Food and hospitality industry trade shows are all the rage these days. For the uninitiated, they are exactly what they sound like: huge conventions not usually open to the public, filled with everything from state-of-art restaurant equipment companies hustling their products, to hundreds of hungry, new packaged food and drink brands trying to pick up local distributors. Though there are dozens of them constantly taking place all over the country, not many focus on the rapidly growing Latino sector of the market. Behold, then, the Expo Comida Latina, a food industry expo that is completely dedicated to showcasing Latino products from Mexico, Central and South America trying to crossover into the American market.
The good thing about the Expo Comida Latina is that it's held in conjunction with the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo, a much bigger, popular industry show with foodservice power players like Sysco and US Foods involved. The bad thing? I've been covering the Expo Comida Latina for four years now and this year's turnout for Latino vendors was surprisingly dismal. About-half-as-many-vendors-than-the-usual-turnout dismal. Maybe this has to do with the fact that there is a new Mexican food industry trade that just started up last year that gave this expo some friendly competition? Or maybe the Mexican and Central American vendors did not get the results they hoped for in past years events? Or hell, maybe because no other food industry trade show really compares to the juggernaut expo of them all, the Expo West Natural Foods Expo that just took place a few months ago? After all, a lot of Mexican and Central American foods are considered natural by default (read: chocolate, corn (whole grain) tortillas, agave syrup, salsas etc.)
While it is easy to speculate for the worse, let's just appreciate the few cool things that stood out at the event.
1. Minsa, the Better Nixtamalized Corn Flour.
There really is no excuse to ever buy corn tortilla flour if you live anywhere in Orange or Los Angeles county, where there are so many legit nixtamal-based mom-and-pop tortillerias breaking their backs daily to bring you the best possible handmade tortilla, tamales and champurrado. But if you must, Minsa is the only GMO-free corn tortilla flour of Mexico (Maseca uses GMO corn) and while it is not available in stores yet, it is available under some private labels. So, use your nose and palate to try to find the brands that use it. Hint: tortillas made from Minsa flour will almost be just as good as one made from fresh masa!
2. Pepejuates, the Original Cacahuate Japoneses
We all know these addicting, umami-intensive shatteringly crunchy peanuts encased in a sweetened wheat and rice flour crust seasoned with soy sauce (well, at least us Mexis do; if you're a gabacho and don't know what they are, try them!). They are snacking mainstay both in Mexico and for Mexican Americans. It turns that this is the original brand and there are a bunch of imitators, so, don't be fooled by impostors. If you can't find this brand, make sure that the ingredient list doesn't have MSG or caramel coloring in it.
3. Indian-Made Tortilla Warmers for the Win!
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Indian and Mexican cultures share so many things in common when it comes to food (spicy, lots of beans and sauces, crispy stuff) and so many things when it comes to fashion too. These stunningly beautiful tortilla warmers were made by Casaamarosa, an Indian company making everything from table runners to aprons to these tortilla warmers.
An honorable mention goes to the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo's craft beer pavilion with Lagunitas, The Bruery, Drakes Brewing Co., Hangar 24, Iron Fist Brewing Co., Cismontane and a bunch more.