I am in Houston today before heading out to Mexico on Sunday for my teacher fellowship! I always love coming home to visit family but am taken aback by the crazy Texas heat. There is only one thing on my mind on a hot day like today- fruit paletas! Mexican paletas are fruity and delicious…
Where do I find Mexican groceries in Boston? It’s the question I’ve been asking myself since I moved here two and a half years ago. Where I grew up in Houston, there was a carnicería, a panadería, and a washatería (lol) within a two mile radius of my house. Plus, the local HEBs and Krogers carried most of the Mexican ingredients my family ever needed. The obvious lack of Mexican grocers here in Boston has become more acutely noticeable over the past few weeks as I’ve been cooking more traditional meals and searching for more obscure ingredients for the blog. Due to my geographic location, I’ve relied on my mom to mail me dried chiles and have ordered other items online rather than drive 20-40 minutes to a Latin American food grocer. This past week though, my search for cal mexicana- pickling lime used to nixtamalize masa- finally pushed me to up my search for Mexican foods. The results of that search are listed below; they are not numbered or ranked in any particular order. (Actually, they are listed in the order of how far they are from my apartment.) I hope this list is helpful to all of you in Boston!
I want to give credit where credit is due. This post from chowhound and this post from yelp informed my search. Plus, actually driving around and looking for stores in the more Latino parts of Boston led me to a few others.
- El Chavo Mexican Products
4254 Washington St, Roslindale, MA 02131
El Chavo offered no produce when I visited this past week. It did have a decent stock of Mexican spices, candy, and chips. They also had some underwhelming “Central American” cheeses and meats in their coolers. All in all, the name seems a little misleading since this store is not exclusively Mexican and seems to offer more Central American/Caribbean foods.
Good for: that Takis or Jarritos fix
- Tropical Foods (El Platanero)
450 Melnea Cass Blvd, Boston, MA 02120
This is a newer grocery store in Dudley Square. They offer a decent amount of produce and a great variety of both Latin American and Caribbean (Jamaican, Haitian) groceries. If you are like me and parking is a selling point, then rejoice! They do have a small parking lot, which is huge for Boston. Although they did have a decent stock of Mexican goods, as the name indicates, they include foods from many places, which means they carry a pretty generic offering of Mexican goods. Also, apart from a half-aisle that consists of your run-of-the-mill Mexican products (hard taco shells, salsa, etc.), the Mexican ingredients are spread throughout the store, making them a bit difficult to find. For example, I found Abuelita hot chocolate near the cookware section and Tapatío hot sauce among Jamaican hot sauces.
Good for: plantains, legumes, basic Mexican items, and parking!
- Super Ahorro Market
306 Bennington St, East Boston, MA 02128
Don’t be deceived by Super Ahorro’s small size; out of all the stores I visited, it carried the most useful Mexican products. There is one small cooler dedicated to produce, like avocados and fruits. I found two racks dedicated to Mexican spices ranging from tamarindo to pepitas to chiles secos. They also had drink mixes to make atole, horchata, etc. as well as Mexican brand soaps and household products. Overall, I was impressed by the variety of goods they packed into a very small space. One disappointment was getting home and realizing that the tamarindo was overly dry; it seems like some of their imported goods might be a little old, so check before you buy!
Good for: Specific Mexican spices and household products (jabón Zote anyone?)
- El Sol Food Market
353 Chelsea St, Boston, MA 02128
El Sol is a small grocer in East Boston. It had a small selection of produce: peppers, fruit etc. It also had generic Latin American foods. It was kind of sparsely stocked overall. I didn’t look around too much since I’d just been greatly impressed by Super Ahorro, which was right across the street.
Good for: being across the street from Super Ahorro : )
- Chelsea Market Basket
170 Everett Ave, Chelsea, MA 02150
Ok, so I know Market Basket isn’t a Mexican or Latin American foods grocer at all, but due to their large size and location they had a pretty good variety of Mexican foods. This was one of the few places where I found more than one variety of masa harina (corn flour). Not that Market Basket needs any advertising, but if you’re hoping to find all your Mexican produce and dry goods in one place, this might be your best bet. However, you should come early for produce since by the time I showed up (7pm) they had run out of jalapeños and cilantro. 🙁
Good for: One stop!
Other stores I have yet to visit:
- La Internacional Food Corporation
318 Somerville Ave, Somerville, MA 02143
- Amigos Grocery Store
86 Broadway, Somerville, MA 02145
- La Favorita Market
66 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134
- La Chapincita Market
424 Moody St, Waltham, MA 02453
In Conclusion: Boston is not the Southwest. There is no one-stop place where you can find Mexican sweet bread, dried chiles, crema fresca, AND tomatillos. Oh how I miss you Michoacana and Fiesta! Overall, I recommend that you try the store that is nearest to you geographically and that you call ahead to ensure that they carry whatever you are looking for. I know this list is by NO MEANS comprehensive, so if you know of another place that I may have missed, please share in the comments. Also, here’s a long list of all ethnic grocers in Boston and the surrounding areas if you want to do some more research. Finally, if you stumble upon some cal mexicana let me know where you found it and I will be forever grateful!
It has been a snowy weekend here in Boston. I’ve had two back-to-back snow days, which have resulted in a four-day weekend for me! As a teacher, I have mixed feelings about snow days. On the one hand, they’re like surprise holidays! On the other hand, I always fall into what my husband calls the Law of Snow Days: the more time you have, the more time you waste. More often than not, I will procrastinate and take the entire day off, which is great for my mental health (maybe), but bad for my work ethic. As the day closes, I find myself frantically planning for my return to work. Usually I find myself worse off than I started. All the grading I meant to do, all the lesson planning I should have done… it all piles up like the snow outside. Ahh… the teacher life!
There is an upside to all of this, though! In my usual procrastination, I decided to make some agua de jamaica! Given the bitter cold outside, this vivid, summery drink probably reflects some inner need for sunshine and warmer days…
Agua frescas are common beverages in Mexico. They are found at restaurants and eateries, ranging from the ever-popular horchata to fruit-based drinks like agua de piña or agua de sandía. One of the more intriguing aguas frescas is agua de jamaica. It is known for its bright magenta color and tart flavor. It’s personally my favorite agua fresca both for its agridulce taste and the ease with which you can prepare it.
Agua de jamaica is made with the sepals of hibiscus flowers. Apparently, it’s not only delicious, but also salubrious. According to livestrong, it’s rich in antioxidants and can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Obviously, I can’t medically back up any of its health benefits since I am not a nutritionist, but hey- it sounds good to me!
I always make this drink at home because this way I can control the sugar content unlike the typically, overly sugary versions you can get at Mexican restaurants. You can find hibiscus flowers, which are sometimes also called jamaica flowers, at any latin grocer or online at amazon.com
The process is simple. All you do is steep the hibiscus sepals in boiling water. Then, add sugar, some more water, and a bit of lemon and cinnamon, and voila, a beautiful ruby-red tea to ease away those winter blues.
Agua de Jamaica
Yields 7 Cups
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
- 1 cup hibiscus sepals
- ½ cup sugar
- 7 cups water
- Lemon Juice
- Bring 2 cups water to boil. When boiling, turn off the heat and add hibiscus. Cover pot and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Add sugar and stir until it dissolved.
- Strain the tea into a pitcher. Add 5 cups of cold water and chill for an hour before drinking.
This past Saturday, I was driving home when all of a sudden the craving for a torta drove me to Whole Foods instead. I found myself pulling into the parking lot almost unwillfully.
I am normally not a sandwich person, but tortas de milanesa aren’t your typical sandwiches either. Tortas are typically made with different types of bread like pan francés, teleras, or bolillo. They are generally massive and often come with pickled jalapeños. Tortas can contain lots of different fillings including ham or eggs, but my favorite torta is made with pork milanesa, a thin, breaded, and fried meat similar to an Austrian Schnitzel or an Italian Milanese.
I walked into the store and hopefully searched for some bolillo bread to no avail. Not exactly surprised by Whole Foods’ lack of Mexican bread, but sad nonetheless, I went home with ciabatta instead. (Thankfully, when I made the tortas for this blog, I was able to find some actual bolillo at a Brazilian cornerstore near by.) I did, however, find all of my other ingredients- tomatoes, onion, lettuce, avocado, pinto beans, and super thin pork loin steak.
My husband was not home, so with free reign over our kitchen, I quickly got to work. After pounding away at the pork loins, I loaded up the skillet with oil and began frying the milanesas. The smell of the milanesas frying surprised me with a wave of nostalgia. I was taken back to my childhood home in East Houston where I shared a bedroom with my little sister for eight years and where our local public library was a short walk away. In our tiny two bedroom house, the smell of whatever was cooking in the kitchen would always flood the rest of our house. Whenever my mother was frying up some milanesas, we knew from that savory smell that some special guests were on their way. I was particularly excited when she would pair the milanesas with a side of espaghetti verde. Usually the leftover milanesas would make their way into tortas. And if I was really lucky, I would get to take a torta de milanesa to school for lunch.
After a whole afternoon of frying, our apartment was filled with the aroma of delicious milanesas. I literally felt like I was in that tiny, two bedroom house again. When my husband came home later that night, he remarked, “it smells really good in here.” I laughed to myself- he had no idea how good it smelled to me.
A note about chiles en vinagre: Chiles en vinagre are pickled jalapeños. They can be found in the “Mexican” aisle of most grocery stores next to enchilada sauces and salsas. I made a batch of chiles en vinagre this past week, and I will never go back to the canned variety. These are much crunchier and spicier than canned chiles, and you get to control what spices you use! The real Mexican way to eat chiles en vinagre with a torta is by taking a whole chile and biting it in between torta bites. Alternatively, you can cut it into strips like I did in the pictures and put them inside your sandwich. This tangy and spicy ingredient will make your tortas all the better.
Tortas de Milanesa
Yields 4 Tortas
Prep Time: 25 Minutes
- 4 bolillo loaves
- ½ cup refried beans
- 1 tomato (sliced)
- 1 onion (sliced)
- 1 avocado (sliced)
- Plenty of sliced cheese! (queso fresco, mozzarella)
- Chiles en vinagre (optional)
- 4 pork loin steaks
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup italian style breadcrumbs
- 1 cup milk
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Place pork loin steaks one by one inside gallon sized zip lock bag. Flatten by pressing down with palm of hand or rolling pin. The resulting steaks should be almost doubled in size.
- Combine milk, salt, pepper and garlic powder in bowl. Place flattened steaks in bowl to marinate for 20 minutes to 1 hour. Place in fridge.
- Take soaked milanesas out and coat thoroughly with breadcrumbs.
- Heat skillet with oil to medium-high heat and fry milanesas until brown, about three minutes per side.
- While milanesas are cooking, cut open bolillo breads and hollow out the bolillo carefully. (This is where you will put the refried beans.) Coat one side of the bolillo with mayo and the other with refried beans. Layer the vegetables on top.
- When your milanesas are cooked, add them to your sandwiches and enjoy!