Small grocery stores offer a taste of home to the newcomer

Carolina Astrain
Carolina Astrain
Submitted photo

By Carolina Astrain

Who decides to move to Minnesota in the dead of winter? A Texan who needs a change of scenery.

I grew up around beaches, bayous and extreme heat, so the Minnesota tundra was a welcome change. I lost my sea legs during my undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia, so I don't miss the sea so much anymore. I'm blissfully far, far away from the tropics, but there was one benefit of living close to the Texas-Mexico border that I miss dearly -- the food.

Visions of a salty soft taco rippled through my mind yesterday afternoon. Mi Linda Tierra (My Beautiful Land), a Mexican grocery store and meat market, beckoned to me from St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood. Although the Rainbow down the street could have equally satisfied my dinner plans, shopping at Mi Linda Tierra takes less time and the owner knows my name. Entering the market is like walking into a wooly, brown coconut cracked open on the sidewalks of St. Paul.

The butcher is friendly and doesn't make me feel dumb when I ask about the different styles of Mexican seasoning fashioned to flanks and cuts of steak, chicken and pork. For about $1.50, a customer can take a thin slice of seasoned steak home to pair with rice. A few feet from the butcher's counter, plantains wait to be sweetened for dessert. Usually, hole-in-the-wall mom and pop stores like these take only cash, but at Mi Linda Tierra a customer can use a card for purchases of as little as 50 cents.

From a wire basket next to the foreign soda and drink mixes, I can pick up Vida y Sabor (Life and Flavor) magazine for news on the Twin Cities' Latino community.

Mexican grocery stores around the country provide immigrants with delights from home, but that shouldn't stop other curious shoppers from stopping by for a few hard-to-find spices, breads and candies. The fresh produce is worth checking out. The garlic cloves have a wide girth and the cilantro isn't bad either.

There's also a wide collection household products, next to the Mexican beers, bearing name brands like Fabuloso, Caprice and Suavitel, which are American-owned anyway.

There are plenty of these shops sprinkled around the Twin Cities. Stores like these not only make living away from home easier; they also ease the stress that can come with grocery shopping at the end of a long day's work.

People who haven't tried them might want to challenge their grocery habits. They may find that they can eat locally and still enjoy great foreign flavor -- in both the food and the stores themselves.

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Carolina Astrain, a Texan transplant, is an assistant producer at MPR News.

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