that there was order to the madness. Distinct regions were set up offering a theme to each section. In one part you can find the traditional clothing of area. Not far away are blue jeans and baseball caps. Over one block is fresh fruit. Turn the corner and there are colorful straw baskets and bags.
The market is also the place to go to find traditional Zapotec food and drink. Upon entering, we purchase tejate, a cold and frothy beverage of corn and chocolate, mixed by hand over many hours. Later, we cool down with a cup of pulque, made from fermented agave, and possibly one of the world’s oldest alcoholic drinks.
Near the market’s center is the meat section, a primeval collection of aged and fresh meats. Thick smoke fills the air giving the whole place an otherworldly yet inviting atmosphere. Vegetarians beware: these are whole carcasses on display, alongside pig heads, offal, shimmering chorizo. as meats on display to be purchased. You can cook your purchase nearby on one of the several charcoal grills set up for that purpose. We elected to let someone else cook for us and found a family-run taco stand. The meat was rich and full of flavor that I have never seen replicated at any taqueria in the US. And for less than a dollar a taco, they can keep them coming as long as you’d like.
In the center of the market are Tlacolula’s church and yard. This Sunday just happened to be the town’s patron saints day. We found the yard full, as hundreds gathered for an outdoor mass. As the priest spoke over a loudspeaker to the assembled faithful we took a brief break in the shade of the old church. In an act of religious imperialism, the Spanish had this church built using stones from nearby Zapotec buildings. See if you can spot some ancient carvings hidden among these repurposed stones.
The vibrancy of this weekly event is truly an authentic Mexican experience. Try our hand at haggling for your purchase, enjoy the flavorful barbacoa, and get lost among the colorful labyrinth market stalls.