Inside the Merced Market: A conversation with Don Raul
“Do you plan on selling huaraches until the day you die?”
“Probably,” says Don Raul with a laugh. “It’s very demanding, enslaving almost, but it’s very noble feeding people. When people come and they eat what you’ve prepared and they say ‘gracias’, it’s truly satisfying.”
Don Raul and his sister are the owners of Tacos El Pollo, a huarache and quesadilla stand in Mexico City’s Merced market, one of the stops along Eat Mexico’s A Journey Through the Merced tour. He’s famous for his massive huaraches. Our favorite is topped with bright orange squash blossoms, grilled mushrooms and quesillo. Crispy around the edges, with green or red salsa that pricks the back of your throat with its spice, the huarache is Mexico’s homegrown pizza and better shared in a group. This morning I am doing my best to finish one solo, as Raul tells me the history of El Pollo.
Don Raul’s mother was one of Merced’s first vendors. She started out selling fruit to the thousands of daily shoppers that frequented the Merced when it was still the city’s main bulk market (before the Central de Abastos was built).
“After the Central de Abastos was built, the Merced lost a lot of business. It was a very hard time for the vendors,” says Don Raul. “My mother was a pioneer really. She saw that her sales were dropping and decided to be one of the first people to start selling prepared food in the market. We started with tacos and were located right by the entrance to the metro so we did very well. My father made these incredible fresh fruit waters, I’ve never had anything like them since.”
When a portion of the Merced burned in the early hours of February 27, 2013, El Pollo’s storage space was badly damaged and the merchandise inside lost, but huarachefortunately their actual stand was spared. In the 3 years since the massive fire the government has been promising to renovate the market. Recently officials asked vendors to temporarily leave their stands so the work can be finished. For that reason El Pollo is now outside of the market’s main building, awaiting the day when they can return, but the progress has been painstakingly slow.
“It’s difficult for the vendors still inside the market. The government says that we have to temporarily relocate in order for them to fix the market, but people don’t trust it and think that once they leave they will never get their stands back” says Don Raul.
Still, Raul remains hopeful and is working with the smallest members of the Merced family to preserve the legacy of this important place.“I want to encourage the children of the Merced to enjoy their childhood,” he says, “you know here in the market they grow up selling, they don’t have much time to be kids. We have been developing projects that will give them a sense of the history of this place. Make them proud to be part of the Merced.”
Raul is currently working with other vendors and neighborhood organizations to create workshops for kids, to write a Merced cookbook, to help with a documentary about the market. All things to encourage his fellow vendors and their children to take pride in where they come from and where they spend their days. After all, this is where his life began, and where he hopes to end it… proudly.