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Mexican Groceries II–I’d Kill For a Molasses Drop Cookie (The Things You Miss Away From Home)

Groceries II–I’d Kill for a Molasses Drop Cookie (The Things You Miss Away From Home)

Our friend Carole and dried chiles

Our friend Carole and dried chiles

It never fails–you’ve got a craving for the one thing not on the menu.  Eating a balanced and varied diet is easier than ever, if you put in the effort to do it right.

May 29, 2007

I recently read a study about soldiers far away from home, often for the first time, and what they miss most.  Family, sure.   Friends, of course.  But most?  Mom’s cooking.

I’m not the least bit surprised.

I would like to see my friends and family more, but in this electronic age I keep in frequent touch with them by Internet and phone, and get lots of hugs when I visit.  Some days I ache to be hiking at Nick’s Lake in the Adirondacks, but a day out adventuring in the tropics scratches the itch.  The yens I can’t shake are for the dishes of my childhood.

The availability of “exotic” (read: Gringo) food in Mexico has increased exponentially in the last few years, due to television cooking programs and the proliferation of Wal-Mart.  In the early 1990’s, when I first came to Mexico, I carried my own Kikkoman soy sauce.  When friend Bill came to visit, I begged him to bring a jar of molasses.  Now Kikkoman is prominent on the shelves, in low salt, garlic, and full flavored.  Molasses still eludes us, but the list of things unavailable to us in Mexico is shrinking all the time.

Moving here, I learned with horror that while Mexicans eat meat, dairy, fruits and grains, they completely skip over the peanut butter food group.  All traveling Gringos in those days had an almost empty jar of Jiff in their backpacks.  (The Europeans carried Nutella.  I suppose the Aussies stashed Vegemite).

Now, peanut butter is much easier to find.  Until recently I could get Peter Pan at Sam’s Club at just a little higher than in NY.  When the salmonella scare came along, I sensed it was the end of an era, and they haven’t stocked it since.  (I had just opened a jar when I read the news, and checked out the code number.  Yikes!  It was from the infected batch!  Did I mail the jar in for a refund?  (Yah, right—with Mexican mail?)  Did I throw it away?  Heck no.  I savored every last sticky smear of the lovely stuff).  Now I buy Jiff in Wal-Mart, but it’s breaking the bank.  The microscopic, 340-gram jar runs about $2.50.  The Mexican brand Aladin is a little cheaper, but it’s vile.

Thank goodness I don’t have to share.  Like all good Mexicanos, Omar thinks peanut butter is the grossest stuff on earth.  Peanut butter and chicken livers are the only two things he won’t eat—which is saying something considering some of the animal innards I’ve seen him chow down.

We can get Hillshire Farms Polish sausage now (smoked, not fresh–but hey).  Just recently Ben and Jerry showed up—YUPI!  Only Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia, but we are thrilled, even though it is $6 a pint.  For the first time ever this fall we found fresh cranberries ($5 a pound), and wonderful, heavenly Oceanspray cran-apple juice just became available in one-liter tetra brick packages.  Coco’s Beneful crunchies and Cesar wet food is here (but not the roast pork flavor she really likes).

Even things like mustard have really taken off.  Years ago it was yellow or nothing.  Now mango mustard and imported French are only two of a great big selection.

We can find alga sheets for sushi, and Brussels sprouts, and asparagus.

We can buy ostrich meat ground, in steaks, or sliced for fajitas.  But decent turkey is still a real rarity—most of it is smoked and looks just awful and wormy, especially because it sits in the case for years and dries out.

In general, we ain’t suffering for variety.  We can find almost anything we want to eat in Guadalajara, and I frequently make Gringo comfort food like scalloped potatoes and ham (with pork chops because the only ham is for cold cuts) and stuffed cabbage.

New York is another story.

When I’m in Mexico, I miss Mom’s great spaghetti sauce, thick with tomatoes from her garden, meatballs, and hot sausage from Hapanowich’s.  So what do I want to eat the minute I hit Central New York?  Goat birria.  Go figure.

You can’t find goat in Upstate New York.  There are about three different dried peppers (we need ten, at least), the tomatillo supply is iffy, and forget fresh nopales.  They have them sliced in a jar, but they look washed out and we want them whole for grilling.  You can find canned ate (guava paste) which is a plus, but the bean selection is scanty.  One kind of mole—the ubiquitous Doña Maria, which is pretty good in a rush.  Forget grasshoppers, huanzontle (a bushy stalk of flower buds, to be capped in egg and fried), huitlicoche (corn fungus), fresh corn tortillas, most Mexican cheeses, and Cucu brand chicken bouillon.  Jeeze.

Even some things that really should be available in New York aren’t.  Mexican yogurt (Danone, Yoplait, Lala) is just fabulous, full of fruit chunks and lots of flavor—mango, apple, peach, strawberry, grains, guanabana.  In Wal-Mart in the states I can get quarts of plain natural, plain with sugar, vanilla, or a runny strawberry.  There are more flavors in the cups, but the jammy fruit is often on the bottom, and it’s not the same.

Then there is Be Light, a non-carbonated, non-caloric drink sold by the liter.  There’s lime, orange, pear (!), apple, strawberry, and tropical fruits, and they are all great.  Very robust, natural flavors, no chemical aftertaste, and at a good price.  All guilt free, with no calories.  Just wonderful.  The pear even has a realistic mouth feel.  And did I mention zero calories?

I looked for something similar in the states.  Gaterade?  No.  Store brand no calorie flavored bubbly water?  Yuck.  Koolaid?  NO!  We couldn’t find anything even close, and poor Ma looked all over.

So where’s the best food selection?  Depends on what you want.  Mexico is best for Mexican food, of course, and is rapidly improving on its overall variety.  New York has the Gringo food, and a better international selection, but there are still some Mexican ingredients that are really hard to come by.  I’m sure in New York City there is greater selection, but I’m talking about availability in general, based on what I see offered in Upstate New York.

The bottom line is, as our cultures mix our diet becomes more varied, and everyone who eats, wins!

Dan and Omar

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Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.