Cost of Living: Food

Displays of chiles and other local delicacies in Oaxaca market.

Shopping at Mercado Juarez in Oaxaca.


I meant to keep better track of our grocery expenses on this last trip. Alas, that info got lost as we scrambled to assemble drifts of cuota receipts and illegible notes scrawled on napkins. But luckily Michele Kinnon is on the ball. I prefer to do my shopping at the mercado or in small tiendas, but Kinnon is right: the big supermarkets such as Soriana can be a hell of a deal, especially when you avoid the fancy cheese aisle (impossible for me, sadly). Has anyone done a cost/benefit analysis on supermercado vs. traditional mercado produce shopping?

4 Responses to “Cost of Living: Food”

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  1. El Codo says:

    I have to live it Churpa, on a barely survivable pension.

    1. Living near a truck crop area is a godsend. The price of a tomato can be a THIRD as much (better quality too) when tomatoes are regionál. This is true of ANY alimento, and it is the first question
    I ask when spending time in a new area. “What products are locally grown?”

    2. A “Tienda On Every Corner” is left from the days when shoppers are afoot, and gossip is calculated in the worth of a shopping trip. Shopping Shank’s Mare is almost always for the basics, a few frijols, eggs, chiles, and whatever the tienda happens to have fresh.

    3. Few items can be both better and cheaper than those dispensed from vehicles ranging from a small pickup truck to large stake flat bed trucks. Example last week I purchased 42 pounds of valencia oranges for 40 pesos in costál (gunnysack) from a roadside vendor.

    4. Weekly or twice weekly tianguis offer less expensive groceries. So do mercados municipales. Open air markets.

    Supermarket selection is important. Just ask my grand daughters. Bodega Aurerra is less costly than Soriana plus it is a Wal Mart affiliate and house brand foodstuffs are usually 30% less expensive than at Gigante, or Commercial Mexicana. But the beef at Bodega usually sucks. I do like the two dollar bricks of US butter though. Pilar and Dalia are addicted to gringo ice cream drenched in Hershey Syrup so Bodega Aurerra it is for that.

    Expensive or not La Commerical (Mexicana) is the place to find Kirkland Signature products like Tilamook Black Label cheddar cheese.

    Lala, offers tub butter from Uruguay that is hard to beat but it is a bit pricey.

    Then there is the lady selling the best chorizo on the face of the earth from the cart on the street.

    And avoiding packaged Bachoco almost-chicken is a tradition with me. Pollo regional is twice the price and 10 times as good. Same for free range chicken eggs that have yolks that stand proud atop the whites, and a taste that will spoil a person forever.

    ¡PROMOCIÓN! is my first stop at a supermercado. The window display ads are worth separating the “Huggies” from “Pierno de Pavo 10 pesos / kilo”. Neighborhood tiendas de abarrotes seldom have promociones but where else are you going to hear why the municipal water supply has been shut off the last two days, or why the dug up street has not been worked on in weeks?

    Shopping in México is a never-ending adventure. Shopping north of the border is a perpetual downer.

  2. churpa says:

    Aha! I thought I could scare up some Codo wisdom on this subject.

  3. El Codo says:

    And as important—

    Ask your landlord, campground manager’s wife or any Mexicana for tips on where to buy the best for least. Mexico’s fetish with adding “limon” flavor to all their mayonnaise drove me to buying expensive Best Foods USA mayo. I let my landlady know this and during one session of chisme

    “I saw giant jars of Best Foods mayonnaise at the local Tienda ISSSTE day before yesterday, for sixty pesos”. Four times the amount of mayo for the peso!

    Learn to love leña (firewood) rather than briquettes, which are expensive. A good quality grille kept in a burlap sack (to keep soot off everything else) is essential. In Michoacán the preferred firewood is guisaxche, in northern México, Mesquite.

    Many supermercados have panaderias, and sell bolillos for 2 pesos each. A lot of bread for the money but the fact they have zero preservatives means a shelf life of a day or two. Soak a river rock for a few days then stuff it into a paper sack with your bolillos – adds a few days of shelf life.

    Some higher priced items are worth the money. Atun Herdez for example has a lot more meat (and a lot better quality) than Mazatun, or Dolores tuna. Look for canned Dorado and Jurel (Yellowtail). They offer the perfect fix for folks from the northwest who demand albacore over fare that sadly resembles cat food. Canned caracól escabeche (pickled conch) is to kill for with tostadas.

    Traffic cone shaped Piloncillo has more flavor than any powdered dark brown sugar I have ever tried and is ounce for ounce, one fifth the price. Shave curls off the cone with a sharp knife. You’ll never settle for the blah “Alphabet Box Brown Sugar” again!

    In the city ask for the “Semillas Y Granos” store. Bulk oatmeal, seeds, dried fruits and other goodies including dried chilies at a fraction of supermarket and local tienda prices.

    In the states, score as many of those bread bag flap plastic squares with the slot in them as you can. Mexico still uses twist ties on everything. Clamps to seal bags against high humidity are also worth bringing.

    Camping long term in one spot? Bringing a pickup truck or large van? Purchase a full sheet of 2″ rigid insulation and a “finished one side” sheet of 1/2″ plywood and slip the insulation and plywood into your rig as a floor. At the site, cut the plywood and clad a good cooler like an Igloo 7 day with insulation and plywood. Dig a hole in the sand to bury the plywood the the insulation. In goes the cooler and then a lid of insulation and plywood. Sounds expensive and a hassle. But I learned that a chest buried this way retained block ice after 15 days on a hot beach! When you leave sell the stuff to your neighbor who has been drooling at the chops ever since he learned he really didn’t need to spend an hour and a half on the road going to town every fourth day for ice. Sawing the wood and slicing the insulation with a knife will help you work up an appetite.

    Bring a bunch of envelopes of Ranch Dressing mix, and with the abundant supply of crema acificado in Mexico, a platter of raw broccoli, cauliflower and carrots becomes a feast.

    Unrefrigerated cheese goes funky quickly but unrefrigerated cheese that has had a light coat of vegetable oil smeared all over it goes funky a lot slower. If you hang food up. Hang small clumps of hot chilies near it. Do it yourself organic no-fly-zones.

    Desperate for something different to treat minor skin infection? Try dribbling liquid dish soap into a small bowl or washcloth adding water and then washing the wound or sore with that. “Tri-Cloro” brand, the yellow stuff works best and will heal infections that resist the strongest ointments and salves. Also works for athlete’s feet too. Don’t forget to wash your socks in this stuff as well. Bathing using Tri Cloro also makes a laughingstock out of dollar a bar so-called “deodorant” soaps. To top it off light colored clothing that gets splattered while pigging out on carnitas, or enchiladas, can get spotted down with Tri-Cloro and you won’t believe its stain removal properties.

    Mix up a full cup of liquid bleach into a five gallon bucket of fresh water and wet down your outdoor kitchen and dining area with it. You will not believe the reduction of jejenes and fleas. Food dribbles attract these flesh eaters and Clorox is like garlic to a vampire.

    That’s All My Arthritic Fingers Can Do For Today —

  4. Gabino says:

    Ahhh, El Codo. These posts are pure gold. You’ve earned your name.