Fiesta! It sure isn’t Whole Foods.

The supermarket that typifies Houston for me is Fiesta. You won’t be finding organic produce here. The produce is smaller than at other places, and is often priced in ways that are easy to add up, 5 for a dollar, 3 for a dollar, things like that. You can get loroco, though it’s frozen. Many kinds of peppers are fresh. Cilantro, tomatillos, nopalitos, epazote, flor de jamaica, tamarindo, yuca, platanos machos, and 10 other kinds of bananas, are all here. I try to completely avoid the part of the store that sells meat, I’m afraid, and who knows what the produce was sprayed with. But the people that shop here have more immediate things to worry about.

I’ve mostly shopped at the Fiesta on S. Main, Kirby, and Old Spanish Trail (such street names we have here in Houston), but now we’re closer to the store on Hillcroft and Bellaire, and it has a much more Hispanic community, and its own tortilla factory (though I find their tortillas bland).

You can get prepared masa for tamales around Christmas, though I like to make my own, with real lard from the farmer’s market. You can get hundreds of ethnic foods, craved by people from diverse countries. There are over a hundred kinds of rice alone, sorted by isle into nationalities. How about the Vietnamese rice they eat in Mali, Africa, which isle? You can get beans of every color, 20 kinds of mole, 10 kinds of Mexican drinking chocolate, huge pots to cook the tamales in. You’ll have to go to believe me.

We don’t really shop there that much any more since we divide our food shopping between the Rice farmer’s market on Tuesdays, the Urban Harvest market on Saturdays, Costco, the close HEB, and occasionally Whole Foods, Krogers, or Central Market. But lately I’ve been driving past HEB and Randalls and a few smaller grocery stores to get to Fiesta and breathe in the culture.

The whole area is like Central America. One Christmas we were out of plantains which I needed for our Venezuelan Christmas day meal of Pabellón Criollo, and found that only La Placita, a little grocery store opposite Fiesta was open. They had the black and ripe plantains we needed.

In St. Louis, I’ll miss Fiesta, and there just can’t be anything like it. But maybe somewhere I can find fresh guavas, and their alluring, sweet, sexy smell and flavor. Today I picked up a few pounds to bring with me to Michigan. They’ll feature in the dessert I’m preparing for a dinner party I’m throwing for my parents and their friends in chilly, freezing cold, snowy, icy East Lansing.

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The Fiesta on Hillcroft and Bellaire is the one to go to.

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It’s a little mercado barato outside.

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They do NOT like you taking pictures in there!

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People buy these jalapeños by the bagful. They’re healthy!

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Fresh guavas haven’t been available here long – pests of some sort.

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Families are bigger at Fiesta!

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Tomatillos, chiles anchos, and suspicious clients.

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Whole maguey leaves. Wonder what they do with those.

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The fruit tends to be smaller, which I like

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I saw squashes like the big ones in Colombia.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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