Simple Joys | Mexican Grocery Stores

One of my favorite activities is shopping in ethnic markets.  The best part is that things that are staples for one culture are exotic to us. And, the pricing reflects it.  Here are things that are worth the trip if you have a Mexican market nearby:

Spices - Mexican cuisine uses a lot of spices...and they are priced much more affordable than they are in generic US grocery stores.  Look for an endcap or wall with packages displayed like this one.

Chilies - Though grocery stores often carry chilies, the selection and freshness is typically much better at a Mexican market.  Look for fresh chiles in the produce section and also the dried variety for experimenting with salsas, making posole, etc.

Tortillas - if your Mexican market has a bakery section you can typically get tortillas while they are still hot.  Even if they don't, they may have fresh tortillas brought in each day--check to see if they are in a different location than the packaged variety.

Pastries - Mexican pastries are typically less sweet than  American donuts and oooooh sooo delicious.  Here are a few popular ones to try:

Marranitos - these are the 'pig-shaped' cookies that are similar to our gingerbread men though thicker and with a hint of anise.  When fresh, they are soft, but day-old get crispy.  Both are delicious.

Empanadas - similar to a 'turnover' these handpies are filled with apple, pineapple, pumpkin, cream cheese and a variety of other fillings.  Download a translation app on your phone to find out exactly what the ones you choose are filled with as you shop, or let yourself be surprised.

Orejas - named after the Spanish word for 'ears' these flaky spiraled pastries are  lightly sweet, crispy and go well with coffee.

Conchas - named after the Spanish word for seashell, these big domed rolls are lightly sweet with a dusting of white or pink sugar on the top.

Churros - the closest thing to our American donuts, these rod shaped pastries are deep fried and dusted with sugar and cinnamon.   They are sometimes filled with cream, custard, or milk candy and nice to serve with coffee or tea.


Canned beans - There is a wide variety of canned beans like fava, pigeon peas, garbanzos, and refried black worth checking into.

Marinated meats - yes, I'm vegetarian, but if you are a carnivore, I have it on good authority (my husband, the fajita expert) that fajita marinada (beef) or pechuga marinada (chicken) are highly delicious.  You will pay more per pound than doing it yourself, but apparently it is worth the investment.

Mexican dairy - Mexican sour cream or crema is more liquid than American sour cream and is drizzled over beans, tacos, enchiladas or just about anything you would like to eat it on.  There are also a number of fresh white cheeses that are light and crumble well across food.

Cookware - Mexican markets are the best place to find a cast iron flat griddle to use for heating tortillas (they get slightly crispy on the outside and taste far better than microwave), cooking fajitas, making pancakes or whatever you want to use it for.  Other things to look for are lemon squeezers and pestle and mortars.

Hot chocolate.  Mexican hot chocolate is sold in bars and spiced with a bit of cinnamon.  Look for the Abuelita brand (made by Nestle) or Ibarra.  The result is far more delicious than the powder.  To make it you simply put heated milk and the required amount of chocolate in a blender and blend it.  (There are usually English directions on the box.)

Candles.  There are tons of candles in glass usually with saints on the side but often there are plain ones too.  These candles can burn safely because they are enclosed, and are great to purchase around the holidays.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall