Guadalajara on a plate
Open air food stand in Guadalajara's Mercado San Juan de Dios. (Neil Setchfield/LPI)
Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, has all the advantages of the country’s capital, Mexico City -- awe-inspiring museums, cutting-edge restaurants, culture, history and well-priced shopping – without the capital’s traffic jams and dense population. In addition, Guadalajara has good public transport, shady tree-lined avenues, competitive prices for accommodation and food, and a long list of attractions to happily occupy any visitor. But to get a genuine feel of the place and its people, focus on Guadalajara’s food and drinks.
A tour should start at the huge food court in the city’s daily market, the Mercado San Juan de Dios (the corner of Avenida Javier Mina and Calzada Independencia). To help choose among the many food sellers, watch where the locals are and grab a stool at those stands. You can feast for days on torta ahogada (a “drowned sandwich” stuffed with fried pork, covered in a spicy tomato and chilli sauce and served with avocado, onions and radishes), birria (slow cooked joint of lamb or goat chopped and served in a tomato based broth with tortillas and salsa), pozole (a stew of either pork or chicken with corn and assorted vegetables), fish ceviche (made from whatever is fresh that day, marinated in lime juice and served with tostadas (fried tortillas) and crackers, and the Mexican breakfast of eggs, frijoles (home cooked beans), queso (white, crumbling, slightly salty cheese) and tortillas. For those on a tight budget, look out for the filling comida corrida (meal of the day), usually a soup and main course including tortillas, rice, salad and a drink, which is served from about noon onwards.
For cheap street food, it is hard to beat tacos, which are served everywhere. They are usually made with warm, soft tortillas filled with beef, pork, chicken or fish (stands usually specialize in one), with various toppings and salsas. As the sun sets, even more street food appears, including desserts such as churros (deep fried dough covered in sugar) and fruit-filled empanadas (a small enclosed pastry). These genuine Mexican fast food stands stay open until the late hours.
Available throughout the city are a range of traditional drinks worth sampling. Agua de jamaica is extracted from the hibiscus flower and tastes a little like cranberry juice. The creamier horchata is a sweet blend of rice, sugar, water and cinnamon, and agua de tamarindo, extracted from the tamarind nut, has a sweet but slightly zingy taste. There is also a wide range of fresh juices such as orange, papaya, beetroot and carrot. The ice that is added to many of the drinks is reliably made with filtered water.
The Mercado San Juan de Dios also sells an array of fresh fruit at very low prices. Often the vendors have samples on offer of sweet and juicy mangos, grapefruit, pineapples and coconuts. Get the food to go and have a picnic in one of the city’s many parks.
Guadalajara, like an increasing number of Mexican towns and cities, also has a farmer’s market. It runs on Fridays and Saturdays in the plaza outside the Templo Expiatorio church (Avenida Diaz de Leon). Old and young Mexicans bring enthusiasm for their food and produce, including the famous mole tamales from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Tamales are made from ground-up corn, cooked in wrapped husks and filled with meat, vegetables or simply a sauce such as mole (made with a mix of chocolate and chillies). You can also fill up on fresh fennel juice, locally produced honey, Chiapas coffee, Oaxaca chocolate and organic produce. On the same plaza, the indigenous Huichol people sell bags, embroidered clothes and their distinctive jewellery made from minute colourful beads.