My Life In Vallarta / LEARNING TO SHOP Part 1

Many people are very spoiled when it comes to shopping for groceries. One stop shopping is a necessity in their hectic lives. They breeze up and down the aisles, filling their carts, wait in line to check out, and then load it all in the car for the drive home.
Well, if you are lucky enough to live where we do, you need to learn a whole new way to shop. You may know my neighborhood as the Southside or the Zona Romantica, but I prefer to call it by its real name: Emiliano Zapata. Such an important name, steeped in history. Plus I like the way it rolls off my tongue. No matter what you call it, the fact remains; there is no supermarket in our neighborhood anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a handicap. It is in fact an opportunity. Come with me on a walk around the neighborhood and you’ll see what I mean.
In the mood for fish? Let’s start on Constitucion up near the now defunct Rizo supermarket. At my favorite fishmonger you’ll see an array of fresh fish on a bed of ice. You know this place is good when you see local chefs coming by to get their supply for dinner. Lifting up the plastic sheeting to reveal the fish, the friendly owner tells you about each one, offering an English name for some so you feel more confident in your selection. Just tell him how many people you’re serving and he selects the best size and then proceeds to prepare it to your specifications. He proudly shows you each side so there won’t be any surprises when you go to cook it. After trimming off the waste, he places it on the scale. You won’t be paying for anything other than the part you can eat. If you’re looking for shrimp, he has four or five coolers full of amazing shrimp in various sizes. Worried about getting it home before it spoils? Just ask for un poco de hielo and your fish is safely surrounded with some ice.
Another day we’re ready to get some meat. There are a number of meat shops at the big Emiliano Zapata market (main entrance on Lazaro Cardenas), but my usual stop is at Carneceria Colin on V. Carranza. Probably because our son’s name is Colin. As you enter, a team of four or five butchers awaits you, poised over a case with the freshest meats and poultry you can imagine. Dreaming of hamburgers? No pink slime in this ground beef! If you are craving pork chops, the butcher doesn’t cut them from the end of the loin. No, once you tell him how many and how thick, he cuts them from the center, saving the end cut for another customer who wants it for pozole. Need chicken? No problem. Whole, in parts, with or without bones or skin; everything cut to order and weighed without the waste. As for the beef, well, I’ll admit the cuts look unfamiliar; but after a brief dialogue and a lot of gestures, the butcher presents you with a perfect cut.
Next it’s off to find some produce. Fruit and vegetable markets are everywhere and you can find just about anything, including heads of cauliflower as big as volleyballs. Granted not everything is shiny and perfect like you see at home. But WOW, do they pack a flavor punch. I’d almost forgotten how a real carrot tastes. It goes without saying that the produce is loose in the bins, not prepackaged on Styrofoam trays with the bad parts out of sight. You can linger as long as you want, examining each bean, lime, tomato or zucchini, searching for perfection. Maybe you just need a small amount of parsley or cilantro but all you see is a giant bunch near the cashier. No problem, she reaches into the clump and hands over a small batch, whatever you want, even if it is only a few stalks. When it comes time to pay, imagine your surprise when your two overflowing shopping bags cost a mere 70 pesos (less than $6)
We have more shopping to do but that will have to wait until next week in Part 2 of this adventure. Until then, happy exploring and buen provecho.


  1. When buying parsley or cilantro ask for ‘un mano’ – a handful, I live solo, so for me it’s usually ‘un medio mano’ (I use the same measure in the Semilla stores)
    Also no need for me to buy a whole bunch of celery, to go bad in the ‘fridge, when all I need is three stalks, so that’s what I take and pay for.
    Avocados are behind the counter, for a ripe one, ask for ‘para hoy’, ripe tomorrow – ‘para mañana’

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