I cannot describe how excited my husband was when I suggested we head to Empalme last month for the Sunday tianguis. Okay, not really. But I was certain he would get there. Technically a tianguis falls into the shopping category, but it is definitely not a “you sit here while I disappear into the dressing room for four hours” kind of experience.
A tianguis is an open air market, albeit temporary, existing in its location on set days and at set times. The tradition dates back to the Aztecs, when markets were set up and taken down daily so that people could buy, sell, and trade their goods. Tianguis are not regulated, meaning there are no taxes paid to the government by the vendor. Typically, there is a small fee paid for booth space. In some cases the fees collected benefit the municipality, and in others, money collected may be donated to local schools or other groups. Booth space means a series of tables set up under a canopy, some with walls, some without, or a cloth directly on the ground where goods are displayed.
Empalme is a former railroad town, and directions to the tiaguis include “turn left at the big locomotive engine”. While not officially in the market zone once you make the turn, there are already numerous stalls lining the streets; selling shrimp and fish, fruits, vegetables, and homemade sweets. From here it is easy to find the market itself; follow the slow moving line of cars.
Okay, I get Steve’s lack of enthusiasm. I really do. I am not much of a shopper myself and would avoid malls altogether if I did not have a son who is a shopper. But a tianguis is less about shopping, and much more about socializing; interacting with friends and neighbors. And eating really good food. Some of the most popular stalls at the Empalme tianguis are those where food is sold. These booths are transformed into mini restaurants complete with tables, tablecloths, napkin dispensers, and chairs. Music blares from portable speakers. Bakers sell slices of cake. There are strawberries with fresh cream. I have heard there are at least four churro carts roaming the aisles.
Shopping is most definitely possible too, for those so inclined. Dining room tables, washers, used tires, bicycles, toys, flowers, power tools, clothing (new and used), shoes, cazuelas, microwaves, sofas, stereos, books, CD’s, eggs, movies, statues of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and on and on and on… I need absolutely nothing, but find myself drawn to the colorful displays. “Steve, here is a really great deal. Need any socks? Or underwear?” He looks bewildered, but at least I have not started handling the fuschia, orange, and electric blue bras on display right next to them!
The whole town is alive on tianguis days. Sundays are the one day off work for many, and the sidewalks are full of people checking out the cosmetics, jewelry, produce, and seafood. An elderly couple prepares their harvest of nopal cactus for sale. Musicians play violins, drums, and guitars; there is dancing. Children enjoy raspadas and horchata. Everyone seems friendlier than usual, relaxed and happy.
The average family spends about 300 pesos ($15) each week at the tianguis. We got out of there for about 50 ($2.50). We bought fresh onions, tomatillos, strawberries, cucumbers, and peppers. And this non-shopper has already made her list for the next time! Steve even looked it over and added a few things.