Fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs, fish, pork, beef, chicken, duck, farm-fresh eggs, hand-made goods, soaps and shampoos, cheeses and beyond, Market 23 is the only open-air local market in Cancun. While it’s located in Centro and is sometimes frequented by tourists, the vast majority of daily traffic here comes from the locals. If you are looking for fresh produce for the table, this is the only place you want to be.
While Market 28 focuses more on the touristy side of things with knick-knacks and souvenirs, Market 23 is the beating heart of local produce here in the city, and if you are looking to enjoy the benefits of the cost of living in Cancun, this is where you’ll be doing the bulk of your shopping. Speaking from our own perspective as lovers of organic, fresh food, this is the only market you should be considered when it comes to finding the farm-fresh produce that isn’t imported from the U.S.
While there are still a few touristy stalls located in and around the market, the vast majority of tiendas here are set up to provide one thing and one thing only to the local residents: affordable, daily solutions to their needs. Whether it’s a freshly-killed chicken, a farm-raised duck, fresh tomatoes, tortillas hot off the press, fish caught that very morning just off the coast, tepezcohuite soap and shampoo, homemade teas or just some fresh herbs and spices, why go to Chedraui or Wal Mart when you can just go straight to the source and cut out the middle man?
Mercado 23 isn’t for the weak of heart or those whose primary concern is hygiene and “Western” standards. You won’t find bleached walls and health inspectors making regular rounds here. It’s an open air market, in the heart of the tropics, and the daily rush doesn’t always afford ample time to keep things spic-and-span in terms of cleanliness. This is also why Mexicans won’t just buy meat and produce, rush home and cook it. Rather, they’ll be sure to clean the meat first and disinfect their vegetables prior to eating.
That doesn’t mean you can’t find high-quality produce and meat here, though! It just means you’re in the jungle, baby! There’s bacteria and creepy crawlies that exist in this part of the world that don’t exist anywhere else and precautions need to be taken prior to cooking or eating any of the content that you pick up at the market. Just as you shouldn’t eat an apple straight off the shelf in any store of the world, you wouldn’t want to do the same here until you’ve had a chance to properly wash and disinfect it.
That being said, while the produce is always top-quality, you do have to take care when selecting meat. Thankfully, everything is plainly on display and you can always see, smell and inspect the meats before making any purchase. Plus, the vast majority of meat sold in Market 23 is of the freshly-butchered variety, which means you are getting something that has been killed that very morning, or the day before.
In the case of our wedding dinner, for example, we picked up four farm-raised ducks to roast. Duck is a specialty item at the market, and you have to come in and make your order the morning before so that they have time to kill it and pluck the feathers prior to selling it to you. Which also brings me to another point: when you buy a chicken or duck here, you aren’t just getting chicken breasts and thighs and wings. You are getting the whole bird: legs, feet, neck, beak and all.
Mexicans don’t waste any part of the animal, and while you can always select specific parts of the animal for the cutters to slice down for you, you can find everything here. When it comes to beef tacos, for example, all of the restaurants serve tacos made out of cow cheek meat, the tongue, eyeballs, stomach lining and beyond. Nothing is wasted in this country, so if you are an adventurous sort (or involved with a Mexican!) you’ll find all the opportunities you could ever want in terms of interesting platters being served at the table!
The same goes for the restaurants that are located throughout the market. They are “street food” style vendors, as well as food stalls and carts selling fresh chicharrón, blood sausage and beyond. The food is top-notch, but it’s definitely the “greasy spoon” option with all the animal parts available for consumption, and if you are looking for a high-end, spotlessly-clean, regularly-inspected Michelin 3 star rated eatery…go back to the Hotel Zone. This is Mexican street food in all its finger-licking goodness, and if you can’t handle it that just means more tacos for us!
All in all, Market 23 is one of our favorite markets in town, and we are here several times per week, usually for fresh produce and meat. It’s a solid go-to option when you need the freshest products for your kitchen, so if you are someone like Cristina and myself who thrive on home-cooked meals as opposed to eating out, you’ll be spending a lot of time here. Don’t forget to check out the YouTube video at the start of the post, and check out the Google map below for more information!
View Market 23 in Cancun in a larger map