The New Maxwell Street Market is something of a foreign oddity, but strangely familiar in so many ways. The Market hosts an interesting group of people and things that would otherwise seem tacked together; despite this, it still remains relatable, bringing everything a shopper would imagine needing, all within the length of a few city blocks. Located south of Roosevelt Road on Canal Street and appearing only once every Sunday between 7am and 3pm, the Market reminds its frequenters of a comforting feeling of familiarity–everything has its place. Vendors sell the same things–from shoelaces, reams of sandpaper, and tomatillos, to statues of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe and cheap support-top underwear–and set up stalls in the same places every week. The convenience of locating something and remembering the face that sells it makes for a reassuring experience. But it isn’t only this reliable organization that makes the Market so familiar; shoppers feel as if at home through the good taste of Mexican food prepared and sold there.
Familiar favorites at the Market, like tacos, quesadillas, and aguas frescas are not the average fare found in a restaurant. Dishes taste different; and something, well, is very comforting about the food. It is easy to describe a comfort food through its familiarity, but it seems that there is another way to describe it, which eludes language. In a way, the food at the Market brings on a physical and almost visceral connection to the dish; a feeling exists in the food and it so good mainly because it’s been prepared so many times before and with the same enduring spirit as the last.
At the intersection of South Canal Street and West 14th Street, find “La Paz,” one of the most popular and best food stalls at the Market. There, witness a familial energy–the kind seen in a kitchen on a weekday evening at home, where everyone works together to get food on the table. Watch women scoop small handfuls of masa dough and press out thick, fluffy corn tortillas and grill them on the butane-powered griddles outside. Buy a bottle of Mexi-Cola from the young boy that hands out carefully counted change with a smile of extreme accomplishment. And share bottles of homemade hot sauce and pickled vegetables with strangers sitting a few chairs over. For something sweeter, look for the humming bright blue truck to find churros at Churros La Barca, serving hot, deep-fried wands of dough, smothered in cinnamon and sugar and sometimes filled with vanilla, chocolate or strawberry filling. And make sure to grab a piping hot cup of champurrado and tenderly sip it while strolling through the Market.
It is believed that the quality of the ingredients and skill of the preparer make a dish so delicious. This belief is true in most every case, but in the examples of food made at the Market every Sunday morning, it appears that it is more than quality and skill that make a great dish. It is the cooperative energy, the story, and the desire to make something great that makes a dish taste so good. A shared feeling and energy of familiarity is absolutely necessary to prepare a good comfort food.
The New Maxwell Street Market, S. Canal St. and Roosevelt Rd. Year-round. Sundays 7am-3pm. Cash only.