Weekend Shopping at the San José Central Market

By BobbyRica | July 29, 2011

Here’s an entry from a dear friend, Regina Walters, who used to be in the US Army and has now moved on to the corporate world here in Costa Rica. We were chatting last night and she told me that she wanted to write about her first visit here in Costa Rica. One of her most memorable first experiences here is her visit to the Saturday market in San José Central Market.


Now that I’m settled in this colorful capital of Costa Rica. I am able to bear a semblance of normalcy in my daily life. I now have decided to venture what most homemakers look forward to every weekend: market shopping! But penny pincher that I am, I didn’t dare venture in the conventional, air-conditioned stores. I’m already fed up buying overpriced toiletries soaps and overpriced Café Brit. I need to get through the day with a limited budget. I spent my weekend at the Central Market to try my luck on bargains. I also want to feel the vibe of San José.


Central Market, or Mercado Central, is located at the end of the pedestrian mall downtown. Established in 1880, it is a network of narrow alleys that contain an eclectic mix of over stalls that sell everything. You can get fresh fish, vegetables, fruits, bread, coffee, knick knacks, cowboy saddles, herbal remedies, and flowers.

The market is not for the faint of the heart. When I finally arrived there, I was greeted by the pungent smell of spices and fish. And because the small space accommodate huge crowds, it can get claustrophobic. Josefinos from all walks of life converge here to buy their weekly needs. The sidewalks are brimming with people, walking to and fro. Some are busy buying wares, others are simply hanging out. While others are watching out for potential prey like me. Well-meaning friends and coworkers had warned me against pickpockets. Foreigners are easy targets. Being a woman is an added liability. I suddenly became pensive and clutched my sack tightly.


Despite the initial apprehension, my mood didn’t damper the thrill of shopping. After all, the laughter of children, the boisterous call of vendors and the amazing selection of things to shop for lifted my spirits. It seems like a flea market, only the stores are permanently placed.

At the meat market, different cuts of pork, beef, and goat are lined and stacked neatly in glass racks. The more exotic (and highly prized) meats and innards from the different meats like hearts, livers, and gizzards are also on display. They look quite red and clean, the owners will cut and pack them for you.


The fish section won’t turn you down either as fresh seafood like mussels, shrimps, oysters, slabs of tuna, and salmon are fresh and packed with ice.

After filling two shopping bags, my stomach was already grumbling so I went to the food court located at the northern part of the marker. Ah, what gustatory delights to be had! Food is fast and cheap. To calm my stomach while I searched for somewhere to park my ass, I munched on a few freshly-cooked tortillas. Fresh molten cheese oozed from my mouth. Then, I finally settled in a diner which I forgot the name but I chose because they had a spare table. I ordered a plate of casado – composed of rice, salad, chicken, beans, cheese, and tortillas, and complemented it with a glass of agua dulce, a sweet but yummy juice made of water and sugar candy. The servers were all nice while the place is clean.


After inhaling the casado and agua dulce, I asked the locals for that eponymous ice cream parlor named Sorbetera de Lolo Mora. True enough, their ice cream, or helado, is superb! Established in 1901, the family-operated parlor has only produced one ice cream flavor, vanilla. And they have perfected it!

lolo mora

What I noticed about most of the shops including this Sorbetera is that they never touch the money. They pass a silver bowl, where you will plunk down your hard earned moolah. Another person rings up your order, and your change is returned in the same bowl. The staff is also very hygienic as they only use disposable plastic gloves when handling food. That was lo mejor!

I ordered for a large granizado, which is a cherry-flavored ice shaving, topped with ice cream and milk. The ice is coarser, but sweet with a sour hint. The tartness is balanced by the milk, which is condensed. But they are eclipsed by the ice cream itself. I was floored!


No words can perfectly describe how good and filling it was! The texture was great, very silky to the mouth. The vanilla flavor doesn’t overpower, but laced with notes of cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. No wonder, the sorbetera lived up to its reputation. As the first established ice cream parlor in the country, generations of Costa Ricans make it a point to frequent this place. And they have found a new convert in me. A sweet way to cap my weekend market adventure!

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