Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Life in Mexico: Grocery Shopping

By Cindi Bower

(Hold Your Mouse Over the Book Cover for Clickable Link)

Enjoy Guanajuato!Enjoy Guanajuato! One of the many reasons we chose to expatriate to Mexico, Guanajuato specifically, was we would be able to walk wherever we needed to go. We would no longer have to have a car for transportation as we did in Kansas City. A worry we had about aging was wondering what we would do when we could no longer drive. Kansas City has a bus system, but it does not cover the whole city. To get to a bus stop, you either have to drive your car somewhere and park, or you have to walk quite a distance. Walking to do errands is next to impossible because of the distances involved, not to mention the danger of crossing busy 6-lane (or wider!) streets and highways to get to your destination.

Guanajuato is a small city where it is possible to walk just about anywhere you want to go. If the weather is inclement or you have packages to carry, there are bus routes to nearly every part of the city. There are also plenty of taxis to get you where you need to go.

Even though Guanajuato has buses and taxis, we found we had to make some changes in our grocery shopping habits after we moved here.

In Kansas City, it was easy to shop for groceries. A quick trip in the car to the store, a spin through the aisles, and another quick trip home in the car was all it took…less than an hour. The stores were usually well stocked. We rarely faced a shortage of any product.

Our shopping experiences were confined to huge, impersonal supermarkets. We rarely saw anyone we knew among the other shoppers. The employees, most anyway, were barely civil. We were just part of the faceless wave of people surging in and out, day after day. Why make the effort to initiate or maintain personal relationships with such a hoard?

Mexico has its share of supermarkets and mega stores just like the USA. However, Mexico has a different venue for your shopping pleasure…one swept out of existence years ago by the flood of "progress" in the States.

The small "mom-and-pop" stores, once part of the fabric of life in the States, still exist in Mexico. In fact, they are the preferred places to shop and exchange news with neighbors.

Every neighborhood has one or more shops called "Abarrotes" or "Misceláneas." These carry canned and packaged foods, laundry detergent, cleaning products, toilet paper, bread, and snacks. Some also sell lunchmeat, cheese, milk, juice, and eggs.

For your fresh meat needs, you can visit your neighborhood butcher shop, "carnicería," or poultry shop, "pollería." The beef and pork are leaner and the chickens are plumper than in the States. We have found the meat and poultry here in Mexico are more flavorful than that in the USA.

I want to warn you about something you will see if you frequent your neighborhood butcher shop rather than the supermarket. It will shock you unless you were raised on a farm or ranch (unlike us wimpy city folk!).

The morning's deliveries don't arrive all neatly prepackaged on plastic-wrapped Styrofoam trays stacked in the back of a refrigerated truck. Oh, no! The rancher, driving the oldest, rustiest, most battered pickup truck you've ever seen, pulls up in front of the butcher shop with a pile of bloody body parts in the truck bed. Sometimes, the parts still have skin and hair attached. Usually, there are a couple of heads thrown into the mix…eyes, skin, hair, horns, teeth, and tongues intact. The rancher hoists the parts on his shoulder and hauls them into the shop, where the butcher converts them into various cuts.

Here's another warning just to prepare you. The butcher shops and poultry shops usually have large trays of nice, yellow chicken feet on the counter. Now, I can eat nearly anything, but I have to draw the line at chicken feet. Mexicans use the feet to flavor soup (and then eat them cooked) or they pickle the feet, cover them with salsa, and crunch them happily. If you buy a whole chicken, don't be surprised to find the feet (and sometimes the head!) tucked inside the body cavity with the heart, liver, and gizzard.

If you have decided to become a vegetarian because of my warnings, you can go to a greengrocery or "frutería" to buy fruits and vegetables. Some of these shops also carry a small selection of packaged foods and cleaning supplies.

All fruits and vegetables, unless you can peel them, need to be washed and then soaked in a disinfectant solution (iodine or chlorine). Supermarkets, fruterías, and sometimes pharmacies carry bottles of the disinfectant. The instructions are printed on the label…usually 5 drops for each liter of water. The drops don't change the flavor of produce. Some people say if you cook the produce, you don't need to disinfect it first. I always do it anyway, just to be safe.

To round out your purchases, you will go to a bakery or "panadería" for fresh rolls ("bolillos"), cookies ("galletas"), turnovers ("empanadas") filled with meat, tuna, cheese, or jam, and other bakery items or to a "pastelería" for cakes and pies.

Unless you shop exclusively in supermarkets in Mexico, you will have to visit several shops to find everything, more or less, on your shopping list. Because these shops are small and usually family owned, you will get to know the owners and employees as well as the other regular customers. Sometimes people come to the shop just to exchange news and gossip.

Your shopping trip will be much longer than the same trip took in the States but will be a much richer experience.


No comments: