The Mexican Grocery Store Project.

First of all, I've been trying to figure out whether I should call this the "Hispanic" or "Mexican" grocery store project. It would be more PC but less accurate to call it "Hispanic," as the grocery stores to not appear to cater to wider, pan-Hispanic tastes.

Here's the deal. During January-February, I worked on getting rid of the excessive stocks in my freezer, pantry, squirreled around the house, etc. I didn't spend more than $50 a week on food; I didn't buy chocolate; I didn't buy tea; I didn't go to Sam's or Costco.

The project was a partial success.

Freezer: I didn't get the freezer entirely free of crap, but I think I'm down to the last few meals and can throw out the freezie pops and frozen egg whites. I DON'T USE EGG WHITES. Lesson learned. Next time I make a custard, I will find a recipe that requires the whole egg...or just dump the whites down the sink. When frugality is counter-productive...I could have used that space, damn it, for something tasty. And I wouldn't have used so many freezer bags.

Pantry: A flop. Shelves still stuffed with crap I've had around for years. I finally threw away a jar of pineapple with a 2006 expiration date. Time to check expy dates and donate, I think.

Chocolate: most of the holiday chocolate is gone. I would have succeeded, but Lee bought an excessive amount of chocolate for Valentine's Day (yum).

Tea: I'm drinking the next-to-last serving, but for: 1 can iced-tea mix, 1 pint of loose-leaf tai iced tea leaves, and about half a box of Korean barley tea. They're tasty, but I decided from the get-go that these didn't count. Mostly because I knew I wouldn't finish them in time, but also because I didn't want to commit to getting rid of them just before I'd enjoy them most, i.e., during warm weather.

I took the month of March off from overarching food projects and promptly spent too much money at Costco. But I NEEDED that gallon of green olives, damn it.*


I will purchase groceries from Mexican grocery stores only, unless something insurmountable comes up, like Ray wants something specific for Easter (Ray Day) that I can't get there. Spoiling a family member should take precedence over hair-brained projects every time.

Why Mexican grocery stores?
  • We have a lot of them in Colorado Springs. Lots of little ones with specific functions. "Fruteria" "Carneceria" etc.
  • I like going to non-normal places to buy food.
  • To try different foods. One sub-goal is to make fresh baby octopus, for Ray.
  • To see what they have, instead of what I expect.
  • To find out differences, in specific items and prices and in patterns.
  • To explore the area.
  • To assure people that non-normal places to buy food are not scary. I know a surprising number of people who are afraid to walk into non-U.S.-standard grocery stores, because it's too much to handle.
I've been to several Mexican grocery stores nearby over the last few years. Here are some things I've noticed causally but will take a closer look at:
  • Most starches are refined; I don't remember ever seeing anything "whole grain."
  • Plain yogurt is apparently an anathema.
  • The cheese selection is very limited.
  • The fruits and vegetables are plentiful and cheap.
  • The vegetables are more diverse than the fruits, which are mostly apples, citrus, and a few pears.
  • You can always get perfect avocados.
  • You can easily get cheap meat, if you don't mind cheap cuts of meat.
  • Seafood is almost as important as beef, pork, and chicken combined; it gets slightly more shelf space than any two but not all three.
  • The seafood selection is waaaaaay wider than you'll see at a standard U.S.-style grocery store.
  • You will almost always see an area with food served to eat and tables at which to eat it. I do know one place that doesn't (or didn't; I haven't been there for a while).
  • The amount of exo-culture foods are limited (the biggest Italian foods area is generally a smaller ratio of shelf space than U.S.-style stores; Italian is usually it).
  • The illusion is of abundance over variety. Shipping crates are often stuffed with false bottoms, then piled above eye level with products - but at the expense of having two kinds of something.
Some other areas to explore:
  • Meat/Protein: What types are available? How much do they cost? How much space do they take up? Frozen vs. fresh? Organic, locally-raised? Vegetarian alternatives? The subject of beans is probably a whole different experiment. Wow.
  • Dairy/Fats: Cheese, milk, yogurt types? Cost? Space? (Add'l research: do Mexican people tend to be lactose intolerant or not?) What other types of fats are available, in what proportions (e.g., lots of shelf space for oil, little shelf space for butter)?
  • Starch: What are the main types of starch? What is there, but less often? What types of primary types (uh...flour? The minimal amount of processing, uncooked, etc. as commonly available?) of starch are available? Cost? Space? Are they located in a central area or dispersed around? Are there any whole grains anywhere? Are there more starch products in a primary state or a prepared state? Are there a lot of breakfast cereals?
  • Fruits/Vegetables: What types are available?
  • Sweets/junk food: What proportion of sweets are mass-produced vs. in-house prep? What are the types of sweets and junk food? How much shelf space do they get?
  • Convenience foods: Are foods interim foods (e.g., tortillas) or final products (e.g., burritos)? Frozen vs. canned?
  • Marketing: How much is directed towards kids? Is "abundance" a typical ploy? Are the stores agressively, assertively, or passively Mexican?
  • Service: Cleanliness, helpfulness, ease of use, ability to communicate with/attitude towards yours truly, etc.
Clearly, biting off more than I can chew.

April 1st: Purchased 2 tamales, #1.94/ea., delicious. 1 gallon whole milk, 2.49, from a rack of at least 50 identical gallons (next to 50 gallons of 2%, etc.). 1 pear, .76, anjou, but marked as "pear." 1 pint rice pudding, 1.99, delicious, but with a drink lid with a hole on top, pain in the ass. Customer ahead of me in line drops gallon of what looks like pickled pig rinds. Manager at front in under 30 seconds, and cashier has already drafted a helper to guard the spill, and another to replace disgusting-looking jar of bleah. Must be coming down with a cold; doesn't smell like anything. They all speak in Spanish but switch to clear English when it's my turn.

April 3rd: Yep. A cold.