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Feeding Your Family

Some of the first frustrations that new expats encounter when living abroad happen in relation to food.  Trying to find the foods that your family likes, working with a grumpy oven and needing to sanitize fruits and vegetables can all make frequent trips to a restaurant seem like the easy way out.  

However, during this transitory stage, just the opposite may be true.  In fact, it may be wiser to eat at home where someone who you trust, you, are in charge of the sanitary conditions used in the food's preparation.  A trip to the grocery store can be an adventure.  Some foreigners living here even include it as part of the tour of the city they give their houseguest from abroad.  

For many people - especially those who live hand-to-mouth existences or who lack the refrigeration to keep foods from spoiling, the practice of shopping in small specialty stores everyday is a tradition.  Many neighborhoods have continued the pre-Aztec tradition of weekly tianguis.  Also know as markets on wheels, these pink-awning covered markets are usually open from 9:00 am to 3:00 or 4:00 pm, and often have the best, freshest and least expensive choices of fruits and vegetables.  

Some neighborhoods also have permanent open-air markets with fixed stalls where food and other items are sold. In a market environment, you have the opportunity to talk to the merchant about how to prepare whatever they sell you, or taste a new fruit before buying it, something that you usually cannot do in a supermarket.  

The downside of open-air market shopping is, of course, that is usually takes a lot more time than at a supermarket and the selection of products may be more limited.  For those who prefer the familiar convenience of their neighborhood Safeway or Kroger, there is a wide selection of supermarkets available.  

At Mexican supermarkets, it is normal to see widely disparate freshness dates on perishable items, and even to see items still in stock long past their sell-by-date.  Take the time to rummage through the shelves to find the product with the longest shelf life.  Also, eggs are often not refrigerated, so you will find them sitting in an unrefrigerated area of the store.  There are also different cuts of meat available, and some local delicacies that you never saw back home, like chicken feet and cattle genitals.  Remember, that most of the meat sold in Mexico is not aged and is range-grazed, as opposed to grain-fed, which means that it will be slightly tougher than what you may be used to, but usually far more flavorful.  In the produce section, you will find fruits and vegetables that you don't know the name for in your own language let alone Spanish.  

Don't be afraid to try out new varieties.  One of the yummiest areas in the grocery stores is the bakery section.  With a vast selection of unpackaged pastries and fresh breads at reasonable prices, it is an eye-popping (and sadly, a possible waist-broadening) experience. Grab a pair of tongs and an aluminum tray, and pile up your fresh bread and pastry selections.  Then, take them to the bread counter where a clerk will wrap, bag and price them.  The bolillos (or crusty bread rolls) are best fresh, although they can often be kept longer if sealed in a plastic bag or frozen.  Another new experience is the young boy or girl who bags your groceries and will offer to carry them to your car, as well as the parking lot attendant who watches your car while you are inside shopping.  Both expect to be tipped for their services, so ask around for the going rate.

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