I was recently recalling a bonus find on our trip to Mexico years ago. We were at a huge grocery store called Chedraui, in Cancun and I couldn’t believe the bounty of stuff available. (Including a bottle of Mott’s Beefamato, I kid you not and I’ll say no more about it!). Ingredients which I would have to hunt for at home, to finish a recipe, were right there, and so inexpensive. I ended up buying an 8 ounce bag of Mexican oregano (for about $0.69 US), among other things. Most oregano that is bought commercially, is from the Mediterranean, and a member of the mint family. Mexican oregano, on the other hand, is from the verbena family, so the flavour is subtly different, a little sweeter perhaps. Would you really notice the difference in a dish? Probably not, but it could be that certain something you taste in authentic Mexican cuisine, the thing you can’t put your finger on.
I have smuggled home various other goodies over the years, on our trips abroad. Maldon sea salt from Menorca, lavender honey from a Mayan village, various pickles and sauces and the list goes on. I guess I am hoping that by bringing these goodies home I can more accurately recreate the wonderful flavours and aromas of a dish I enjoyed while on my trip. I know this is rarely the case, but I can come close. It’s like showing someone your vacation photos – you can only give them a brief glimpse of what it was really like.
Grocery stores abroad, to me, offer such a marvellous look into another culture. What they eat, how it’s prepared (ask someone who works there, they’ll often even know a recipe to use it in), what’s in season, how food is packaged and prepared, the prosperity of the nation, and so much more. On your next trip out of town, (it doesn’t have to be abroad to be markedly different), pop into the grocery store and see what’s up!