So the Mercado Hidalgo is only about a 25-minute walk from my house and I’d never been there until my friend Alecs Montes, started taking me on these delicious mini-outings to sample gorditas de chicharron prensado or his favorite carnitas. As the market becomes closer and closer to my heart, I wanted to write about the places I’ve discovered alongside Alecs and tell the world that despite Colonia Doctores reputation as being “really dangerous” it’s pretty tame — and their market is great.
Mercado Hidalgo is housed in two buildings separated by Dr. Balmis street, one building is all hardware and the other has produce, meat, small restaurants and food stalls and a handful of other housewares stands. The market is known for its hardware. You can get about anything you could possibly need in terms of plumbing and electrical in addition to deep-fryers, lightbulbs, tubing, safety vests, school uniforms, nails, screws, work boots, rubber boots, and wheels…. thousands of wheels of every shape and size.
(“Every time I come here I imagine making some kind of furniture with wheels,” Alecs says, “I’m desperate to buy some wheels.”)
The hardware stands within the market are also only the beginning, as outside in the surrounding streets are some of the country’s biggest (in floor space and in name) hardware stores like Cravioto. This is the place to come to start a project.
The other thing the market is famous for is a tiny food stall called El Rinconcito and their gorditas de chicharron prensado (located on the Dr. Balmis side of the market in the section with food and restaurants). For any of you that don’t know, chicharron prensado is the leftover bits of meat at the bottom of the fryer when making chicharron (fried pig skin) that are then fried again and pressed to squeeze out some of that heavenly grease. If you see chicharron prensado and it’s brown it’s just been double fried and pressed, if you see it and it’s red, they’ve added Potassium nitrate, which according to wikipedia is not only an age-old food preservative but also one of the main components of gunpowder. Yum.
For these gorditas, that chicharron prensado is mixed with corn dough and made into little patties that are then deep-fried again — crispy on the outside, soft in the middle, with a bit of spicy salsa on top. I’ll tell you what… they are delicious… but they are the greasiest thing I have ever eaten here and that’s sayin’ alot. So maybe first-time tourists, skip this one. El Rinconcito is ALWAYS packed and almost always open, although we did recently find it closed on the Friday after Ash Wednesday for Lent.
Across from El Rinconcito is Los Pambazitos, a one-woman cart that sells mini pambazos. I’ll admit that pambazos are not my favorite Mexican snack nor are these the very best I’ve ever had in my life, but eating a tiny pambazo will make you smile (3 for 25p), I promise. The plain version here is with potato but you also get them with chorizo or longaniza.
Continuing on the mini theme there is also a woman selling mini donuts from a basket — chocolate, sugar, and cream-filled!! A bag will only set you back 10p.
The Hidalgo market has all the basic characteristics of a good Mexican mercado with a section of fish/meat/poultry and another selling fruits and veggies. There’s your classic housewares area, a long line of seafood restaurants and lots of taco stands and comida corridas. You can get pancita, quesadillas, kekas, enchiladas, cochnita pibil, and about a million other lunch or breakfast foods. Prices are slightly higher than monster markets like the Merced or Central de Abastos and slightly cheaper than neighboring Mercado Medellin in the Roma.
A few oddities stood out for me in Mercado Hidalgo, one they have a vegan tamales stand, which Alecs raves about, open only on Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays, because the other days of the week they sell in other outdoor tianguis. This place gets added to my ongoing list for eating vegan in Mexico City. You can purchase tamales frozen and take them home with you or they will heat up a few for you right at their stand. They are located right on the edge between the food section and the hardware section of the market, near the exit to Dr. Galvez street.
The market’s other wonder is the tostada makers. The hallway is filled with the smoke of four massive deep-fat fryers surrounded by a handful of teenage boys flicking tortillas into their depths and bringing back up the tostadas you’ll find throughout the city topped with ceviches, broken up for guacamole or eaten doused in Valentina (my personal favorite). It’s a fascinating show to watch.
There are also two locations of a great tepache place called El Oasis in the market, one on the Doctor Arce side and one on the Doctor Andrade side. Tepache is a mildly alcoholic drink (really mild, trust me) made from fermented fruit, mostly pineapple. The guys at El Oasis age it in white or red oak barrels that they get from the state of Jalisco. It takes about 4 days to ferment depending on the outside temperature. They serve it freezing cold and it’s AMAZING, perfectly sweet and not over-fermented.
There are dozens of taco stands to try but Alecs’ personal favorite is El Chino which has decent suadero, cochinita pibil, machitos, tripa, etc, I’m still waiting to find my place, I’ll let you know. Until then, if you’ve been to the market and have some must-stop places to recommend leave me a comment.