Food / Mexico / Travel

The Morelia Market: Food, History, Culture … and Cowboy Boots

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When traveling, one of our first excursions is to the local market. Shopping there is fun, and it gives us an opportunity to interact with the city residents. But there’s more to it than shopping and socializing. A trip to the market can provide insights into a country’s culture that we might otherwise miss. And we found this to be true in Morelia as well.

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Unlike big box and high street stores, market vendors have to focus. They don’t have the luxury of stocking hundreds of items with hopes that someone might be interested. To stay in business, they have to stock what people need and are willing to buy. So a stroll around the market gives travelers a good opportunity to see what people need, want, and what’s important to them. All humans have the same basic needs, but how they fill those needs varies from culture to culture.

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These heaping bins leave no doubt that corn is an important food in Mexico. There is maiz rojo (red), rosa and ancho (rose and ancho for pozole – a soup), and finally, a maiz specifically for tortillas. Almost all Mexican dishes include corn in one form or another, and its history goes back to prehistoric times. The corn plant was domesticated in Mesoamerica, and any corn you see growing on the planet has its roots here. It was not only food, but was sacred food; the Aztecs had a god of corn.

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Chili peppers are another food which have a long history in Mexico. Archeologists have discovered evidence for the use of chili peppers in clay cooking vessels 2000 years old. The market stocked a dizzying variety, and there were bags of dried chili peppers as big as oil drums. And after a few delicious meals, my burning tongue tells me that most people here have built up a resistance to the heat. The hotness of everything that we’ve eaten here has been ratcheted up a few degrees from the dishes we find in the US. Personally, I think it’s a ploy to sell more beer – and it’s working.

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Mole (pronounced mole-lay) sauce is another distinctive Mexican invention that’s sold all over the market. If you haven’t had it, you’ve missed a delicious treat. This tasty sauce is usually served on poultry, and frequently, on enchiladas. Even the simplest moles have 25 ingredients, and the number goes up from there. In addition to numerous types of chili peppers, the sauce can include nuts (off all kinds – our favorite is almonds), sesame seeds, cilantro, garlic, cinnamon, and chocolate. This is a simplified recipe, and before you decide to make it, a Google search will show how many ingredients you need to chase down. This booth had an excellent selection, and we tried the almendrado (almond). We slathered it on enchiladas, chicken, and in a cross-cultural experiment, veggie pasta. All were delectable.

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But the mercado isn’t all about food. These cowboy boots caught my eye, and honestly, I’m not sure what cultural insight they provide. If there had been only one pair, I might have thought it was a joke. But five pairs with increasing toe length must say something about being macho. I’m biting my tongue to avoid saying the first thing that pops into my mind. I’m just sayin’.

Hasta Luego,
James & Terri

P.S. And the cowboy boots were just next to the roosters. Hmmm …

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60 thoughts on “The Morelia Market: Food, History, Culture … and Cowboy Boots

  1. That was a wonderful little cultural journey. I have no words for the cowboy boots. Seriously. As for maize – we encounter it everywhere in South America too. I dislike it intensely. I thought the Aztec corn god was a goddess 🙂
    Cheers, Alison

    • I checked a bit further Alison, and there seems to be a difference of opinion. But according to the Visit Mexico website: the god’s a man;
      “Centéotl was the Aztec god of Maize. His name means “Maize cob Lord” or “the Dried Ear of the Maize God”, and he represents the Aztec version of a more ancient and pan-Mesoamerican deity. Centeotl was the son of Tlazolteotl, the goddess of fertility and childbirth, and husband of Xochiquetzal.”
      So the next time you have some unappetizing maize, blame him. ~James

      • Then the Oaxaca Traditional Folk Dance Company is a bit confused presenting Centeotl as a goddess 🙂
        Here’s a pic of their depiction of ‘her’ (scroll down) – the one close to the middle in a gold cape and the fanciest headdress. Perhaps he/she changed genders as worship was incorporated into Catholicism.
        http://alisonanddon.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/mexico-part-7-oaxaca-and-the-guelaguetza-festival/
        Anyway I’m not a fan of their ‘corn’ 🙂 but love the ancient dressups!

      • Excellent photos in this post Alison! (Go check out Alison’s post everyone!) These festivals look like a feast for the eyes. As to gender, I guess we can flip a coin. Your point about the Catholic conversion is good one. The Catholic church wasn’t averse to a bit of slight-of-hand when it came to converting those pagans. ~James

      • Thanks James. That whole festival was a fabulous experience.
        We’ve been to many ceremonies all over South America and just about everywhere the ancient spiritual practices are incorporated and moulded to fit into Catholic practice. They are nominally Catholic, probably some even seriously Catholic, but the ancient rituals are incorporated and I suspect much worship of the ancient Gods continues, they just changed things here and there as needed to fit in with the Catholic rituals. It’s quite interesting to see the melange.

  2. Okay you can not leave us hanging. Please find out about those cowboy boots. I humbly request a follow up blog post on those stompers.
    Now to the matter of spicy food and beer consumption what is the brand of choice where you are? Corona?

    • Sue, the boots have me stumped (and I lived in Texas, and once upon a time owned a pair of cowboy boots). All I can make of it is an “excess as style” fad. Other things that come to mind are superwide bellbottoms, stiletto heels, and jailin’ pants. As to the beer, I feel a bit more qualified to answer. I think that in our time here, we’ve sampled just about all the brands, and to my palate, far and away the best Mexican beer is Negra Modelo. All the others have an OK but rather characterless taste (like most mass-produced American beers). Negra Modelo is medium dark and has a distinctive micro-brewed flavor. Don’t confuse this with Modelo Especial, the non-dark version which is OK but not as good. ~ James

      • You are a man after our own heart with your beer research! Negra Modela it is and we will be on the watch for it future travels and in beer stores here. It seems in Calgary we can get imported beer from most any country in the world. Of course it costs 14 times more than where it is sold, not that I like to exaggerate or anything.
        Imagine what those boots would look like with bell bottoms! James I found an article on the trend of these pointy toed boots and how one mystery customer requesting a pair be made has set off a fashion trend in Mexico. I’ve added the link here if you would like a read. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1387604/How-Mexican-men-embraced-bizarre-trend-pointed-footwear.html

      • Brilliant followup comment Sue. This article is a hoot. And just as I expected, this quote proves the being macho connection:

        “Housewife Laura Soto, 36, added: ‘The boots makes them look more sexy because you can tell they are daring.’

        I wonder about the guys with the pink boots, but that’s just me. Thanks for the great reasearch. ~James

    • Andrew, I love markets, but I usually have to walk hurriedly (with eyes averted) through the meat section. Wimp that I am, I’m a packaged meat sort of guy. I think if I had to butcher my own meat, I’d be a vegetarian. But, the rest of the market is all good. ~James

  3. I love local markets, the goods are always the freshest. No to mention it is a great place to people watch. Did you see anyone wearing the cowboy boots? I’ll bet you couldn’t wear those on a plane!

    • These boots at airport security! What a great mental image Laura. I want to be behind the guy wearing these boots at the airport. When the red light and sirens go off, that’ll be me behind him; wearing my shoes and belt, with change in my pockets as I casually stroll through the X-ray. ~ James

    • Thanks Denise. I’m a sucker for local markets. The folks at this market were friendly, and that always helps. And with a smile and bit of Spanish, I got a couple of nice people photos. ~James

    • Thanks Jessi. Really good markets have those booths that are chock-a-block with, for lack of a better word – junk. And in the corners are the tiny little statues that are so covered in dust, you know they haven’t been moved in years: museum pieces. ~James

  4. Ha ha ha ha ha. Can’t stop laughing about the end of your post. Good one.
    I examined all these photos up close and personal (yeah, nose to screen) to see every little item. Love this kind of universal stories: people and food. Love markets although I haven’t visited any outside of Ontario. This sounds like a wonderful jaunt. Thank you for sharing.
    ARE those boots made for walking? ha ha ha ha ha.

    • Thanks Tess. You would have enjoyed this market. In addition to the normal food stalls, there were booths for piñatas, pirated CDs, clothing, toys, fabric – you name it. It was a fun outing. And since you’re in Ontario, you’ll appreciate the strawberries. A kilo of berries USD 1.20. Needless to say, we’re eating lots of strawberries. ~James

  5. Just or let you know about the boots. The dance is incredible….here is the info from Wikipedia.
    Mexican pointy boots (Spanish: Botas picudas mexicanas) are a style of pointed fashion boots made with elongated toes that are popular footwear for men in parts of Mexico as well as in the United States. The boots are said to have originated in Matehuala in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí. The pointy boots have risen to popularity at the same time as “tribal guarachero” music and the boots have become a preferred footwear for the all-male troupes that dance to the tribal music.

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. The boots were a new one for me. They look pretty weird, but I’m sure that if you at any culture, they have fashion trends that defy reason. Given your info, I’ll have to check on Youtube for a video. Thanks again. ~James

  6. Always love pics of food — especially from street markets. You’re right. It gives you a feel for what people eat, what’s important to them. But the pics of the boots — now that’s really fun to examine closely. I mean, how’d they make ’em even????

    • Good point that I hadn’t considered Dorothy. As you know, in many places around the world, packaging that isn’t biodegradable ends up on the street, and frequently, it just accumulates. When we first traveled to Bali, we were amazed at how little non-natural packaging was used. They used banana leaves for just about everything. ~James

    • Jo, I grew up in the southern US, and cornbread was a regular part of our diet. I don’t think there’s a British equivalent. The street vendors here fry up corn tortillas, which get stuffed with various tasty things (usually beans and fresh cheese), and they’re wonderful; probably not the healthiest of foods, but they certainly go down easily. ~James

    • If you haven’t tried mole, you really must. In the US, you can buy an imported version (in fact, it’s also on the shelves here in Mexico) and it’s really good. I can’t remember the name (I think Dona Maria), and it’s in a small, clear jar. It will be in the Hispanic food section. Check it out. ~James

      • Thanks James. I am in Shanghai working, so I am not sure I can find it here 🙂 hee hee. We have an international food section, but it is small. There is a new Mexican restaurant we found in town. I never had enchiladas before and have tried theirs twice now and they are awesome. I will have to ask them if they have mole. They make everything fresh, so I am sure they do.

  7. I am with you on the mole and Negra Modelo, James. Always among my favorites. As for the markets, the way they are organized can be close to artistic. Gods and goddesses of corn, fun. As I recall among the Hopi and other Native Americans, corn maidens are big. I don’t think the boots would do much for my manhood. 🙂 –Curt

    • It would make sense that since corn comes from the earth, which I believe in most mythologies is female, that the corn god would be female as well. But, gods and goddesses don’t always follow logic. If you want a laugh, check out SueSlaght’s link on the boots. And I don’t know if you noticed the price, but these boots were $100 US. That’s some serious scratch for shoes in Mexico.

  8. We loved the local markets all over Mexico and our beer of choice while living there was Negro Modelo as well. Those cowboy boots are a first for us. Never saw anything quite like that while living in MX. 😉

    • It looks like the boots are quite the fad now LuAnn. I don’t want to sound like a geezer, but they look pretty doofus to me. But I’m sure that my wide lapels, long hair, and bellbottoms looked pretty doofus to my parents as well. Check out the link in SueSlaght’s comment above for some funny info on the boots. ~James

      • I am guessing all our parents shook their heads at what we wore while growing up. I will certainly check out SueSlaght’s link as I am fascinated to learn more about them.

  9. Great photos of the markets. So colorful! Loved the different buckets of mole and the amazing pointy-toed cowboy boots. I’m glad for the extra insight into the boot origin in your comments section.

  10. What a fabulous series in Mexico! I lived in Mexico City for a couple of years back in the 90s and San Miguel was a popular weekend escape (for its beauty, but also its safety), but Morelia and Michoacan (being VERY careful about where and when to travel) were also a favorites with us and our visitors. Your series brings back such wonderful memories and serves as a reminder that there is so much, so many faces to Mexico. It is truly a diverse country with each region worthy of trip. You’ve captured the generosity of the people, the color, the artisan culture, the joy in life that unifies and makes Mexico such a joy to visit. Thanks for this great series!

    • What was life in Mexico City like? We visited there a few years ago, and while there was lots to see, the traffic, hustle and bustle, and hassles got a bit tiring. And I can believe that SMA was a big weekend escape. It was funny because on Monday morning, it was a totally different place – amazingly quiet and calm. Also, there are obviously still lots of problems in Michoacan. There was a very visible military presence in Morelia (seriously armed Federales), and other than a teacher’s protest, things were quiet. ~James

  11. We love the open markets. Did they have fried crickets for sale? That was a popular item in Teotihuacan. (I did not try them – I will stick with popcorn.) Open markets are something we seek out in every town and every country. Too bad there are not more of them in the U.S. I could easily spend a entire day at the market, except I always buy plenty of fresh produce and I cannot carry it around all day. – Mike

    • We’re the same way about the fresh produce Mike. I was surprised (but probably shouldn’t have been) at how cheap the produce was in the markets in Mexico. We could get a 4-5 day supply for a couple of bucks. And the strawberries were about 50 cents/lb. Farmers markets in the US just aren’t the same. ~James

  12. Loved your description of the market, though we could not visit it. Liked the idea that market tells a lot about the needs and wants. Sounded bit philosphical to me n dats the charm of your post, i think so. Very colorful images.

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. This was a particularly good market, and we came home with lots of wonderful, fresh food. It’s always fun to see the market. ~James

  13. James we just finished watching the video of the dancing. Sorry but I didn’t receive the notifications of the follow up comments so apologies for the delayed response. I suggested to Dave we get him a pair of pink boots. Somehow he was about as excited as the thought of riding another horse. 🙂

  14. This was another I-didn’t-know-that post. Like most of the comments above, the boots are beyond words. I’ve never seen anything like them .. nor am I sure I want to encounter anyone wearing a pair 😀

    • As local markets go, this one was a good one Joanne. The people were really friendly, and all smiled when I asked questions in my fractured Spanish. We went home with big bags of veggies (and really cheap strawberries), and a hunk of mole that was delicious. I’ll be going into mole withdrawal when we get back to the States. ~James

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