I’d be lying if I said that part of the excitement that I felt about visiting Mexico City didn’t stem from a secret hope that it would be like a new Spain that happened to be on the same continent that I inhabited. Obviously I was also excited for many things that were very much Mexican and not Spanish at all; tacos al pastor, Día de los Muertos, lucha libre, etc. etc. etc. But I had also heard about a lot of Mexico City features that I hoped would transport me back to Spain in some small way.
So, with this in mind, imagine my delight when I strolled into Mercado San Juan, Mexico City’s premier exotic foods market, and was greeted by a man who literally asked me “Would you like to try the best Jamón Serrano sandwich in all of Mexico?” Yes, man. Yes, I do want that.
My friend and I were escorted through the market by this very friendly man to a stall that looked like this, while he sang the praises of their hams, cheeses, and embuditos:
I cannot emphasize how crowded this place was, so I instantly believed that we were about to actually get the best ham sandwich in all of Mexico. We were given a menu and a rundown of the offerings by a very nice young boy, and decided to order a ham sandwich between the two of us. When we were asked if we wanted a whole or a half, well, that is where we made our mistake. The only negative detail of this outing was our decision to go for a whole sandwich instead of a half. Little did we know that meant a whole baguette and about 1-meter of carefully layered, very expensive Jamón Serrano. Mexico City was so delightfully affordable for us coming from the States that paying $20 for a sandwich was an absolute shock, even though we got our money’s worth and more.
The sandwich was indeed delicious, but even as a devoted ham lover, it was way too much! So take my advice; definitely go here and get a sandwich, but make it a half! And split that half with someone else. So here is the sandwich; basic and delicious and dripping with ham and olive oil:
Sorry for the blur and the bite marks, I guess I couldn’t control myself. The sandwiches were great, but for once it wasn’t the jamón that made this experience what it was. The service from the people at Gastronomica San Juan was literally so good that I just wanted to sit there and chat with them. They were a bit over the top with praise for their product, but it came off as genuine enthusiasm, and did I mention the free wine and dessert?! As soon as we ordered we were offered two tiny glasses of red wine to go with our sandwich which were promptly downed:
Again, no time for proper photographic evidence. Then the nice little boy who took our order asked us if we’d like to have a seat. The place was packed and there weren’t even chairs to be offered, but I said sure since he seemed to have a plan in mind. He then walked us to a completely different market stall and pulled out two stools for us to sit on right at the counter. There was such a nice, community environment in the market and even though I must have been driving these people crazy with my lousy Spanish, they were so patient and generous with us.
When we finished our sandwiches (we took half home in a bag…way too much ham!!) and our second little sipper of vino, the real treat came out. Dessert! We had no idea what this was at first, but it ended up being a slice of baguette covered in ice cold mascarpone (or a similar cheese), then topped with a walnut and drizzled with honey.
Ok, I thought. Kinda lame dessert, but cool that it’s free. Then I took a bite. Never has something so simple been so damn good. We ate these two with such voracity that the man helping us came over and gave us six more pieces to go, for free. He even wrapped up our little doggy bag in wax paper. Two of the additional pieces only made it as far as a coffee bar just down the aisle in the same market, where we had another delightful experience. We ate the others that afternoon. I have yet to recreate this simple masterpiece, partially because the memory of eating this in Mercado San Juan was so perfect.
If you like Spanish foods (hams, cheeses, and sausages in particular), I cannot recommend a visit to Gastronomica San Juan enough. If you don’t know Spanish food, even if you hate it, I still recommend it, just for the wonderful service and awesome setting. It was a great way to kick off an even greater trip to the Mexican capital, and when I go back (which I definitely will), it will be one of the first places on my list to revisit. I’ll add another post soon with some pictures of the other market stalls, because they were just incredible.
If you’d like some more information, you can check out Gastronomica’s Facebook page here. It will be helpful to speak Spanish at this spot, but if you don’t I have no doubt you will survive with a smile and some finger pointing. Just watch out for those enormous $20 sandwiches!!!