[Update 9/15/2012 - La Michoacana is now La Chiquita Latinos Market. It's in the same location, with a new paint job, but has added a butcher counter in the back. Otherwise, everything I say below still applies.]
This is the first of a series of posts I'm going to do on food shopping in my neck of the woods, the Akron, Ohio area.
When I started cooking ten years ago,* you had to find your ethnic grocery to get ingredients if your cooking was the least bit adventurous. Nowadays, your typical American megamart has a pretty good international section, and you can get by pretty well if that's all you have access to.
*Wow - it's been that long?
Still, you should search out your local ethnic stores. I'm a big fan of ethnic grocery stores. You get to travel to another culture, without leaving your city. Ingredients will be cheaper, and better quality. Their customers are usually recent immigrants, who know what's good and what's not. And, they don't want to pay top dollar for what were cheap staples in the old country. Ingredients will be fresher, because they'll turn over their stock of, say, chipotles en adobo much more often. And, finally, they will have a depth of stock that a megamart won't. If you are cooking from a good cookbook, you'll appreciate knowing where you can get pre-trimmed nopales when you need them.
Tienda La Michoacana, at 1448 Copley Rd in Akron, Ohio (see map below) is my local mexican grocery. My top ten list of favorites are, in no particular order:
1. Masa Harina - Cornmeal flour for making homemade corn tortillas. Store bought corn tortillas are awful.
2. Canned Tomatillos - yes, fresh are better, but for a quick green salsa on a weeknight, they can't be beat.
3. Chipotles en Adobo - I use a lot of them, so I appreciate being able to buy a larger can for less.
4. Tostadas - I love tortilla chips as much as the next guy, but whole, fried corn tortillas? I'm in heaven.
5. Fresh tortillas - Not as fresh as homemade, but miles ahead of the ones I can get at my local megamart. If your store has them in a cardboard box near the cash register, and the ones in the middle of the box are still warm, you've hit the jackpot.
6. Real mexican cheeses - . I love cheese.
7. Mexican chorizo - Chorizo y Papas is my current favorite tortilla filling
8. Mexcian hot sauces - I love the El Yucateco brand, in all their varieties
9. Dried chiles - You can buy a pound bag of dried chiles for the price of a 2 ounces package at your megamart. And oh, the variety!
10. Mexcian spices - I use a lot of ground ancho powder, and mexican oregano, and it's much cheaper here
That's just the first ten I could think of* - every time I go there, I see something else I should try.
*Mexican chocolate! For Mexican hot chocolate, how could I forget that!
Here's the map: