What to Buy at Mexican Markets
Waltz into an ethnic market, and a little flash of a nation’s beauty greets you from the shelves. In this column, we tell you what to seek out, no matter what part of America’s melting pot you’ve encountered.
Photo credit: Eric Futran / StockFood
A true Mexican market is a marvelous thing; you can stock up on Mexican hot chocolate and fat bags of rice, peer into the cold case to pick up crema (like a silkier version of sour cream) or queso fresco, and—if you’re lucky—find out that there’s someone cooking. In New York and Los Angeles, among other cities, it’s common to spy a vat of homemade tamales, or a jug brimming with fresh hibiscus juice somewhere on the premises.
Food writer JJ Goode has co-authored cookbooks with the likes of April Bloomfield and Andy Ricker, and he wrote a book about tacos, tortas and tamales with Mexico City–born chef Roberto Santibañez. Since Goode also eats and shops at Mexican markets and delis frequently, we snagged his pro tips on shopping smarter at them.
Dried ancho chile. Photo credit: StockFood
For staples, “I always want ancho chiles, chipotle chiles, and real dried arbol chiles (the flatter ones are often generic Asian red chiles),” says Goode. Look for dried peppers that are “in bins or big bags.” They shouldn’t be “super dry and brittle,” but should be “pliable like dried fruit, which is exactly what they are!”
Goode bypasses jalapeños—”jalapeños in this country are often massive and not spicy enough”—in favor of serranos, which “are more likely to provide the heat you want, plus they have an awesome sharp, green flavor.”
Photo credit: StockFood