I find surprisingly little written about the vibrant, colorful pre-Hispanic market in Tlaxcala, capital city of Mexico’s tiniest state also named Tlaxcala. During my recent trip I dropped by the Governor’s Palace to feast my eyes upon beautiful murals depicting the market as it was in the heyday of the Nahua people who founded it in the 13th century, long before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.
Tlaxcala’s market still operates in the same spot, selling many of the same foods and goods that were sold hundreds of years ago, possibly by ancestors of today’s vendors. This creates nothing short of a magical market environment which increases exponentially with the addition of a huge weekend market set up under tarps, including the spirited sale of live animals.
As I shop, I enjoy looking at the faces of the vendors and customers as much as the colorful and endless array of goodies.
The cuisine of Tlaxcala is similar to neighboring Hidalgo, Puebla and the Federal District of Mexico City. You will find barbacoa, mixiote, tamales and quesadillas de comal made with a wide variety of fresh local ingredients including edible insects considered to be great delicacies like escamoles (ant eggs) and maguey larvae.
Mixiotes are the outer membrane of young of maguey cactus leaves, removed in sheets to wrap little bundles of marinated meats and chiles to be steamed as you would a tamale like these beautiful pre-Hispanic Tamales de Pescado, fish tamales made with local freshwater fish stuffed with more teeny tiny fish.
There is a beautiful variety of mushrooms, both cultivated and harvested from the wild, squash flowers, cactus fruits and nopales, multicolored ears of corn and of course, the bitter herb epazote. The selection of dried chiles reflects Tlaxcala’s love of moles, simple ones for everyday and more elaborate moles like those of Puebla for special occasions.