Grocery Store Shopping
Cabo has really come of age! Here are the latest grocery shopping updates.
We enjoy cooking in many evenings and experimenting with foods. It is also fun to barbeque the fresh fish you caught while out fishing that day. We try and keep most of the staples for cooking on hand as well as lots of pots and pans and cooking utensils to make the job easy. Part of the fun of cooking is going to the wonderful markets and grocery stores to see what Mexican food stores are like. Don't be afraid wander in and the staff are always friendly and helpful
The most exciting local news for shoppers is the opening of a COSTCO store in Los Cabos, plus two other large Supermarkets, CCC and SORIANA. These stores bring a much need dimension to grocery and general merchandise shopping in our burgeoning area.
COSTCO - On the main highway about two miles out of Cabo San Lucas. It's like walking into the Twilight Zone. . . suddenly you are transported back home to your local Costco, with exactly the same layout, the same lighting, the same big baskets and merchandise that you see in the States. It's only after you've wandered the aisles a bit that you notice some other products that you might not find back home -- masa flour, dried hibiscus flowers (for that favorite Mexican tea Jimaica) and the large bags of jalapenos and dried pasilla chiles. There's one other special offering that I wish they had at our local stores -- in the bread department there's a bin where you can buy a dozen Mexican bolillos (French rolls) for 70 cents. If you only want to buy 6, it's still 70 cents, so we usually share the bag with friends. The rolls are great for sandwiches.
Most of the clothing is geared toward the beach type life in Cabo and the book department has both Spanish and English books. On the shelves you'll find a lot of Mexican brands of the same items you find at your home Costco. One other extra, sometimes there are people in the parking lot who will wash your car while you shop.
CCC and SORIANA - These two WalMart-like chains are competitors in Mexico and they have both opened gigantic stores on the Highway that leads to Todo Santos just outside of Cabo San Lucas. The competition is so fierce that they are forcing the prices everywhere in Cabo to be lowered. The most important thing is that these stores have the much needed refrigeration that has been lacking in most other groceries in Los Cabos. The vegetables and fruit are all very fresh, and the deli departments are extensive, especially in CCC. Both stores carry a wide variety of items including, clothing, prescription drugs, household products and magazines. Soriana goes even father, offering tires and hardware items. You can have your photos processed, and at Soriana you can leave the kids to play in a game arcade while you shop.
There are markets of all sizes and varieties in Los Cabos and you can probably find anything you want...if you know where to go. There are large Supermarkets (Supermercados), which are tailored to Northern tastes and often have the prices to match. Tourism has also brought an increase in specialty shops where you can find "exotic" items like bagels and lox, Italian prosciutto, and imported cheeses and wines. There are also many little stores along the highway where you can pick up necessities like bread, milk and beer.
So how do the locals do their shopping? They do it piecemeal, like they do in Europe or Asia or most countries where they don't have one-stop shopping malls. There are many small markets, known as bodegas or mercados including a chain of local markets, FRUTAS Y VERDURAS, easily recognized by their bright purple facades. And there are many local produce markets, bakeries and meat markets where prices are much more in line with you expect in Mexico.
There are only two markets that would qualify as what gringos know as Supermarkets. They are both part of the same Supermercado chain - ARAMBURO. There is one Aramburo in the middle of Cabo San Lucas (at the corner where Marina Blvd makes a sharp left turn). The other is in Santa Rosa, just outside of San Jose del Cabo on the way to the airport.
You can find many of the brands you're familiar with, like Kellogg's, General Mills, and Armour. If you're only comfortable with what you already know, then the Aramburo is for you, but you will be paying Northern prices and sometimes more. If you try the local brands you're in for a treat. Many are packaged by the same companies we know and love, but under Mexican brand names and lower prices. Breakfast cereals such as Frosted Flakes will appear under the name Zucaritas, but you'll still see Tony the Tiger on the box. Same stuff, different name, once you get the hang of it you'll save big bucks. There are other local brands that you might want to try, especially for Mexican specialties like beans, red sauces or canned chilies, which out-do their Northern counterparts.
With refrigeration at a premium, produce at the Aramburo may look unacceptable to the Western eye. Sometimes the produce is downright rotten, but if you check items over carefully and they look okay, once you've washed them and put them in a plastic bag in the fridge, you'll be surprised how they come back to life. Most are locally grown and the taste is usually delicious. You'll find better looking produce if you get into the piecemeal shopping mode.
One thing you'll find in the main aisle of the Aramburos is a price scanner which reads bar codes and shows you prices in both pesos and U.S. dollars. (And we call it a backward country!). The cash registers also calculate everything in both dollars and pesos, so if you have to pay in dollars, you'll get a fair exchange rate, and they never have a problem calculating your change (although it will be in pesos). Your groceries will be taken to your car by a young boy or girl, probably under the age of 12. You are expected to tip these youngsters a few pesos, but DO NOT tip with American change (coins). While American dollars are accepted widely in Mexico, American coins are not and they will probably just toss it on the ground. It's not an insult it's just a fact of life. Yankee dollars Si! Change No!
The Aramburos are not only the biggest markets around, they are also a combination of hardware store, gift shop, toy store, delicatessen and bakery. But remember, they're there for convenience and in order to get the best out of grocery shopping in Los Cabos you will want to know about alternatives.
FRUITS and VEGETABLES
There are many fruit and vegetable stands along the highway and it's worth a stop just to see what they are offering. On one stretch outside of San Jose heading toward the airport, you'll see a variety of fruit vendors selling their wares off the back of their trucks. For about $2.50 you'll get a giant sack of juice oranges that will last weeks. Others sell locally grown watermelon, cantaloupe or tangerines. Usually their produce is exceptional, but it is seasonal. The vendors are happy to give you a taste before you buy.
Our favorite fruits and vegetable place is LIZZARAGA. They are on the beach side of the highway outside of San Jose just past Rigo's Restaurant. They supply many of the Cabo restaurants and have regular shipments from local farms. They also have refrigeration for their delicate produce and an amazing selection of fresh and dried chilies and herbs. The local chain, FRUTAS Y VERDURAS (which translates as 'Fruits and Vegetables') also has a good selection of produce, but again, very little refrigeration. Or, you might want to check out the organic produce at FLORA'S in San Jose. (See the Los Cabos Guide to Good Eating for details.)
MEAT AND POULTRY
Mexican beef and pork are very flavorful but may not be as tender as you are used to unless you can find Sonoran Beef. The cuts are also different and you may not recognize the steaks and roasts you usually buy, just start with what looks familiar. The beef in the ARAMBUROS is fine, but we've had better success at the FRUTAS Y VERDURAS meat counter. The best steaks we've found are in a small butcher shop behind the MERCADO MUNICIPAL, the old central market in San Jose. Walk out the back door of the market and turn left. There you'll find a great little butcher shop that sells Sonoran beef. Ask specifically for Sonoran and they will cut you whatever kind of steak or roast you desire. They also have both cut and whole chickens and eggs and their prices are good.
The chickens in Mexico are very tasty. They are grain fed and, while not as plump as those in U.S. markets, they cook up well. Sometimes all you can find are frozen birds, they're still very good, especially for the barbecue. The parts are sold in the following ways:
Pechuga de Pollo - the breast, (pronounced Pechoogah day Poyo)
Sin Hueso - without bone, (pronounced Wayso)
Con Hueso - with bone
Pierna - Leg and thigh, always sold together (pronounced Peeairnah)
Entero - The whole bird
Don't be afraid of the milk, it's all pasteurized and you can usually find U.S. brands. You may not always find low- or non-fat, but wait a couple of days and try again. It'll show up. They also sell non-refrigerated milk in sealed cartons. It's perfectly good and very tasty.
Eggs are sold loose. You just put as many as you want in a plastic bag and take them home -- very carefully. Sometimes you'll find the dozen size egg cartons, but check for broken eggs, they're usually not in the best condition. The big surprise is how brightly yellow the yolks are and how high they stand up in the pan. One of my neighbors was so shocked by this she thought there must be something wrong with the eggs and threw them out. But, in case you've forgotten, that's what real, home grown eggs, without hormones, look like.
A very popular dairy product in Mexico is Crema Eugenia, which is the equivalent of sour cream and comes in small bottles. Be sure to try the Mexican cheeses like Manchega, a good soft grating cheese similar to Jack which is also excellent for cooking; or Ranchera, which is like a thicker and tastier version of hoop cheese. You can also find Swiss, cheddar and most of the other cheeses you're used to.
It's everywhere, just look for the signs that say PESCEDERIA (Fish Market.) There are small fish markets all around San Jose and if you go down to the wharf where the fishing boats come in, both in Cabo San Lucas and in San Jose, you can ask the men cleaning the fish if there's any for sale. Sometimes they are paid in fish and will sell you some of theirs. They'll tell you a price and whatever it is, take it. It's always cheap and well worth it. Bring it home and cook it, you'll never get it any fresher. Or take it to one of the many restaurants that will cook your fish for you. Just ask, most of them will do it.
You can buy your tortillas in the market in the small packages or you can go to one of the many tortillerias where they are manufactured and buy a kilo (that's 2.2 pounds) for about $1.25. They're usually found on side streets, so keep your eyes open for the sign that says: TORTILLERIA.
BREADS, CAKES, DESSERTS
Both of the ARAMBURO markets have excellent bakeries. The Mexican bolillo is a like a soft French roll, with a hint of sweetness. It's great for sandwiches and also comes in a larger form which can be sliced like French bread. You'll also find French-style batards, which should be eaten the day they are bought. They go stale very quickly.
Mexican pastries are not very sweet. They use a more coffee-cake style batter and don't go for heavy creams or icings. They do make one very special cake called Tres Leches (Three Milks) which will definitely satisfy a sweet tooth. You'll see many Mexican bakeries around town and they all have a similar selection of cookies and breads. Look for the signs that say: PANADERIA If you need a real sugar fix, try the SWISS BAKERY in Cabo San Lucas across from the Plaza, one block before Mi Casa Restaurant (See the Los Cabos Guide to Good Eating for directions.)
In the heart of San Jose del Cabo, is the MERCADO MUNICIPAL. The mercado is located between Mauricio Castro and Coronado streets a couple of blocks below the highway, but since neither of these one-way streets goes through to the highway, it can be a little tricky to find. This traditional open air marketplace sells fresh fish, produce and meat. They also have a great selection of leather goods, clothing, blankets and other local items. Even if you don't do any grocery shopping, it's worth stopping by to check out some of the local flavor, or to eat at one of the half-dozen loncherias (lunch counters) where you'll find huge plates of food and fresh squeezed juice served at great prices. You might have some trouble ordering if you don't speak much Spanish, but no matter what you get, you'll probably enjoy it.
Cabo San Lucas has a Costco-style warehouse store, PROSAN, where most restaurant owners do their shopping. It's open to the public and you can buy in bulk at very good prices, especially good for stocking up on canned and paper goods. It sits off a side road that seems to be constantly under construction on the backside of Cabo San Lucas. Follow the signs that say: "To the Bungalows" (which is a very nice small hotel). You'll eventually see a couple of street signs that say "ProSan" with an arrow. Maybe you'll find it, maybe you won't. It's always an adventure in Los Cabos!
Lox and bagels can be found at TRADER DICKS, in the Corridor area near the Coral Baja condos and at LENNY'S DELI in Cabo San Lucas, where they have a New York style deli counter plus an incredible selection of bottled salsas. EUROPEA, a gourmet Wine and Deli shop recently opened on the highway just outside of Cabo San Lucas. Here you'll find wines and liquors from around the world as well as specialties like prosciutto and parmesano reggiano.
Well that ought to get you started. Now go back to your villa, yacht or campsite, have a good shot of Tequila or una Chela (a brewski) and see who you can get to fix you that great dinner you just bought.