By Suzzane Marshall from the January 2013 Edition
The grocery gamut (or perhaps for some the dreaded ‘gauntlet’) need not be as stressful or strange as one might anticipate if you are new to Manzanillo. You’ve finally decided to rent that condo for the winter or a month or two; perhaps you’ve completed that very complex and stressful real estate deal and, there you are in your winter home, suitcases filled with goodies for your new place and not a thing to eat in the kitchen. You think to yourself, I can’t bear to get up in the morning without coffee! You’ve simply no choice but to venture out and foray your way into the beckoning unknown. But fear not, for it can be a fun adventure filled with unusual assortments of boxes, bottles, fruit and vegetables. If your
‘Española’ is limited, go with what you know by ‘sight’ for now and expand your pantry once you begin to absorb the environment, learn from friends and familiarize with the language.
NEW ARRIVALS – GROCERY STORES Your best bet is to head for the larger chain stores along the Boulevard de La Madrid. Not surprisingly you will find Wal-Mart, (it is amazingly the same as anywhere with a Mexican twist) Comercial Mexicana and Soriana. All of these stores will provide for all of your needs including household items such as appliances, dishes, cleaners etc. etc. Once you have your cart in the aisles, you will have no trouble finding, coffee, dairy, meats, baking, fruits and vegetables and yes alcoholic beverages. (Not seen in a grocery store in Canada though it is mucho convenient.)
This would be a good spot to talk about some extra precautions that will possibly make your life easier in Manzanillo as you consume local foods but at the same time potentially ingest some foreign bacteria that are not really harmful but your body is not familiar with. My personal digestive system has never liked changes which of course are unavoidable as we explore different places throughout the world. Your home kitchen is probably going to be a trouble-free dining experience if you take a little extra precaution.
In the Wal-Mart store (or perhaps the others) there is a bottled product called Microdyn and Bakers and Chefs Bactericida. We use either/or but now opt for the latter since it is available in a 1 liter bottle. Basically a dilution of this tincture will eliminate bacteria especially from products that you eat raw or don’t cook thoroughly (I like crunchy steamed veggies). Be sure to get instructions with the packaging. Arriving home from food shopping, I fill the kitchen sink with cold tap water (the tap water in Manzanillo is good for cooking and steaming), and literally throw all my fruits and vegetables into the full sink with the specified amount of bactericida. I often need to do this twice as we buy so many things at once that I can’t do them all. Having followed the timing instructions (10-15 minutes soaking) I remove them all and place them in my dish drainer to dry a little. Then I put them in clean containers or baskets etc. and keep them in the fridge and a counter fruit bowl. They are ready to eat. My home rule is: nothing goes in the fridge that hasn’t been soaked. That way no one is confused and all is ready anytime. This product can also be dropped into drinking water and we even soak our market shrimp and fish as an extra caution. Other meats are fine as long as they are handled properly and well-cooked just as we would do at home.
TOURIST MARKETS – Many of us have learned that the tourist market along the main boulevard in the area of Santiago is a great place to meander and enjoy part of a Saturday in Manzanillo. Every week the vendors set up tents and booths on Friday night ready for the Saturday morning throng of tourists and locals who enjoy the bazaar or flea market atmosphere. This of course is far more than a fresh fruit and vegetable market and you will find clothing, jewelry, candy, fresh cookies and treats, CDs and videos, parts for appliances and tools, Mexican souvenirs, purses, pottery, silver, paintings and so on. It is a great fun time complete with lunch if you feel like it and the vendors will graciously assist you with Spanish or speak to you in English as many are capable of. This is a very good place to practice your negotiating skills since you will find very little ‘pricing’ marked on products. Do beware of tourist pricing, but much of the product is quite inexpensive by North American standards.
MEXICAN MARKETS – I’ve always been a believer in going where the locals go, shopping where the locals shop and eating in restaurants that the locals enjoy. It is truly the way to really ‘live’ in Manzanillo and literally enjoy the local flavor. It’s kind of like Chinese food. If it’s going to be really good then the Chinese will be eating there too. Whoa! Some of you may say with great trepidation. Well I’m not saying tomorrow! What I am saying is keep an open mind to all the possibilities as you settle in, get more comfortable in your surroundings and learn the lay of the land so to speak. You will no doubt learn through referral where some of the best places to eat are found. If you’re a cook, a foodie, someone who likes to evolve in the kitchen you are going to find yourself hankering for something beyond restaurants and big box grocery stores. (no insult intended). Furthermore, if you live on a budget which many do, this is going to be the way you find estimated savings of up to 25% over the grocery stores and as much as 50% from our home shopping in Canada. Though price is not everything, the extra pesos could make for another night out when you don’t want to cook!
Where I come from in Canada, there is a phrase used about the ‘100 mile diet’. I’m not sure how wide-spread this is but it mostly means investing in your local producers and putting money back into supporting local smaller markets. This is how I feel about Manzanillo. If you want fresh, inexpensive locally grown food, you’ll find it in the local markets and support the local people at the same time.
What I share with you now is not a comprehensive guide to local Mexican market shopping. It’s my personal experience and of course will therefore only relate to where we have found local markets convenient to us (we live in the area of Salahua). I am certain that there are others in places further afield and out of our range so to speak.
Santiago Market – East of the main boulevard where the Saturday tourist market is found (Boulevard de la Madrid) about 3-4 blocks in, you will find the Santiago Market. It forms a central square block filled within and outside with local vendors. There are meat shops, fish mongers, fruit and vegetable stands, mixed grocers, small eateries (like Lulu’s- highly recommended), bakeries, clothing, shoes, sewing materials and so forth. It is a place that we have gone to regularly for years. You will find the pricing is lower and of course it’s a beehive of activity on the weekend. The local farmers bring in their fresh goods and you won’t see much if anything that has been shipped from other countries. It is such a wonderful thing for ‘we’ Canadians because in the winter season we rely so heavily upon imports from countries like Mexico and South America to provide us with raw fruits and vegetables. But frankly, nothing tastes as good as the real thing grown nearby and picked at ripeness instead of green for long-distance shipping.
We have eaten black berries as big as our thumbs, tasty shrimp, and a variety of fish and found a tiny tacoria down a side street where we buy purple sesame tacos to die for. Go and explore.
Cinco de Mayo Market – El Centro – It i sn’t a myth. It really exists. It’s just a little tricky to find but really worth it. South of the main shoreline boulevard in El Centro (where the buses turn around) is a three story square block market of everything you could want for your refrigerator. At the back, if you drive a car you can head up the ramp and park on top of the building for 4 pesos and enter from the top floor. It’s the usual concrete and brick structure and it is clean and cool for shopping. The third floor has places for eating and many little shops are neatly displayed as you work your way down the stairs to the main floor and what I would call the main event. This is a relatively new discovery for us. We stumbled into it on one of our long walking explorations down in El Centro last year. We absolutely love it. We have purchased wonderful seafood, meat cuts for Chamorro and filleted chicken breasts pounded thin for fast frying. Vegetables and fruit line the aisles and we were very impressed with the cleanliness and order. It’s also cool and comfortable given the brick walls and massive open interior. Though the bathrooms charge a few pesos (3), they are kept very clean and well stocked with paper. How fresh is fresh? As we sat on our Terrace recently, we saw some local fishermen pulling in the nets on our beach in front of the condo.
It’s hard to believe they all get in that little boat but they do. Sometimes as many as 12 men plus the fish net and their catch of the day! They all just stand up in the boat and away they go. Amazing. Since my husband Allan ran down to take these photos (all of them in this article) he inquired about where they would take the fish. The response was that these fish would be in the El Centro market within two hours. Now that is as fresh as it gets.
It wasn’t a big catch that day, but most of the fish were 2-3 pounders. You may have enjoyed one at your local restaurant! Today as I write this story, throngs of pelicans and their entourage of small birds are dive bombing the surf and I could actually see white fish forms as the waves rolled in near the shore.
pelicans and their entourage of small birds are dive bombing the surf and I could actually see white fish forms as the waves rolled in near the shore.
Meet Jimmy (right ) one of the local fish mongers at El Centro. Jimmy works with a knife so sharp we stopped to count his fingers. He is a friendly man with a huge smile and very helpful with questions about seafood and fish and can complete a filleting in about 20 seconds. His English is very good and we ended up trying some different fish that day as we were able to get his opinion and assistance. He even demonstrated how to devein shrimp for our friends. Good fortune smiles upon us.
In the photo following Jimmy is a typical vegetable stand loaded with lovely fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables.
If you’re planning on venturing out to enjoy the Cinco de Mayo market in El Centro, be sure to get good directions or use GPS and mapping programs if you have them. It’s really not that difficult to find if you know what to look for. The density of the streets with all the shops and locals can throw you off a bit. It did with us the second really not that difficult to find if you know what to look for. The density of the streets with all the shops and locals can throw you off a bit. It did with us the second time we returned with a car to find it. So we drove in circles for a while. But once the landmarks are established you will no doubt want to return again and again.
Suzanne A. Marshall hails from western Canada and has been living the good life in Manzanillo over the past 8 years. She is a wife, mom and grandma. She is retired from executive business management where her writing skills focused on bureaucratic policy, marketing and business newsletters. Now she shares the fun and joy of writing about everyday life experiences in beautiful Manzanillo, Mexico, the country, its people, the places and the events.