San Juan Market and Its Lion Meat Are One of Mexico City's Best Kept Secrets

Locales en el mercado de San Juan. Imagen del autor.

Stores in San Juan Market. Photo: J. Tadeo

One of the places least explored by the tourists who visit Mexico City is the Ernesto Pugibet Market. Better known by the name “San Juan”, and located within walking distance of the Historical Centre, the market stands out from others in the city for its variety of gourmet products, as well as exotic meats like alligator and lion.

The is how the website Visit Mexico describes the market:

En unas cuantas palabras: lo que hace único a este sitio es que aquí es posible encontrar manjares que no se venden en ningún otro lado.

In a few words, what makes this place unique is that you can find delicacies that cannot be bought anywhere else.

The market’s history goes back more than a century to when it went by a different name. It became established thanks to a donation from a well-known trader in the area. The San Juan website states:

Sus orígenes se remontan a hace casi 120 años, cuando se conocía como mercado Iturbide. Ahí se expendía toda clase de víveres y enseres para los pocos habitantes de la capital. Tiempo después, el señor Ernesto Pugibet –quien le da nombre a la calle donde se ubica el mercado hoy día– donó el terreno para la creación de este espacio comercial.

The market's origins go back almost 120 years, to when it was known as the Iturbide Market. Here, all kinds of essentials and provisions were sold to the capital's few residents. Sometime later, Mr Ernesto Pugibet, who gave his name to the street in which the market is located, donated the land to create this commercial space.

Today, the San Juan Market offers the opportunity to purchase not only fresh produce but also meals and snacks that can be eaten at the market. Especially common are sandwiches and baguettes with cheeses and cured meats, such as salamis, a wide range of chorizos, roast beef, and more—all of which are imported. Generally, the people who run the stores offer their customers samples of the products, and why not? also a complimentary glass of wine to go with their sandwiches.

Bocadillo servido en un local de productos madurados en el mercado de San Juan. Imagen del autor.

Sandwich served in a store selling cured meats in San Juan Market. Photo: J. Tadeo

The fact that you can eat at the market has turned it into a convenient spot for visitors who are looking for something different to what the rest of the city traditionally offers.

Residents of the capital and visitors who wish to purchase food to cook can obtain exotic fresh meats, such as those mentioned on the Mexico Desconocido website:

Armadillo, iguana, zorrillo, venado; mucho y buen conejo, lechón, cabrito y carnero aquí se venden. De Honduras llega carne de tepezcuintle y de Texas la de jabalí; también de avestruz, búfalo, cocodrilo de Florida… Hasta de león. Procede de leones de criadero, es una carne algo dura y un poco ácida, diferente a todas, de color grisáceo.

Armadillo, lizard, skunk, suckling pig, goat, venison, mutton as well as plenty of top quality rabbit are all sold here. There is tepezcuintle [a type of large rodent] from Honduras, wild boar from Texas, ostrich, buffalo, as well as alligator from Florida… Even lion, which comes from captive bred lions. It is a somewhat firm meat and is a little tart, different to all others and a sort of greyish colour.

Mercado de San Juan en la Ciudad de México

San Juan Market in Mexico City. Photo: J. Tadeo

However, what’s on offer is not limited to animals that walk on land. As the website mentions:

Las pescaderías son los locales más famosos de San Juan. Anguilas, mantarrayas y tenazas de cangrejo moro se asoman en los limpios locales entre el atún y el salmón frescos; menos comunes son el percebe –molusco que crece en las rocas– esmedregal –pescado para la comida cantonesa– cigala, langostino danés, cangrejo de Alaska…

It is the seafood stores that are the most well-known in San Juan. Eels, manta rays, and Florida stone crabs all turn up amongst the fresh tuna and salmon in the immaculate stores. Less common are the barnacles (a rock-dwelling mollusc), cobia (a fish used in Cantonese cuisine), langoustine, Danish langoustine, Alaskan crab…

The majority of the meats on offer in the San Juan Market are foreign to traditional Mexican cuisine, therefore their sale inspires curiosity in the capital's residents and visitors, and it certainly sparks creativity among the chefs and foodies who come to the market to stock up on ingredients.

It is also one of the places where you can find everything required under the one roof to prepare the traditional Christmas and New Year dishes mentioned in this earlier story.

Twitter users like FatiRomFlowers have taken advantage of the service to share images and comments about their culinary experiences in San Juan:

The best shellfish EVER @mercadosanjuan #almejachocolata

— FatiRomFlowers (@Florerobrillant) January 12, 2016

VYV shared the following images of her visit to the market with her followers:

I was delighted with the @mercadosanjuan. Everything is super fresh and the people are lovely. #CDMX

— VYV (@sfmakesmerich) March 24, 2016

San Juan holds the number one position on the website HelloDF for the “the 10 markets in Mexico City that everyone must see” and should not be confused with the San Juan Municipal Market in the Juarez Pantitlán community in the neighbouring State of Mexico. People who are interested in following the San Juan traders on Twitter can do so by following the account @mercadosanjuan.


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