The cinnamon scent of fresh-baked apple crisp brings me back to my American childhood. Smells, tastes, and flavors link us to our memories. It took me several months away from the U.S. grocery stores and restaurants to realize what I could and could not find when I wanted it. While Walmart has a few locations nearby that makes it easier to find certain American cravings like Dijon mustard and dill pickles, they don’t carry everything. One Mexican supermarket, aptly named in English “City Market” had my coveted items.
I’m sure each location away from the U.S. has its own difficult-to-find foods, but here are mine.
The top 5 food cravings while living in México:
- Baked beans — Who would have guessed? But the lack of sweet bacon beans on the grocery store aisles made me miss that wholesome family flavor even more. I grew up eating a grilled cheese with baked beans, and the fact that I can’t pick up a can during a weekly grocery trip makes me miss them even more. By the time I found them in a high-end grocery store, paying 4 dollars for an 8oz can was worth it.
- Root beer — If given an option as a kid, I almost always chose root beer if I was going to drink soda. My second choice was cream soda. But both are near impossible to find. I sometimes will find different brands from A&W to IBC, but there is never a guarantee even in the high-end import store. They are sold either in bottles or small cans, making me portion out when I will enjoy the bubbly delight.
- Pumpkin pie — Since I was never big on baking, I always would buy a pumpkin pie from the grocery store to enjoy during fall. If I wanted another option, there were easy-to-bake mixes of pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, or pumpkin cookies. Not having easy access to pie, however, was my biggest gaping hole around Thanksgiving. Eventually, I was able to track down some canned pumpkin, cloves and nutmeg. So, my first homemade pumpkin pie was baked in México, and that was how I fulfilled my need for my traditional pie.
- Southern barbecue — It took me months of searching, but I finally found one restaurant that cooks a decent brisket and pulled pork. The owner grew up in Kansas City and now has more than 10 locations in México. Even though I was raised in Wisconsin, ever since I moved South, I fell in love with the slow-cooked meats. Texas brisket and Tennessee pulled pork find their way to my heart hundreds of miles south at Porco Rosso, now with two locations in Puebla.
- Pork tamales — This might seem an odd thing to miss, since I live in México, and tamales are a Mexican specialty. But, just like other places in the world, the food diversity is rich in México and the tamales I grew up with are a Northern variety from my grandmother. I could find them from El Paso to Milwaukee, but not in Puebla. I find other flavors, of course, to fill the void. So the tamales with salsa verde, mole, or Jarocho style have become my stand-in.
Foods often mean home, so when we are far from a place we grew up in, finding those sweet comforts can often fill the heart in a unique way. One thing I appreciate about the U.S. are the dozens of restaurants from many cultures, filling the small towns to the crowded cities with a rich selection of flavors from Thailand to Brazil. As immigrants arrive in a new land, they bring with them their own food traditions, adapt them to the local ingredients, and share them. The least I can do is learn to bake a pumpkin pie and share the delicious comfort food with my Mexican family.