Add a unique shopping experience to your Mexico visit

Posted By on July 8, 2015

Shopping in the markets (mercados) in Cancun or Playa del Carmen is a delightful experience and a wonderful way to spend a day. Seeing different artistic pieces of pottery and crafts from the Maya culture is a highlight for many visitors.

On a typical shopping day along the Riviera Maya you have quite likely run into ladies shucking cactus. With the spines removed, you watch them cut the thick pads (leaves) into slices for eating. The cactus you see at supermarkets and in local cuisine is that of the nopal cactus and is staple in traditional foods around Mexico.

nopal cactus in mexico cuisine

Nopal pads can be eaten raw or cooked. They are used in everything from marmalades to soups, stews and salads. You can find them canned or bottled, candied (called acitron) and sometimes even dried for export.

Cactus is most commonly used in Mexican dishes such as huevos con nopales (eggs with nopal), carne con nopales (meat with nopal) and tacos de nopales with an assortment of other vegetables and queso panela (panela cheese). Nopal cactus is also an important ingredient in the Tejano culture in Texas.

nopal tacos

Another favorite part of the cactus is its fruit. In English the fruit is called prickly pear and in Spanish – in the supermarkets – you will see it labeled as tuna (the name has no relation with the fish, tuna). In late summer, tunas are everywhere as the fruit from the cactus is picked and shipped into markets for consumption. In many parts of the US these cactus grow wild along highways and the fruit left, but here in Mexico, the cactus is commercially grown for its fruit.

prickly pear or tuna fruit, mexico

agua de tuna, mexico

The prickly pear (tuna) is used to make jams and jellies, candy and is even used in cocktails. You will also find tuna used to make vinaigrettes, eaten raw or juiced and enjoyed as a refreshing water. The next time you’re out shopping during your Mexican vacation, ditch the soda and try an authentic tuna water (agua de tuna). You’ll love it!

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