The Mercado Roma, Part 1: Shop Til You Drop

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Mexico is a City of markets: big, small, indoors and out. But many struggle to survive. Local governments, in their zest to placate gourmands and support small agri-business, build, re-do or recreate old-time markets. But they don’t always succeed. Lush, once thriving agoras are mercilessly exploited by governments and media hype-sters and become Disnifyed tourist sights; Barcelona’s beautiful but overrun Boquería is a sad example. Architecturally worthy but financially dying antiques are turned into upscale “gourmet” halls: case in point Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel. New York, meanwhile had little market culture, Union Square aside, when the Chelsea Market and Eataly sprung into being. They’re for shopping if you’ve got the dough.  The ideal  attracts devotees of high quality products, sold by the people that farm/grow/hunt/fish/make them. Some markets have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to lure newer generations with upscale temptations like wine bars and restaurants. If that will win customers over, bring it on. As long as there’s a good balance.

So now we have the Mercado Roma.  Designed on the Chelsea/Eataly model as an upscale place to eat and shop, only open as of early June, it seems to be working. The three-tiered space, located on a previously forgotten stretch of Calle Querétaro, is tastefully done in contemporary retro. Black walls, discreet signage – at times too much so, making for confusion in identifying where, exactly, one is – and requisite old-time mosaic pattern floors are well combined. Unfortunately, the layout is designed like a Tepito electronics mart: aisles are cramped and confusing. There seems to be no main entry to the space and weekends are already a no-go time as foot traffic moves like the Periférico at rush hour.  The hall houses a combination of chef-run lunch spots and purveyors of up-market foodstuffs.  “It’s absolutely LOUSY with hipsters,” B. opined, as he surveyed the sea of bearded, little-hat and tattoo clad denizens who have already taken on the Roma as primo hotspot meeting place. Indeed, it’s a niche market, but a welcome one. Generally speaking, culinary level is high. In part one I concentrate on what’s in store for shoppers. Many shops proffer products previously only available downtown, in the Central de Abastos or not at all.

Local cooks will be happy to be able to pick up a kilo of fresh clams, a couple of superb cheeses and a French pastry.

Lactography Queso Store
The affable cheese expert Carlos Yescas offers carefully selected artisanal cheeses from all over Mexico, as well as salsa, chutneys, marmalades and honey. A fresh chevre perfumed with lavender that I sampled recently was divine.

Quesos La Jersey
Brought to you directly from the centro’s Mercado San Juan offers the best imported cheeses and ‘embutidos’ from Italy, Spain and France. Raw milk brie, Parmigano Reggiano, grana Padano, well cured manchegos, salamis, jamones ibéricos, they’re all here. Some excellent and affordable national products are on for sale as well.

Panadería Da Silva
With several locations, Da Silva does some of the best bread in town. And their pastéis de nata – Portuguese custard tarts – have to be tasted to be believed. They’re even better than the ones from that famous place in Lisbon.

Spice Market
This shop, located upstairs, sells an interesting array of spice blends, all made in house, for every variety of “ethnic” cooking from Thai to Indian to Moroccan. The mixtures are carefully and artfully balanced.

More shops sell imported cheeses, local agave products, Asian ingredients, coffee, and books.  So shop ’til you drop. Next week, I’ll review the eating establishments. 

Mercado Roma
Querétaro 225, between Medellín & Monterrey, 1 1/2 blocks from Av. Insurgentes
Open daily from 10-7

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About The Author

Nicholas Gilman is a food writer based in Mexico City; he's author of Good Food in Mexico CIty: Food Stalls, Fondas, Fine Dining.