Deals, Dares & Reviews To Help You Savor Your World.
Even traveling, Ham and I love to cook four ourselves as much as we love to dine out. It’s great fun to see what we can do to replicate or improve on those kickass local recipes that we discover in the restuarants and street food stands we visit on vacation. So whenever we’re going to stay several days in one destination, we prefer to skip the hotels and opt instead for renting a condo (or villa, or houseboat) with a kitchen so we can throw down on some locally inspired dishes. Our condo in Puerto Vallarta has a swanky kitchen with a beautiful six-burner gas cooktop that begs to be used, and we can’t wait to get cooking. But first, we’ll need to hike a few blocks inland to Rizo’s Supermercado to stock up on something more substantial than the cans of Tecate and the few lonely limes in our fridge. We love going to Rizo’s (a popular small, independent grocery store) each time we visit Puerto Vallarta — grocery shopping in Mexico is always something of an adventure, and to us, that’s part of the fun. Here’s what we’ve learned over the years.
The trick to successful grocery shopping here is to not sweat the small stuff. As the locals often say with a smile and a shrug, “this is Mexico.” Don’t expect any rhyme or reason to the layout of the store or the placement of items on the shelves. The corn syrup might be found on the same shelf as canned sardines and disposable diapers. Entire sections might be empty. You may see bottled hot sauce in three different, seemingly random locations. Just relax, take your time, and go down each aisle. Upon our arrival at Rizo’s, Ham and I are bemused by a large, hand-written sign on the front door that reads “Contrary to rumor, we are not leaving. We appreciate your business.” This, indeed, is Mexico.
Don’t take a list, and don’t expect to find your favorite American brand:
If you have your heart set on a box of Low-fat Bisquick, a package of Double-Stuff Oreos and a can of Campbell’s Cream of Asparagus soup, chances are you’ll be going home empty-handed. What American brands (or Mexican knock-offs of American brands) that you do find will be terribly expensive; we recently priced a bottle of Wishbone Salad Dressing at more than eleven US dollars, and a bag of flour at more than fifteen bucks! (We bought neither.) Instead, opt for local brands, or better yet, skip the processed stuff entirely and load up on the incredible fresh produce that tastes a million times better than what you get back home. (Don’t get me started on how shitty the mass-market produce is in America!) The tomatoes we buy at Rizo’s are so good that we go back, day after day, for another big sackful to take back to the condo, slice and sprinkle with cracked black pepper and sea salt.
When it comes to meat and dairy, be brave:
The flank steak we find at Rizo’s looks, well, dubious. It has no brand name, the packaging isn’t slick and glossy, and the meat has none of that bright-red, cheery, photogenic gloss that we’re used to. In fact, it’s a bit…gray. But that’s a good thing. This meat is locally sourced, butchered on-site and has none of the preservatives and dyes that we unwittingly demand in our meat back home. Americans would never buy this ugly little flank steak if they found it in the meatcase at their neighborhood ’Big Box’ grocery store, but as Ham and I prove when we cook it up later, it’s fantastic! Juicy and tender, it actually tastes….beefy. (And for those of you that are wondering: no, neither of us suffer a single moment of intestinal distress. In fact, a week of eating all this fresh, honest food in the sun and sea air makes me feel clean and light; incredibly healthy. It makes me want to stay here and eat like this forever.)
Be prepared to save:
Our check-out receipt at Rizo’s lists a whopping 34 items, including the afore-mentioned flank steak, two pounds of bacon, a rack of eggs (two-and-a-half dozen), two different kinds of local cheese, assorted Mexican breads, packets of incredibly good, locally made refried beans, laundry soap that looks like Tide but isn’t, and so much fresh produce that we can’t carry it all. (We actually have to hire a taxi to take us the three blocks back down the hill to our condo.) The total for all this; for what amounts to roughly five days’ worth of groceries? Exactly 575.71 pesos, or about $42 bucks “American. ” Had this not been a store that caters to plenty of Americans in a touristy resort town, the total would have no doubt been even less. Now let me ask you: when was the last time you got 34 different items at Jewel’s for less than a big, fat, hundred-dollar bill?
And lastly, save a nice little handful of pesos to tip the shy, skinny, dark-eyed little boy who bags your groceries. Make him smile, and then save that smile in your heart, to keep for when you have to finally leave this place and go back home.