You can get groceries at a variety of stores. In fact, depending on what you need, you may need to stop at several stores to find all the items on your list.
The smallest corner store is usually called abarrotes or tiendita or miscelanea. There’s typically a small selection of necessities including soap, canned goods, and chips. Usually, there’s quite a large selection of chips and soda. Even with the sugar tax, these items remain best sellers and are what probably keep these little stores in business.
If it’s a store you frequent, you may be able to request certain items. For instance, peanut butter is available at some stores but not part of the Mexican diet. If you let the store owner know you’ll be buying it regularly, it just might appear on the shelves.
The next size up is the mini-super. There’s a little more selection, but not much.
Then there’s the super (from the word supermercado). It has a larger selection and sometimes even a section for imported goods. You never can tell what you might find on the shelves. I once found Mountain Dew at a super. One can cost more than $20 pesos, so I didn’t get it though. Another time I found pesto sauce, but again it was out of my budgeted price range.
Mini-supers and supermarkets often have a small section of fruit and vegetables. In a pinch, you could buy your produce there. However, you’ll have more variety of in-season fresh produce at the frutería. You’ll also likely find bags of beans, popcorn, sunflower seeds, cheese cut to order, peanuts, and eggs.
At a frutería you don’t have to buy the whole stalk of celery if you only want 3 stems. You can request that a melon or cabbage be cut into halves or quarters and just buy that. Everything is bought by weight.
Our local frutería houses some cows, goats, and chickens behind the store to aprovechar (take advantage of) the produce that has gone bad. It means, sometimes it’s a bit smelly there and a friend of mine said that she saw a swarm of rats running under the shelves, but what can you do?
Cold cuts can be found in supers or stores that specialize in carnes frias (refrigerated meats) Usually at the back of a super you can find a little deli counter known as a salchichonería (delicatessen). Here you’ll find mostly different brands of processed ham, hot dogs, and bacon. Our local super also carries Vienna sausage which seems a little odd to me, but hey, whatever there is a demand for I guess. It’s possible to buy a packet of hot dogs or ham but all of these items are also sold “suelto” which means you can ask for a specific amount and the deli clerk will slice and dice and package what you want. With the cold cuts, you can request a particular thickness if you like since the standard slice is very, very thin.
Often the salchichonería is paired with a cremería (dairy) which includes lacteos (milk products). Here you can buy dairy items like cheeses, butter (although not often available), margarine, yogurt and heavy creams.
You can also buy eggs. When you buy eggs, you can ask for a specific amount (10 pesos) or buy by the kilo or media kilo. The eggs will be passed to you in a clear plastic bag, so be careful. You have no idea how many times I’ve broken an egg or two on the motorcycle ride home. If you are buying a large quantity, you can ask the deli person to give them to you in the cardboard egg holders. The cardboard will be layered and tied up and it provides marginally more protection against breakage.
You can also do your shopping at the weekly tianguis or at the mercado (market). Vendors have stalls or stands and you can find just about anything. If you don’t see what you want, don’t be afraid to ask.
During different growing seasons, you might find temporary stands on the corner or people carrying buckets of different fresh food items. The strawberry and honey sellers are a common sight during certain times of the year. You’ll often see the strawberry sellers carrying plastic buckets and the honey sellers carrying a crate full of their products strapped to their chests.
If you live in outlying areas, the produce truck will come to you. You can expect them on set days of the week and stock up until their next pass through.
Be on the lookout for trucks with sound systems as well. Jicama, melons, oranges, pineapples and other fresh food can be bought cheaply off the back of these trucks. You’ll find trucks parked at corners or by topes (speed bumps) handing out fresh slices of whatever they are selling on the point of a knife. Feel free to sample before buying. There’s no obligation implied.
A wide variety of items can be found at the molino de chiles (literally pepper mill). Not surprisingly, this is your best bet to find ground black pepper which isn’t typically a part of the Mexican diet. Also available are varieties of prepared moles, garlic salt, ground chiles and other seasonings. This is the place to go for baking items like cocoa powder, flour, yeast, sprinkles, candies and if you are very fortunate, chocolate chips.
As you can see, grocery shopping can take the better part of the day at this rate. The trade-off is it’s never the same experience twice. It’s much more like the foraging our ancestors did than modern-day grocery shopping. Where you might have located those elusive chocolate chips last month, may no longer have them in stock, so you must head to another establishment whose owner has different ideas on what the average household needs and stocks his shelves accordingly. Who knows what you might find today?