How to Buy Great Food in Guadalajara on a Budget

This topic may sound like a no-brainer to the newly arrived expat in Mexico. Yet buying fresh, affordable, and great tasting food here does not follow the same formula you’re accustomed to north of the border (NOB).

In my relatively short time living in Guadalajara, I have made some surprising discoveries about where to buy groceries and other household necessities, without breaking the bank.

This topic could surely fill a book, so what follows is a brief overview of food shopping insights we’ve gleaned in the diverse, jam-packed, foodie metropolis of Guadalajara.

 

Neighborhood tianguis (street markets) 

These outdoor street markets offer the freshest food and also some of the cheapest food you’ll find in the city. The downside is that — generally speaking — there are no prices posted for anything, and they may only be available in your neighborhood one day per week. But with a little planning and patience, these hurdles are easily overcome.

The first thing to remember when shopping at a tianguis is that for most things, prices are dynamic, i.e. the little grandmother whose been shopping the same tianguis with the same vendors for the past 25 years is getting a better price than you. That restauranteur buying crates of fruits and vegetables is getting a better price than you. And anyone speaking Spanish is getting better prices than anyone trying to navigate the market speaking English.

a tianguis in Guadalajara

This is standard practice at tianguis in Mexico, and to partake you must accept that for un ratito (a little while) you’ll probably be paying gringo prices. Once you are recognized as a regular and on a first-name basis with the vendors you shop, you will start noticing that you’re getting better deals.

Because the food you find in your neighborhood tianguis sourced from local farms, dairies, and the like, it tastes so much better than most things purchased at supermarkets. For that perk, I was willing to pay whatever “gringo tax” was being applied–and frankly those prices are still generally much lower than what you’ll pay at the big supermarkets.

I’m now a regular at 4-5 stalls at the Tuesday market in Colonia Seattle, Zapopan (Av. Aurelio Ortega at Calle Jose Maria Morelos); and it feels nice to be greated warmly each week by the vendors who recognize me, offered complimentary tastes of new items, and pay ridiculously low prices for fresh and delicious locally-grown (mostly) food. I typically spend around $500 pesos per week in our local tianguis, and it provides my husband and I with meals for 3-4 days.

It’s also great knowing my food budget is supporting small producers instead of mega-corporations, with no need to drive or deal with heaps of plastic packaging.

My general rules for shopping tianguis are:

      1. Ask for prices before you buy. And when you’re new, check a few places before making a decision since the prices will vary somewhat.

      1. Once you decide to buy, follow the tally mentally as they add up your items.

      1. Be sure to have them state the total price before you hand over your cash.

      1. Do a mental calculation of what your change should be, and be sure to count what you receive.

     

    On several occasions I’ve received incorrect change — and have no idea if I’m being tested, or the vendor’s arithmetic skills are rusty. It just shows that you must be your own advocate, since it’s unheard of to receive a receipt at tianguis.

     

    Covered daily markets 

    Examples include Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara Centro and Mercado de los Abastos near the Expo Center. These markets are excellent options as well for basic shopping needs and the truly budget-conscious. Even better if you happen to live nearby.

    Each market supports hundreds of vendors selling just about every foodstuff imaginable — tropical fruits, fresh and dried vegetables, local cheeses, meats, mole pastes, herbs and spices, hand-made tortillas, eggs, bread, pastries, cooking oils, kitchen tools and gadgets, cleaning supplies, clothing, leather belts, bags and shoes, electronics, and much more.

    a covered market in Guadalajara

    At Abastos, I can confirm that prices on staples are among the lowest you will find in the metro area (see my price comparison table at the end of this post), but you will need more stamina to navigate these behemoths than your small-scale neighborhood tianguis. You will also need a strong stomach.

    Besides the mountains of food and supplies, Abastos is at times a sensory overload. As you walk the market you’ll be hit by pungent aromas emanating from trash heaps, cooking fires, plates of food at myriad open-air restaurants, detritus of nearby butcher shops, mud puddles, and truck fumes from seemingly non-stop deliveries.

    On my first visit to Abastos, a man carrying a freshly slaughtered pig on his back abruptly broke my stride mid-market. Fortunately, my shriek was drowned out by the general chaos. That said, the atmosphere of Mexico’s mega-markets is definitely not for everyone. For me, pantry-stocking trips once a month (or quarter) is plenty.

    Side note: The smaller Mercado Santa Tere (MST) in the bustling, working-class Santa Tere neighborhood just north of Colonia Americana is a viable alternative if you enjoy covered markets but prefer a bit less “atmosphere” and easier access. Despite its smaller size, MST has a great variety of vendors. We have found great deals there on chicken, fresh cheese, and produce, not to mention dined on some of the best chile rellenos this city has to offer.

    My husband and I have long enjoyed a Mediterranean diet that includes fresh fish. So you’re probably thinking that living 3+ hours from the coast was the wrong move, but you’d be mistaken! Zapopan’s Mercado del Mar (MdM) is a another large daily market specializing in fish and shellfish (mariscos) from the Pacific.

    Mercado del Mar

    MdM is a major supplier of restaurants in metro Guadalajara as well as other parts of the country, and, given its size and quality, brings in major crowds, especially during the morning hours, and on weekends. I’ve lived in a lot of cities (but not Tokyo or NYC), and can honestly say I’ve never seen a fish market like this one! It’s well worth visiting if the freshest fish is what you crave. Prices are a fraction of what you’ll pay in City Market or Fresko.

     

    Supermarket chains 

    Popular local options include Fresko, City Market and Soriana. Let’s face it, virtually every expat has some imported food item(s) they simply can’t live without, and they will hunt high and low to find them locally, or resort to bribing friends and family members to hand-carry these things down with them on their visits to Mexico.

    I confess to a love of European wines, smoked salmon, Peet’s Coffee, and Grape Nuts. The latter two are impossible to find here in Guadalajara, but fortunately for me, imported wines and specialty foods can be bought in super opulent City Market (the Tiffany of supermarkets!) in Plaza Patria, and a handful of other specialty shops on the west side of town.

    As long as you can restrain yourself from splurging on Riedel glassware, Le Creuset cookware, and lunch at the sushi counter when you stop in, you can confidently shop City Market for those hard-to-find imports without going broke. And hey, if those splurge items fall within your budget, then this is the place to go nuts! You’ve reached food shopping Nirvana.

    wine department at City Market

     

    For a deeper and wider selection of imported and high-quality domestic wines than City Market can be found at the beverage chain La Europea, with branches in Providencia, Valle Real and Jardines Vallarta. They are also a good bet for imported cheeses, packaged gourmet food items, tequila, and whatever else your bar cart needs. Just don’t expect to find knowledgeable staff there on par with small, independent shops.

    Fresko is another modern supermarket chain (parent company is La Comer, the same owners as City Market), with slightly more reasonable prices than City Market, spotless stores, and very good service. While not as showy or glamorous as City Market, they carry a wide variety of imported items along with everyday staples. In addition, they have an easy to shop website with very inexpensive home delivery (60 pesos) that is waived after you reach a certain amount. My Spanish teacher Elena swears by their home deliver service, which can be scheduled for specific time windows and is — get this — punctual.

    My policy on the ubiquitous supermarket chain Soriana can best be summed up as… Friends don’t let friends shop at Soriana. In my experience, their stores are generally dilapidated, depressing, and devoid of helpful staff, with prices — inexplicably — on par with or higher than City Market on everyday items. The indifference and lack of investment in their stores suggests a complacency born of a time when local competition was far less sophisticated. No thanks!

    bodega

    Last but not least are neighborhood mom & pop grocers (aka abarotes). To anyone who’s spent time in big cities NOB like San Francisco and New York, the idea of getting great deals at your corner bodega is laughable.

    That’s why it was a revelation to me in my first months living in Zapopan to learn that buying fruit, vegetables, and cleaning supplies at my corner store was a total bargain. “Small but mighty” is how I describe my tiny neighborhood abarotes.

    Because most of them aren’t much bigger than a walk-in closet, the abarotes certainly won’t carry everything on your shopping list. However, when you unexpectedly run out of bleach, beer, mineral water, hot sauce, peppers, avocadoes, milk, cheese, and tortillas, don’t despair! You’ll likely find all those things and more in your corner store.

    When my new housecleaner told me she needed plastic gloves, a new mop, and some cleaning towels on her first visit, I dashed to my corner store and was astounded to find the total tab for those items was less than $6 USD.

    Do some exploration in your own neighborhood. Unless you’re based in the heart of Andares, I can practically guarantee you’ll find some hidden gems.

    Price comparison table for the week of August 6, 2023

    grocery prices table

     

    What have we missed? What are your favorite food shopping spots and discoveries in Guadalajara? Be sure to share them in the comments below.

    About Live Well Mexico

    My name is Dawn Stoner. In 2022, my family sold our house and half of our possessions, then relocated to Guadalajara, Mexico. We now live here full-time.

    Since then, we’ve learned how to navigate the real estate market, deal with the Mexican bureaucracy, and manage our finances as expats… all while having a pretty fine time!

    I created this blog to help newcomers solve the everyday challenges of living in Mexico, because it isn’t easy figuring all this out for yourself.

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