Explore the Market in Spanish With This Vocabulary Guide
Venture to the market in Spanish for a display of colorful foods, crafts, clothes, and pretty much anything you can imagine!
Markets in Latin America are the heart of trade and local commerce. They’re busy central hubs where farmers, merchants, artisans, and entire families gather on a daily basis.
The hustle and bustle of a street market is hard to top and can be overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. If you have a trip to a Spanish-speaking country on the horizon, this blog post is your go-to guide for going to the market in Spanish and blending in like a local during your visit!
Plan Your Visit to the Market in Spanish
Spanish-speaking countries are home to some of the best markets in the world. As soon as you arrive at el mercado (market), you get struck by a feeling of traveling back in time to a day and age where trade and doing business was easier and more personal.
Markets exist in large cities or small towns in the middle of rural areas. They vary in size and structure, as some markets are held in the street out in the open and others are a maze of neverending alleys.
Start planning your visit to the market by choosing which one to visit and figuring out how to get in and out of there easily.
These markets have defined días de mercado (market days) where you have the guarantee that the majority of vendors are open for business. You should definitely plan your visit to the market in Spanish for a día de mercado, unlike a regular day, el día de mercado allows you to appreciate the whole experience and diversity of products in the stalls.
Visiting the markets of Latin America requires you to have some street smarts under your sleeve. Knowing how to communicate and asking for directions, prices, or dabbling in the art of bargaining is essential for visitors.
Preparing yourself with the proper Spanish vocabulary takes you a long way and prevents you from falling under common street scams. It also guarantees your visit will be worth your time and money. You’ll be able to source exactly what you need at the prices and quantities you require.
What Can You Buy and How to Buy it
Markets are highly convenient and are sorted with all types of products. There’s almost nothing you can’t find. Large markets cover pretty much the same areas as department stores, except they have much more personality. If you can’t find something, the chances of asking and having another vendor source it for you are quite high.
Unlike a supermarket or commercial venue, markets have the ability to support the local economy. Many people who sell in markets travel from rural communities and go out of their way to bring their goods to consumers.
During your visit to the market in Spanish, you should expect to see different areas dedicated to: meat, fish and seafood, flowers, fruits, vegetables, spices, clothes and shoes, toys, plastic utensils, grains, and a local food area filled with comedores (small diners).
Refresh your knowledge for visiting the supermarket in Spanish by reading this practical blog post.
Fruits and Vegetables
El área de frutas y verduras (the fruits and vegetables area) is packed with exotic fruits and colorful veggies. It doesn’t get any fresher than this and you have a large display for you to choose from. I suggest you take a look around before buying at all the different stalls and pick the ones where the produce looks fresh and in good conditions.
Approach the vendors with a good ol’ fashioned ¡Buenos días! to greet them and ask for prices by saying ¿Cuanto cuesta? (how much?) or ¿Qué precio tiene? (what ‘s the price?)
Markets are known for selling by bulk, so when it comes to buying fruits and vegetables you need to bring your own bolsa (bag) or canasta (basket) to carry your items once the vendor weighs them. Remember Spanish-speaking countries use either libras o kilogramos (pounds or kilos).
Some vendors use the unknown unit known as “la mano” (the hand). For example in Guatemala, they can sell you una mano de limón (a hand of lemons). This means you are paying for the equivalent to a hand in lemons, or five units.
Let’s take a look at the variety of exotic fruits and vegetables you’ll find when you visit the market in Spanish and their English translation:
|Green beans||Los ejotes|
|Corn / maize||El elote / el maíz / el choclo|
|Squash||El chayote / el güisquil / el calabacín|
|Potatoes||Las papas / las patatas|
Some phrases you can use for buying fruits and veggies during your visit to the market in Spanish are:
¿Cuánto cuesta la libra de tomates?
How much is one pound of tomatoes?
¿Qué precio tiene la mano de naranjas?
What is the price of five oranges?
Me da una piña madura por favor.
Give me a ripe pineapple please.
Necesito dos cebollas, una libra de chiles y media libra de tomates por favor.
I need two onions, one pound of chilis, and a half pound of tomatoes please.
Pick up more vocabulary by reading this ridiculously long list of vegetables and fruits in Spanish.
Grains and Dry-goods
Markets have a large section where you can find dry-goods such as pasta, rice, beans, chickpeas, lentils, spices, and eggs sold individually. These items are sold in bulk or come packaged in local and commercial brands.
You can also find other cooking utensils and pretty much any type of groceries you can think of. There’s fresh dairy products, food preserves, canned goods, and all types of drinks.
El área de especias (the spices area) is also worth exploring. You find whole and powdered spices from all over the world.
The market isn’t only focused on humans, you can source food for horses, dogs, and other farm animals.
Let’s review Spanish vocabulary you can use in the grains and dry-goods area during your visit to the market in Spanish.
|Beans||Los frijoles / las alubias|
|Wheat flour||La harina de trigo|
|Corn flour||La harina de maiz|
|Bay leaves||Las hojas de laurel|
|Dog food||El concentrado de perro|
Take this list of vocabulary for a spin by using these phrases for your visit to the market in Spanish:
Me da una botella de aceite de oliva por favor.
Please give me a bottle of olive oil.
¿Cuánto cuesta la libra de arroz?
How much is one pound of rice?
Quisiera un frasco de pimentón y uno de laurel por favor.
I would like a jar of paprika and one with bay leaves please.
Fish and Meat
Shopping for meat and fish is a similar experience to the above. When close to the coast, markets have an area dedicated to pescado y mariscos (fish and seafood). It’s where local fishermen bring la pesca del día (catch of the day) and it’s where you can source treasured delicacies at an accessible cost.
Definitely buying fresh tuna beats buying the frozen kind not only for freshness but also because the markets only carry fresh products.
The fish and seafood stalls offer a large diversity of fresh products for you to choose from:
|Red snapper||El pargo / el huachinango|
|Sea bass||El robalo|
|Shrimp / prawns||Los camarones / las gambas|
|Crab||El cangrejo / la jaiba|
Now visiting the meat stalls is another adventure. Markets have many areas dedicated to meat depending on what you’re looking for. The meat market has butchered meat hanging in the stalls and the smell of raw meat and blood certainly stands out.
You can find the meat area divided into specialized pollerías (chicken), marranerías (porc), or carnicerías (beef).
Let’s review some of the cuts and types of meat you’ll find during your visit to the market in Spanish:
|Beef||La carne de res|
|Pork||La carne de cerdo|
|Chicken breast||La pechuga|
|Pork chops||Las chuletas de cerdo|
Phrases in Spanish you can use during your visit to the meat and fish areas of the market are:
Quisiera un trozo de bistec por favor.
I would like a piece of steak please.
¿Qué pesca del día tiene hoy?
What is the fresh catch of the day?
¿De cuantas libras es ese trozo de lomo cerdo?
How many pounds are in that piece of pork loin?
¿Me podría limpiar el pescado por favor?
Can you please clean the fish?
Dive deep into the adventure of going to the meat market in Spanish by reading this amusing blog post full of convenient vocabulary.
Crafts and Handmade Goods
El mercado de artesanías (crafts market) is a favorite for travelers. This section of the market is frequently found in any market in Latin America.
The variety of cultures who keep their traditions alive contribute to keeping this section full of colorful and complex handcrafted creations such as textiles, pottery, jewelry, artwork, and more.
Some of the highest priced items of the market are artesanías (handcrafts). You can find unique souvenirs and gifts to bring back home for your loved ones. Keep in mind the majority of these items take into consideration a large use of time and effort. This is visible in the quality of the crafts, techniques, and material.
Unfortunately some vendors are looking to take advantage of those travelers who are first time buyers and can sometimes overprice an item that isn’t necessarily handmade. This happens frequently in Chichicastenango, the largest market in Guatemala. It’s so large that there’s even copycats and industrial made items posing as artesanías.
The best you can do is take a long walk first and browse. If you spot the same table runner three times in a row it probably isn’t that special. Look for unique items and those that stand out of the ordinary. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you’d like and figure out from vendors what makes their items special.
Some items you can find in the crafts section are:
|Art / painting||La pintura|
|Table runner||El camino de mesa|
|Centerpiece||El centro de mesa|
|Belt||El cinturón / el cincho|
|Place mats||Los individuales|
Use questions such as:
¿De qué material está hecho este textil?
What is this textile made of?
¿Cuánto tardan en pintar ese cuadro?
How long does it take to paint that picture?
¿Cuánto cuesta esta pieza?
How much is this piece?
¿Dónde fue hecha esa escultura?
Where was that sculpture made?
Estoy buscando un recuerdo.
I’m looking for a souvenir.
Eating like a Local
Having lunch in the market during your visit is another excellent way for you to become a local.
Some of the best hidden gems and food establishments are located in markets. You can find all types of rustic and regional dishes in one spot. If you’re not up for a large meal, there’s also the option of taking antojitos (quick snack).
Mexico’s markets offer comida corrida, which is a full meal with entreé, sides, drink, and dessert. In Guatemala these are known as almuerzos or refacciones and they’re amazingly affordable.
My recommendation is to watch for food safety of course. This is even more visible than you can imagine. Take your time to observe the different comedores (diners or restaurants) and pay attention to details like if the tables are being cleaned, or if the venue is full of people. A packed venue means both the service and the food is good.
Learn more about how to order food in Spanish with this rich and entertaining blog post.
Clothing and Shoes
Markets are known as being a local hub for fashion. The prices are accessible and you can find different items for your wardrobe that follow current trends. From big name brands like Nike to imitation Chanel, these markets have something for any special occasion.
The clothing and shoes section of the market usually has a flea market area where you can purchase second hand items in good conditions. These stalls are known in Guatemala as las pacas.
Pacas offer good quality items but require a serious amount of time to examine that the clothes are in mint conditions. The majority of clothes you can find in the pacas come from the United States and belong to well-known brands.
Find your choice of fashion when you visit the market in Spanish by asking these questions:
¿Tiene este vestido en una talla más pequeña?
Do you have this dress in a smaller size?
¿Qué talla es este par de zapatos?
What size is this pair of shoes?
¿Dónde puedo encontrar pantalones de lona?
Where can I find jeans?
The Art of Bargaining
How do you say bargaining in Spanish? The translation in Spanish is regatear or negociar (negotiate).
For native Spanish-speakers like myself, bargaining is an art and holds a special meaning. Friendly bargaining is always welcomed without abusing the norm.
El regateo (art of bargaining) can be a fun experience and is quite common in markets. Going back and forth is a good way to get the deal going. Once the vendor names their price, you can counter using questions like:
¿Cuanto es lo menos?
What’s the lowest price?
Does a discount apply?
I think it’s safe to bargain without crossing the limit of closing a fair deal for all. Unfortunately some travelers tend to ignore that, especially when it comes to handcrafts.
It’s important to consider that your purchase is supporting that artisan or vendor’s economy and that they’ve invested time and resources into that final product. It’s not always about how much you want to pay for it, value and quality are also important.
If the conversation ever gets too pushy and isn’t leading anywhere, it’s best to walk away and look for another option. Sometimes you pass that same vendor later in the day and they’ll approach you offering the deal you were looking for.
Final Tips for Your Visit
1. Always carry cash
The chosen form of payment is cash, so handling small notes is advised for shopping. However, finding a stall that accepts credit or debit cards is more common these days. If you’re paying with a card make sure that the terminal is visible and ask if an extra charge applies.
2. Only bring the necessary
Take with you only what you need, your wallet with money for expenses, and a shopping bag for your purchases. Don’t carry any unnecessary valuables, you won’t need them. Keep your eyes open for pickpocketing and never leave your stuff unattended.
3. Get there early
The earlier you get there, the bigger chance you have of finding fresh products. If you arrive later in the day, you leave room to only find lo que no se vendió (what wasn’t sold).
4. Go on Market Day
Visiting the market in Spanish for market day is ideal. The market is larger and has a wider variety of products. Prices also tend to be more competitive.
5. Enjoy the experience
Walk around, ask questions, and take your time to explore the local customs. Don’t be afraid to try exotic foods, ask for local recommendations, and use key Spanish vocabulary.
¡Vamos de compras!
Get ready to shop and start planning a visit to any large market in Mexico or Central America. Improving your language learning abilities is a fantastic way for you to make the most of your trip to the market in Spanish.
According to studies by the Cervantes Institute and the Language’s Report by the British Council; Spanish is on the road to becoming the number one language for the future. The amount of people in the United States and in the United Kingdom who have academic or business ties to Spanish-speaking countries is projected to keep increasing around the world. Becoming a fluent Spanish speaker is guaranteed to bring you new opportunities and benefits for your professional career.
If you want to learn even more market-related vocabulary, you can sign up for a free trial class with our certified teachers from Guatemala. By engaging in more meaningful conversations with them, you’ll be able to talk to even more people during your travels.
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