5 Things You Learn by Shopping at a Mexican Market

Northgate Market #3 on East St. in Anaheim
Northgate Market #3 on East St. in Anaheim
Dave Lieberman

I grew up shopping in regular American supermarkets, like Shop-Rite and the A&P. Ethnic markets were treated as oddities by outsiders, where you went for strange meat innards and bizarre canned foods.

Then I moved to a ZIP code that's nearly 80 percent Latino, and while there is an Albertsons, a Ralphs and a Vons within reasonable distance, my closest stores all have Spanish signage in the window. I couldn't be happier, frankly, because while I do still need to go to gabacho grocery stores for some things (ahem, buttermilk), the bulk of my weekly grocery shopping happens in the Mexican market.

My local Mexican market is Northgate, which I love for its outstanding "Rancho González" produce section and its meat counter, but these tips go for almost any Mexican market: Vallarta, El Super, Superior, or just the local mom-and-pop shop.

1. You've been overpaying badly for produce.

Stop paying too much for this stuff!
Stop paying too much for this stuff!

How much is cilantro at your Safeway? A buck a bunch? Well, at your Mexican market it's four bunches for a dollar, and it's the same freaking product. Peaches? Half-price. Chiles? If you buy just a couple, they usually won't even charge you, because it won't register on the scale. But it isn't just that the produce is cheap--Mexican markets are a treasure trove of things that can be hard to find in regular markets, like fresh bayleaf or avocados that are ready to go.

2. No one buys Mission or Guerrero brand tortillas.

Real tortillas don't contain preservatives to give them shelf life. Fry the leftovers into chilaquiles.
Real tortillas don't contain preservatives to give them shelf life. Fry the leftovers into chilaquiles.

The tortillas at your Ralphs are on the end-cap near the dairy fridges; they're Mission and Guerrero brand, which are essentially identical, and identically awful. Walk into your Northgate, though, and buy fresh from the tortillería. Eventually, though, you'll discover that they also sell masa para tortillas for under a buck a pound and tortilla presses for $10 or so--and that's when you'll swear off that GRUMA nonsense forever.



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