Tag Archives: living in rural Mexico

Grocery Shopping and Food Preparation Tips for Rural Mexico

One problem you might have when you move to rural Mexico is you haven’t the foggiest idea where to look for the food you’ve become accustomed to or how to prepare the food options available to you. 

I know that happened to me. Pasta seemed simple enough, yet every time I made a batch, it turned into an inedible hunk of goo. Another problem food of mine was rice. I’d been used to Uncle Ben’s instant rice and it took some time and a few unsalvageable batches to learn how to prepare regular rice. Who knew that you needed to lightly brown the pasta and rice before cooking? 

Recipe books that I brought with me, even though that were geared toward Mexican cuisine, were useless to me. I wasn’t able to find the ingredients called for. A can of stewed tomatoes–not hardly. More helpful were my mom’s handwritten recipe cards with my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s cooking instruction. More recently, a blog reader sent me a delightfully useful book called Cooking and Curing with Mexican Herbs by Dolores L. Latorre which has been so helpful in varying my meal repertoire.

Then there’s the whole shopping experience. Name brands that you’ve come to love and enjoy are not available. Nor are some essentials even on the shelf. Grape jelly is a prime example. None of our local stores carry grape jelly. Chocolate chips are another. No chocolate chips in the baking section. Pretzels? Forget it!

Prices on goods also are a big adjustment. Although you could get a huge jar of peanut butter for the kids’ PB & J lunch for a reasonable price north of the border, that’s not true in Mexico where peanut butter is an imported product. If you are living on pesos, peanut butter might be out of your budgeted price range.

So unless you live near a Costco or Walmart, you may need to adapt your food acquisition strategies.  Because of portion sizes and freshness, you may find you are doing shopping every day rather than once a week. Variations in food availability and quality make meal planning more challenging, but not impossible.

One way to cut back on grocery expenses is to prepare a large meal during the day and have the leftovers for dinner rather than preparing something entirely different.  We don’t have a fridge, so anything left over after dinner is portioned among our animals, although with a teenager in the house, that usually isn’t much. Then tomorrow, we’ll have something different.

Living in rural Mexico means that spaghetti sauce and ketchup are luxury items now rather than staples for us. If you absolutely must have them, buy those that are in boxes tend to be less expensive than imported brands in cans or jars. The boxed spaghetti sauce is a bit bland, so be prepared to spice it up. Pick up some oregano at the fruteria or molinera and maybe even some fresh mushrooms to saute and add.  Meatballs? Make your own. I don’t know about which part of rural Mexico you live in, but there’s no frozen food section at the corner market in my area.

Stock up on rice and beans and learn how to prepare them. Adding garlic, onion or a chili pepper while the beans are simmering adds some flavor. You’ll find a number of different varieties of beans to change the menu up a bit, however, you’ll need to make peace with having beans more days than you may like. A crockpot can be a lifesaver here!

Unfortunately, there will be days when you run out of gas to cook with. When that happens, it’s a good idea to have some canned goods on hand. A can of beans on tostadas with tomato, onion, and cheese requires no cooking.  Again, if you have a crockpot–you’ll be fine if the gas runs out. Of course, we aren’t above cooking over the open flame, either in our fireplace or our outdoor cooking area.

If you buy cheese, lunch meat or bacon from the deli counter, ask for a certain amount suelto (loose) rather than buying something prepackaged. Your pesos will go further that way.  If you want to make a sandwich, then get freshly made bolillo instead of Bimbo white bread. Again, it’s less expensive and tastes better. 

Regular power outages or brownouts in some areas mean a fridge isn’t a reliable way to store fresh food. Condiments come in minuscule portions because without refrigeration, they will go bad quickly. Mayonnaise, jelly, even chilis can be bought in very small containers meant to be consumed within a day or two of opening. Milk can come in a jug, bag or in a box. Boxed milk does not need refrigeration until after it is opened. 

Take advantage of the weekly market for lower-cost food items. Those stalls set up on random corners will also have fresh and scrumptious stuff you can pick up.

Buy fruits and vegetables in season and save money. A variety of fresh fruit and vegetables are available year-round. However, there’s no guarantee that any of the items are organic so be sure to peel those that can be peeled or wash them in a three parts water and one part vinegar solution. Many Mexican women soak everything in Microdyn or Bacdyn, both of which contain the active ingredient ionized silver and I suppose it works too.  

If you can or have a food dehydrator, you can store seasonal fruits and vegetables in this way. Another solution to a high grocery bill is to grow your own herbs and foodstuff. Seeds packets can be found in the semilleria or there are a few places you can order online. Check out Rancho Los Molinos. You won’t be able to order seeds online since they are prohibited for importation although Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds gets around this by sending them to Mexico via Germany.

Although pancake mix is easily found in most stores, the stuff that is being passed off as maple syrup (miel) isn’t much more than colored sugar water, which is very disappointing. Common pancake toppings include fresh fruit, jelly, cajeta, and honey. Pancakes or french toast are easily prepared comfort food at our house.

Typically you’ll find a whole aisle of different cooking oils. I suggest trying a few to find one you like to cook with. On the other hand, you might find that cooking with manteca (lard) gives your food, especially the beans, more flavor. Fresh manteca is often found at the carniceria. If you don’t see it, ask, it may be behind the counter. 

The bars of stuff packaged as margarine in our area tastes foul to me. There are a few places that sell actual cow’s milk butter in town, which is more palatable. It is more expensive though, so we only buy it once in a while.

If your meat comes out too dry, which happens to the best of us, salsa is the fix-all! Slather it on and no one will be the wiser. Make your own salsa if you are in any way sensitive to hot and spicy foodstuff because even though you’ve been assured that it “no pica” a Mexican’s definition of spicy and yours may be different. Salsa also makes a good meat marinade. I add my sister-in-law’s tomatillo salsa which she sells at her tortilleria to chicken or beef strips while I’m cooking them and my family loves it. 

At first, the whole process of finding and preparing food in rural Mexico can be overwhelming. Take heart! Soon enough you’ll be making delicious dishes and amaze yourself with your cooking ingenuity!

What other shopping or cooking adaptations have you made since moving to rural Mexico? What cookbooks have you found useful?

4 Comments

Filed under Mexican Food and Drink

Mid-month Updates

2020 has been a rough start, but nothing we can’t handle. So here’s the latest from the Flores ranchito.

Vehicles

January 1 my new-to-me motorcycle decided it wasn’t going to start. It was something electrical, but what it is specifically had him baffled for two weeks. It turns out, the previous owner had done some electrical “upgrades” that crossed some wires. Taking those out and replacing the box where all the wires meet seems to have done the job. It still needs a new front light and gas gauge, but it runs yet again.

January means paying for the “contribución materia vehicular impuesto” or vehicle tax. In comparison to last month, this month was a walk in a park. All we had to do was take our tarjetas de circulacion to the Institute de Seguridad Social del Estado de Guanajuato (ISSEG) pharmacy. Each moto costs $135 pesos this year and the truck was $487. It goes up every year.

Inflation

Speaking of things going up, the garafon (jug) of water from Santorini now costs $36 pesos, 2 pesos more than December and 6 pesos more than last January. Those refillable water stations that are springing up all over town are looking more and more attractive at 12 pesos a refill. However, I just don’t know how filtered the water is and where the water comes from in the first place. Is it hooked up to the town water supply? Because that water runs through miles of hot copper pipes isn’t drinkable at all! 

The internet also went up with no notification whatsoever. That meant we had to make two trips to town to pay the bill since our payment didn’t cover the increase the first time around. Our Blue Satellite internet fee is now $399 pesos. The satellite internet is under a 2-year contract, so theoretically it shouldn’t go up until the end of that period, but who knows? 

Stores in town are charging for plastic bags now as well. It’s nominal, at the most $1 peso per bag, but I wasn’t prepared my first day shopping of the new year and hadn’t brought my own. I’ll know better for next time. Some places, like Mexico City, have prohibited the use of single use bags, which is a good thing overall.

Gas has gone up. Soda will now cost 1.26 per liter. Alcohol prices will go up an estimated 4.5% excluding beer, aguamiel and pulque. It will cost more to ride the bus and leave Mexico by plane. But it’s just how things work–the hike in the daily minimum salary to $123.22 pesos ($6.50 USD) has to be balanced out somehow. 

I’m not an economist but speaking from experience, it’s awfully hard to manage on $123.22 pesos per day.

Animals

The last baby goat of this batch was born the first week of January. The moms of the kids born in December have gone into heat, at least if Stinky Chivo’s romancing is any indication. So we expect another crop of goats in June or so. 

We still have too many animals. Terry and George are still not friends. My husband didn’t prepare as well as he normally does regarding food during the long, dry season, so that’s been a weekly expense. 

Health Care

As it is now a new year, I needed to go and make an appointment at the hospital to see my doctor in May. I’m not sure how things will go when it’s time for my appointment since INSABI took over for both IMSS and Seguro Popular on January 1. There have been reports of formerly covered individuals needing to pay from everything from gauze to surgeries once covered by the national healthcare policies. 

If it comes down to it, I’ll be able to piece together something by getting my own lab work done at a private lab and having the doctors next to the pharmacy write me a prescription if I need a dosage change. Otherwise, I can buy my medication over the counter at Farmacias Similares. It will add to expenses, and we’ll have to cut other things out, but I’ll make it.   

So I’m feeling a bit frazzled and it’s only mid-January. I’ll need to take some time out and set up a more restricted budget for this year. How are things where you live?

2 Comments

Filed under Animal Husbandry, Driving Hazards, Economics, Health

Showering in Rural Mexico

Today I’d like to talk about showering in Mexico because odds are you won’t get the luxury of a bath unless you are willing to sit in a horse trough in rural Mexico. 

We have a shower and we have hot water, but that hasn’t always been the case. So here are some showering things you might need to know about before stripping down.

C on the shower knob stands for caliente (hot) and F is frio (cold). And even though the hot water control should be on the left side and the cold on the right, that may not be true for the shower you are using. 

bathtub ledge

Showers are often built with small ledges that you can trip over if you aren’t careful. This is so water doesn’t spill out onto the floor. Our shower has a sort of reverse engineering. The shower is slightly lower than the bathroom floor and the floor is angled toward the center drain. Not all showers have that sloping and sometimes you can get quite a bit of water build up around your feet.

If you run out of water during your shower, mid-shampoo, hopefully, there is a barrica (barrel) of rainwater that someone can bring you a bucketful of to rinse out those soapy locks. Running out of water happens more often than you might imagine.

tinaco

Houses have tinacos (those ugly black round storage containers on the roof) that if you are connected to the town water supply will fill when the water is on. The thing is, water may only run two or three days per week. The tinaco is supposed to store enough water to get you to the next delivery. That’s not always the case. 

If you know ahead of time that there isn’t any water for a shower, you can take a bucket bath. When the occasion calls for it, my husband has been kind enough to heat water on the stove to take the chill off my bucket bath. Most homes have at least one enormous aluminum pot that will quickly heat water for your absolutions. Some have electric water heating devices. Just make sure to unplug it before testing the water temperature with your hand.

heating up water

The typical water application device for a bucket bath is a plastic bowl that we call a scooper. It’s the same plastic container that is used for washing clothes when it’s done with a washboard setup. 

water heater

If you have enough water for showering, then you’ll need to decide if it’s worth the effort to turn on the boila (gas hot water heater) or not. I’m a little afraid of it, having had my eyebrows singed before. 

The procedure for lighting the boila is as follows:

  • Turn the red switch to Piloto (pilot).
  • Push down the red button 10 or 15 times in rapid succession.
  • Open the portal.
  • Light a match.
  • Hold down the red button.
  • Wave the match around inside near the pilot light contraption until it whooshes. 
  • Slowly release the button. 
  • If the flame begins to waver, press the red button firmly down again.
  • When the flame is steady, turn the red switch to Abierto (open)
  • Close the portal.
  • Back away quickly.

After you have successfully lit the boila, then you need to wait around for about 20 minutes until enough water is warm enough for a shower. 

Make sure to turn the boila off after your shower. The contraption is gas-powered. If it is not vented properly, the gas can kill you or at the very least cause carbon dioxide poisoning if left on for an extended period of time.

electric water heater

I’ve also had the dubious pleasure of showering under an electric shower head. Although I loved every minute of the hot water on demand, it still made me very nervous. Water and electricity aren’t exactly the best of friends. However, if it is installed correctly and in working order, then there is no risk of electrocution. 

solar heater

The newest rage in our area is the solar water heater. It mounts on the roof and connects both to the tinaco and pipes that lead into the house. Many people who have this setup say that the water comes out boiling and even the knobs are too hot to touch. Yikes! We choose not to get a solar water heater because there are occasions when we don’t have water in the tinaco. If there isn’t water to run through the solar heater at all times, it can burn up the components. 

If it seems too much effort to get hot water, take heart. If your black tinaco is on the roof, the water is a comfortable shower temperature in the early afternoon. 

Most showers are set up on a gravity system. If the tinaco isn’t far enough from the showerhead, you may not get a lot of water pressure. Rinsing long hair might be complicated with the trickle-down effect. During the rainy season, the rain may be coming down harder than the water comes out of the showerhead. Feel free to take advantage of the heavenly shower Mother Nature has provided outdoors. 

rub a dub dub

Bathing children is somewhat simpler. Babies can fit into the sink off the side of the lavadora (washboard). Small children can splash about in the laundry tub. And several children fit nicely in a horse trough, which comes in metal and plastic for your bathing pleasure. 

Now I’ve heard that there are hot water on demand setups, but I’ve never been to a house that has one. I’ve also been to a plomería that had not just bathtubs, but jacuzzis, so they do exist too. These are just things outside of my own experience in this area of Mexico. 

So there you go! Tips for showing in rural Mexico. Follow these and you’ll be squeaky clean in no time!

Tell me, how do you shower?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Construction, Cultural Challenges, Homesteading, Water issues