Tianguis and Mercado

Traditional Mexican Markets

For a long time I have wanted to do a photo essay of our mercados in the Laguna area, but I gave up on the idea after I saw the work of Jim and Carole Cook as they have visited many tianguis and mercados. Their blogs included both pictures and interesting commentary.  I invite you to enjoy these excellent blogs about various tianguis and mercados.

Several Oaxaca mercados  This has a great story about Mexican chocolate near the bottom of the page..

Guadalajara's Mercado  Abastos

Mérida's Sunday Tianguis

Ajijic's Wednesday Tianguis

A famous Sunday tianguis dates to prehistoric times at Chichicastenano in Guatemala


Tianguis are temporary street markets that date to pre-Columbian times and continue, in many cases, essentially unchanged into the present day.  The word tianguis comes from the Nahuatl word tianquiztli which means day market or harvest.  Today, they typically occur one day per week, sometimes monthly or seasonally -- Christmas, Day of the Dead, etc.  Daily tianguis have been largely replaced by mercados.  Tianguis are organized, street-wide scheduled events and should not be confused with random individual street vendors.

In rural areas, many traditional types of merchandise are still sold, such as agriculture produce, tools, clothing, blankets, housewares, and handicrafts, as well as modern, mass-produced goods. In the cities, these traditional items still abound, but there is a trend toward more mass-produced goods, including pirated CDs and DVDs as well as knock-offs of name-brand merchandise.  Clothing is a major item.  It is estimated that more than one-third of Mexicans buy some or all of their clothing at a tianguis.

Tianguis merchants pay a small fee to the city as rent for use of an assigned space on the sidewalk or street.

Mercados are basically tianguis made permanent by moving into a building where the merchants continue to pay rent for their assigned space. 

In the mid-20th century, local governments in Mexico promoted mercados in order to better regulate the selling of goods traditionally available in tianguis.  Some mercados were private ventures, but most were built and owned by the cities.

For example, in México City, the Abelardo L. Rodriguez Market was built by the government in the 1930s in order to modernize the sale of produce and staples. It even included a day care center and a theater. It commissioned Diego Rivera to supervise the painting of murals inside. These murals can still be seen today.  

However, these efforts have not eliminated the tianguis tradition; in fact, the number of these street markets far exceeds the number of mercados throughout the country.  In Mexico City alone, there are about 300+ mercados versus about 1,400+ tianguis. Nation-wide, tianguis outnumber mercados by about two to one.

One reason for this is that many of these mercados are not well-maintained and few new ones have been built since the 1970s  Most cities expect rent money to fund maintenance such as roof repairs, electrical and plumbing repairs and upgrades as well as paying for electrical, water and sewer service.  Often there is no money left for maintenance after the utilities are paid. 

Cities push to raise the rent paid by each stall "owner."   The owners push back that they cannot pay more because their customers cannot pay higher prices.  This stalemate comes as part of the changing business model of the mercados resulting from the proliferation of modern supermarkets.  Customers who can afford the higher prices of the supermarkets have abandoned the mercados, leaving behind those of more limited means.  This new business model coupled with aging facilities and poorly maintained infrastructure means a clouded future for many mercados.

Tianguis have been around for over one thousand years and show no signs of passing.  Many mercados are unlikely to last a century.   For me, a tianguis is more fun than a mercado, and a supermarket provides a more comfortable shopping than a mercado. Nevertheless, my favorite chorizo can only be found at my local mercado.

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