Getting food to our home is a little more complicated than it used to be.
Frutas y verduras, Zihuatanejo
First, of course, the obvious- we don’t have a car. We get everywhere on foot, sometimes aided by buses, on rare occasions by a ride in a taxi or a friend’s car. But consider the quantity of food needed to keep our family of five fueled, and carrying the milk and produce to support them. Daunting! I can come home from one of these adventures looking like a pack mule.
Then, there’s the simplicity of having a single store to visit. Sometimes it is the case in Mexico that I can do all of a week’s shopping- a provisioning run, in boat-speak- at a single store. But in many towns, this isn’t an option: there are no large supermarkets. And even when there are, to be honest, it’s the second to the preferred choice to stocking up at individual vendors, who typically have higher quality products in their niche area. It’s a mode of purchasing food which has been pretty much lost back in the states, with our quality of eating as the casualty. A given shopping jaunt here would typically the tortilleria (what did we do before we had fresh tortillas in our diet?), the panaderia (bakery… delicious little bolillo rolls, perfect for sandwiches, and the occasional treat of sweet pan dulce), the carneceria (the butcher- who will grind or cut to order; sometimes, it takes visiting multiple carnecerias, as they will specialize in different animals as well), the fruteria (for fresh produce), and then a more all-purpose tienda for staples like rice, beans, or cooking oil.
Many of these are doubled up: the butcher often has fresh cheeses, and an all-purpose-tienda may be the only place in town for produce and staples.
yes, that’s a grocery store…and if what you want is not there, you have over 100 miles to get to the next one.
It’s not difficult, just a little more complicated, and a lot more time consuming. We learn to work with what we have, since running off to get a forgotten ingredient is highly impractical.
Last week, shopping in Zihuatanejo, I had local help and practically flew through what should have been an all-day adventure. Noemi owns a small restaurant in town, and we had enjoyed dinner at her cocina economica the night before. When I told her we planned to go to the public market the next day, she wouldn’t hear of it. They’d charge too much! Their produce isn’t good enough! She knows a better place for chickens! OK, OK, OK… so, happily, we trundled off with Noemi the next day.
What a difference she made! Visiting the full complement of tiendas (except a baker, which I didn’t seem to miss) with Noemi meant flying through. No wandering between stalls in a big market, wondering where to buy what. We went to her hand-picked butcher (two, actually- she had preferences for where to buy beef and pork vs chicken) and produce shops. Orders were made and paid for, help was rallied, and we had her restaurateur’s negotiated prices. I rattled off an endless list at the produce shop, having willing help. If they didn’t have what I was looking for (dried coconut was one), he ran down the street and sourced it at cost from another vendor. This was a young guy who could actually pick avocados for me: four to eat today or tomorrow, and six more that will last a week.
I was able to provision the boat with seven people on board (our friends Jim and Diana are here) for over a week in under three hours, round trip. This might not sound like much, but it was a huge achievement in our world.
Noemi with Jim & Diana…she immediately remembered them, although it’s been 15 years since they were in Zihuatanejo on their boat.