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Jul 30, 2008 07:41 PM

Green markets, vanilla beans, and mole

I am going to Mexico City for four days for work and have the day free this coming Sunday. From the Lonely Planet message board, someone suggested day trip to a small town outside Mexico City for some fresh mole that I could possibly bring back with me.

Can anyone help me out and tell me

1. Is there a green market I can visit in Mexico City on Sunday to take pictures and get some fresh fruit?
2. Is it possible to bring mole back?
3. Where can I buy some real vanilla beans in Mexico City? Is there a nice gourmet food shop? I'd also like to buy some nice vanilla extract.

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  1. Yes, you can bring mole back to the U.S. For the sake of your clothes and luggage, just make sure it's wrapped and sealed pretty well. You can also bring back vanilla beans. I found them in Guadalajara at a store specializing in assorted spices, seeds and other bulk items, which, of course, doesn't help you much.

    1. I think you'd be really happy with a Sunday visit to Coyoacán. The market there is wonderful (you'll find fruits, vegetables, and infinitely much more, including the strong likelihood of finding your vanilla beans). Of course you'll be able to take pictures, and you'll also find a mole-paste vendor. The varieties of mole will astonish you--be sure to buy the almendrado, and bring back some pipián paste, too. All of the mole pastes can come across the US border with no difficulty. As the prior post said, wrap them well and double-bag them in plastic to avoid spillage and stains!

      When you're finished at the Coyoacán market, enjoy a walk around the old town. The square will fascinate you, a visit to San Juan Bautista (the church on the square) will intrigue you, and you'll enjoy Casa Azul (the Frida Kahlo museum). Be sure to stop on the square for a churro and chocolate or coffee. Enjoy the Sunday atmosphere: Sunday is family day in Mexico and the streets and plazas will feel very festive.

      I've lived in Mexico for a long time and prefer the vanilla brand POSO. It's excellent and readily available in most supermarkets. If you look at other brands, be sure to check the ingredients list. Some contain warfarin (coumadin)--you definitely don't want that type.

      Take the Metro to General Anaya and then a short cab ride to the old village. Tell the cabbie you want to go to Mercado Coyoacán. It's an inexpensive and fast trip.

      Oh, enjoy! Tree-filled Coyoacán on a summer Sunday is the best place in the city.


      3 Replies
      1. re: cristina

        I strongly second cristina's suggestion for Coyoacan on a Sunday. We were there in late January on a Sun., the last full day of our visit, and Coyoacan was one of the highlights of our trip. The mercado is relatively small compared to what we saw in Oaxaca, but it makes it more manageable and less overwhelming. There are a lot of prepared seafood stalls (comedores?) serving all manner of ceviche, sopas, etc. We didn't try any of the seafood since I was stuffed from our stop at El Jarocho for strong coffee and a cubano sandwich.

        I had no problem bringing back mole paste, vanilla beans, jamaica, mezcal, chocolate, dried chiles. Los Danzantes on the plaza makes a nice mezcal (we ate at the one in Oaxaca) and you can stop in for a taste before buying.

        I really enjoyed strolling the neighborhoods of Coyoacan since the architecture is unique and even the doors are charming. Casa Azul was incredible, and we ended up walking to San Angel to see Diego and Frida's studios. Sort of a long walk, so you can take a collectivo or taxi to be more efficient. There was no entry fee that day (I'm not sure if it's for all Sun. or just the first Sun. of the month) and was totally worth the walk. We then wrapped up with a refreshing drink at the San Angel Inn next door before heading back to our hotel.

        I'm sad that we didn't make it to UNAM on this visit, but next time! I know I still owe this board a full report, so I'll try to do little installments and hope that my memory doesn't fail me...

        1. re: Carb Lover

          Carb Lover, IIRC, you're not too far from the Bay Area. SFMOMA is having a Frida exhibition through the end of September. I went last weekend. If you haven't gone, it's definitely worth making the effort to get there. Quite a bit more sanitized and less powerful than the exhibition 20 years ago at La Plaza de La Raza in East L.A., but definitely worth seeing. I was particularly taken with the large number of black & white still photos in the show. Head-set tour was quite good.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            Thanks for the tip, DiningDiva. A friend went to the exhibit last week and highly recommended it. It's definitely on the must-see list of summer activities. Sigh...I'm really missing Mexico and Mexico City as I'm scanning through my photos...

      2. 1) 2) 3).... visit three markets... Mercado La Merced for the best prices and your common artisinal Mole Pastes..... Mercado San Juan for great prices on gourmet, wild produce & exotic items..... La Europea for boutiquey gourmet items & Mexican wines.

        14 Replies
        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          I completely agree with Eat Nopal's post, great suggestions.

          If you do go to Coyoacan, keep in mind that right now they are remodeling the two main squares, so it's not very pretty and kind of hard to get around. However, the restaurants and markets are open and I am sure they could use the business.

          1. re: JulietInDF

            also - if you do go to Coyoacan - check out Los Danzantes. You won't be disappointed.


            hmm....I am hungry now!

            No problem bringing back mole powder or paste. It is just treated as a spice by customs.

            I actually bought some really good vanilla for a great price in the duty free shop at the airport on my way back from Cancun a couple months ago. If you don't find anything while you are in town, that is a good back up plan. Container of 5 fresh plump pods for about $10.

          2. re: Eat_Nopal

            Coyacan is a lovely day trip not to be missed (as is Xochimilco on a Sunday afternoon with floating food stalls) but Mercado San Juan is where I'd go for the mole. I bring some back from there every trip - it's a wonderful food market.

            I bring a box of ziplocs to double bag - it's legal but messy. Oaxacan mole negro only comes in paste form, not powder.
            Have a great time - love love LOVE that place!

            1. re: pitu

              THANKS so much, everybody! I was despairing for a reply, since I waited to long to post on Chow. I'm here in Mexico City, and skipped out on a meeting this afternoon to stroll through just a regular old market right near my hotel (Sevilla--not the palace!) They had mole, but I wanted to wait until tomorrow to get it.

              The people at the conference hotel told me not to walk, which was ridiculous...the neighborhood is fine. It was 20 minutes walking along fine streets, and the taxi would have cost 100 pesos!

              People here recommended Xochimilco, and now I have directions to go there, so I think that's where I'm headed. Sounds like its about 1.5 hours from where I am in Mexico City. What do you think? Can I meet all of those requirements (mole, vanilla, and pictures) in that place? How far away is Coyoacan from Mexico City? And, another strange question, what the heck is D.F.??

              1. re: gypsyesquire

                I was at the market in Xochimilco last year with the woman who posts here as "Ruth from Condechi" (good guide). I purchased mole Apinonado paste there that turned out to be surprisingly good; I purchased it without trying it and with no expectations that it would be good or bad. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised :-). Had to doctor it just a bit to suit my taste, but, truly, not by much.They had several other varieties of mole paste as well as pipian, some dried chiles and seeds.The sign on the vendor stall said "San Pedro Atocpan" and they were on the inside of the market. I also purchased a couple of clay cazuelas that I managed to get home without breaking (yea!). It's a nice market, mostly locals. Interesting selection of dried beans too, which are really easy to bring back. We did not eat here, but Ruth said some of the fondas have a reputation for being quite good.

                We did the Coyoacan market as well on the same day (long day <g>)where we had a bite to eat. I agree with the posters above, it's a very charming market.

                If you can find it, another thing to think about bringing back is sea salt/sal de grano. I've tried sea salt from 3 different regions of Mexico and I'm hooked on the stuff. If luggage weight isn't going to be a problem, invest in some salt. It's cheap, it's good, it just weighs a lot.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  Hi DiningDiva,
                  San Pedro Actopan (not Atocpan) is in the Milpa Alta. If I remember correctly, the product is usually mole powder (inclg the apinonado you mentioned above-made with pine nuts) rather than in mole paste form. In recent years, artisan-producers of these mole powders (all working independently) could be found quite frequently in food fairs and street festivals etc throughout the DF. By this means, the town (which is not far from sprawling Mexico City-it's virtually "suburbs") has achieved some renown in the city as a source of quality mole-rather in the same way that Teloloapan in Gro. has successfully marketed its mole rojo throughout the country.


                  1. re: RST

                    Hi RST, you are correct, what I purchased was mole powder. It seems to keeps forever, not hard to work with at all, and easy to carry back. The resultant mole was pretty nicely balanced with just enough kick to let you know there was chile in it, but not so hot that was all you could taste.

                    You may also be right about the name, however, they gave me a business card (which I still have) and it's printed San Pedro Atocpan. A typo perhaps?

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      Hi DiningDiva,

                      I am not really sure about the Actopan/Atocpan confusion. I don't think that it could simply be explained as a "typo". This orthographic instability might date all the way back to the very introduction of the Castillian alphabet-to the moment the nahuatl was first transcribed. It might be a case of what is called metathesis in linguistics (e.g. saying "aks" when the standard spelling is "to ask".) I have asked Amata (who is a professor of Linguistics) to have a look at the above.

                      On metathesis;


                      Someone also reminded me by email that San Pedro Actopan/Atocpan might be on the outer fringes of the city (it's way beyond Xochimilco-for those who are following the elaborate instructions on this thread on how to get to Xochimilco) and might be rather uncity-like, mountainous farm country, but it is in fact within the boundaries of the Federal District and so is technically still Mexico City.

                      To the original poster re: galletas:

                      Why be afraid of it? Crumbled galletas add volume, texture and (if so desired) also a hint of sweetness. Mole sauces made from paste or powder are by nature homogenized in texture and adding galletas might be a way to bring back some of the voluptuousness of


                      1. re: RST

                        Oops. Just realized that that last sentence was deleted accidentally.

                        Should read:
                        ...bring back some of the voluptuousness of mole paste freshly prepared on the metate, at home, to individual taste.

                        That said, I also have to note that for the making of commercial mole paste, crumbled galleta is often used as a "filler" and a substitute for the more expensive ingredients (almonds, pine nuts and so on). Used properly however and balanced correctly with the other ingredients, I don't see why it should be demonized.

                        Re: the missing texture and volume of commercial mole paste

                        I had the opportunity to taste and observe the making of the magnificent mole de Xico of Magdalena Hernandez (served the proper way, with tamales wrapped in xoco leaves on the side; xoco = Oreopanax echinops//picked fresh from the garden in this case) on my last visit to Xico last Oct 07. This made me understand the true difference between the casero version and the commercial Xico paste made for the tourist trade and widely available throughout the main business streets of the town. I will try to find time to post on this mole de Xico tomorrow or sometime later this week.

                        Also don't know why the link provided above didn't work. Here it is again:


                        1. re: RST

                          Hi RST, thank you, as usual you have supplied for some rather interesting and informative comments. I checked out the link you provided and learned a thing or three. I had heard the concept of metathesis but didn't realize exactly what it was until reading the Wiki link.

                          In either iteration the mole powder I bought turned out to be pretty darn good.

                2. re: gypsyesquire

                  Coyoacán is PART of Mexico City and is easily accessible via public transportation. It's a quick trip on the Metro and a short taxi ride. See my first post replying to you.

                  Xochimilco is a long trip from the center of Mexico City and is a tough trip using all public transportation, unless you want to pay for a cab.

                  "D.F." stands for Distrito Federal. The DF is Mexico City. It's the capital of the Republic of Mexico, much the same way the District of Columbia is the capital of the United States.

                  I'd say get in touch with Ruth from Condechi, only I know she's not home this weekend. She's at my house!


                  1. re: gypsyesquire

                    Coyoacan was pretty easy to get to using the wonderfully efficient and clean metro. Once you exit the metro, you can take a taxi to the plaza area or walk like we did. IIRC, it was about a 20 min. walk but it was very safe during the day and pleasant w/ tree-shaded streets.

                    I'm pretty sure there's a Turibus line that goes south and through Coyoacan if you want to take in more tourist sites along the way. You pay one fee and can get on and off as many times as you like that day. It does take more time since Turibus makes many stops and you'll have to factor in wait time, traffic, etc. but it's a good option if you have the time and inclination. Your hotel should have all the info...

                    We didn't make it to Xochimilco since it seemed harder to access given our limited time, and I was kinda worried it would be a tourist trap. If I were going by myself, I would find a tour group with transportation.

                    Good luck w/ your hunt and have fun getting a taste of the city!

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      "We didn't make it to Xochimilco since it seemed harder to access given our limited time, and I was kinda worried it would be a tourist trap. If I were going by myself, I would find a tour group with transportation."

                      Xochimilco has some incredible farms & people to visit if you do the research prior... I will try & post something later.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        It would be great if you and others familiar w/ Xochimilco could elaborate on its merits. I had about 4 guide books w/ us and none went into much detail. It sounds like a worthwhile trek if one knows what to hone in on. I would love to make it down there and to UNAM next time...

              2. Coyoacan isn't a place I recommend, particularly so on the overly-touristed Sunday and I’ve never thought of the market there very interesting or special. There are many markets in the city and all are probably considered "green"; don't know why they wouldn't be.

                Places I suggest instead of Coyoacan on Sunday: La Merced or San Juan Pugibet and, if you want to see some excellent original artwork while also having the opportunity to visit a smallish market area - stop at the Jardin de Arte on Calle Sullivan (near the intersection of Insurgentes and Paseo de la Reforma).

                Bringing things "back" may present problems, if you don't plan ahead and pack with that in mind. Good vanilla extract may be difficult to locate but the beans are found in many places. I've had the extract confiscated at the airport as I was boarding because I forget to take it out of my carry-on and put in my checked luggage.

                I don't know if I'd bring back mole, because that's available in many of the markets in Mexican communities in the USA (if that's where you live - I do) and I don't think what you'll get in Mexico is better than what's found at home.

                Have a great trip!

                My photos of Mexico:

                3 Replies
                1. re: gomexico

                  THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who responded. I had an excellent time in D.F. (ha ha...I can't believe it took me so long to figure it out!) and managed to go to both Xochimilco and Coyoacan. Thanks to a lovely woman at my hotel (not a super hotel, but the people were very nice--Hotel Sevilla, not the Palace, mind you, about $50 a night). The metro in Mexico City is astonishingly easy and pleasant. I've taken public transport in lots of cities all over the world, and I found this one the most agreeable. Granted, I speak some Spanish, but even without, I think it's fine. I took a train to Taxquena (sp?) and then a tren Ligero to Xochimilco. The station was under construction. so the train stopped one station away which worried me, but the walk was pleasant. I bought a lot of different kinds of mole, but couldn't find vanilla beans to save my life (I asked everywhere). I took a ton of pictures, and plan to post the best of them on my blog:

                  I stopped at a restaurant to get some pollo con mole, and the owner was not busy so he gave me some suggestions about how to prepare the mole. Unfortunately, he said that his secret was to add some sweet galletas to the mix, which I will probably not do.

                  I would love it if someone could post a good preparation for both the powdered mole and the paste.

                  I did make it to Coyoacan, which was a bit more difficult to navigate to be honest, but a shorter trip from where I was staying (blue line, san cosme). I took a train to Hidalgo, and from there to Coyoacan. Then took a minibus to the market..all in all, about 5 pesos. Amazing. The market in Coyoacan was not as impressive as Xochimilco, but the area was charming. I was able to find vanilla beans (man, are they expensive!) and I also found an organic cafe that had really really good food and bread. Beautiful outdoor seating as well.

                  If anyone wants more information, I'd be happy to share it. I plan on blogging about it when I return.

                  Thanks again!

                  1. re: gypsyesquire

                    Felicidades, you did it all! Good for you, that's wonderful. We'll be waiting to read the blog posts!


                    1. re: cristina

                      Sorry i didn't see this sooner but....
                      For mole powder, you have to fry it first ( a little vegetable oil or manteca), definitely and no two ways about it. From everyone I know , from home cooks to chefs. Then you add your very rich stock, usually chicken, and let simmer, and let simmer to allow flavor to develop. Add as much stock to get your desired consistency.

                      The paste has already had the fat added to it, which helps make it a paste. Again at low heat, fry first and then slowly add hot stock to get desired consistency .
                      Then you add your PRECOOKED chicken, beef, pork, vegetables to the sauce and let simmer so that the ingredients can soak up the flavor of the sauce.
                      Hope that helps.

                2. FYI... Mole Don Pancho does an Atocpan variety, ingredient list for this style of mole:

                  Sugar, sesame, vegetable oil, ancho chili, pasilla chili, raisins, tortilla, cookie, peanut, pumpkins seeds, salt, cacao, garlic, mora chili, coriander seeds, anise, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, clove


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    I am looking to buy mole powder in Los Angeles and am looking for recommendations. I used to make my own mole but it is so labor intensive. Looking at the Mole Don Pancho I noticed that the first ingredient is sugar. Is the Don Pancho a very sweet mole? Are all commercial powders sweet?

                    1. re: crema

                      Since your question is specifically about a mole available from a vendor in Los Angeles, you might get a quicker answer asking the question on the L.A. board. I'm betting someone, somewhere in L.A. has tried, or at least knows about, the product.

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        I didn't realize this was the Mexico board. I'll try the LA board. Thank you.