Love to cook Latin-inspired recipes at home? Us too. And while you might live outside a major metropolitan area, and fantasize about shopping for exotic ingredients in a big city store, the truth is it can be just as challenging to find such ingredients in Manhattan as it can be in Memphis. Key staples, such as chiles, are likely to be sold in cans or jars, just as they are in your local grocery store. Even basics, such as authentic tortillas, are surprisingly hard to procure... unless you know where to look.
We're here to help! With our new series Market: Where to Buy Latin Ingredients, we've done the work for you and traveled dozens of subway stops over several years to put together this guide to shopping for Latin ingredients. First destination up at bat: New York City.
Oh, and we know we're not the only hard-to-find ingredient authority. We'd love to hear some of your favorite places that aren't on our list. Tweet us @thelatinkitchen to tell us what you find and where, both in Manhattan and beyond.
What You Need: Brazilian Cheeses, Farinha and Farofa, Maixena, Açai
Where to Find Them: RIO Market, Astoria, Queens
knew that Knorr made feijao bouillon cubes? RIO Market, apparently, which
carries boxes of them, along with bags of farinha, farofa, and maixena, frozen
packages of açai, and a variety of Brazilian cheeses. Though there is a small
fresh meat department overseen by a butcher, most of the goods here are imports
packaged in jars, bags, and cans. You won't find much, if any, fresh produce,
but if you need basic Brazilian pantry staples, this is a good place to start
What You Need: Fresh Mexican Chiles
Where to Find Them: Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
New York can be a surprisingly difficult place to find good, fresh chiles... anything other than poblanos and jalapeños, anyway. Fortunately, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm specializes in exotics. Stop by on summer Sundays to browse what's growing or consider joining their CSA for a regular stock of chiles.
What You Need: Handmade Tortillas and Masa Harina
Where to Find It: Tortilleria Nixtamal, Corona, Queens
Yes, it's a schlep to get to Tortilleria
Nixtamal, even if you live in Queens, but with a $2.50/pound-package of warm
made-on-site tortillas in your hand, the trip's reward is worthy of your
effort. Plus, you can stick around for a bit and order from the menu, which
features Mexican specialties like pozole, tortilla soup, shrimp soup, elote,
tamales, and tacos al pastor. Don't forget to take a look in the freezer for
Michoacán-style paletas; flavors range from coconut (flecked with fresh coco) and lime to mamey and maracuyá. If you are
planning on buying tortillas or masa, call before you head over; the tortilleria
starts its retail business at 7 AM and it's not uncommon for them to sell out
What You Need: Huitlacoche
Where to Find It: Cienega Deli - Corona, Queens, 104-32 Corona Avenue. 718-271-0532Just a few blocks from Tortilleria Nixtamal, this small deli, which features a surprisingly extensive menu of Oaxacan specialties (from pambazos to tlayudas and tlacoyos) also carries a limited but interesting selection of Mexican items that are tough to find elsewhere in the city. Huitlacoche–or corn smut–is one of them. It's not fresh, unfortunately (the only place we're aware of that sells fresh huitlacoche in New York is a farmer's market in Columbia County, up in the Hudson Valley), but the large jars, sold for just over $8 each, should keep you stocked up for a while.
What You Need: Piernas de Jamón Ibérico, Jamon Serrano, Chorizos, Arroz Bomba, Pimentón de la vera and Spanish Saffron, Spanish Peppers
Where to Find Them: D'España, Manhattan
Plenty of classic Spanish ingredients–paprika, saffron, and chorizo, to name a few–can be found in the aisles of Whole Foods, Fairway, and other city grocery stores, but for specialty items and highest-quality goods imported directly from Spain, D'España is your best bet. Plus, you'll have a hard time resisting a bocadito from the on-site café. You can buy whole piernas de jamón ibérico here, and if you want to learn how to carve your pierna, D'España has a class dedicated to just such a topic. The store's Jackson Heights, Queens outpost has been home to its chorizo-making operations since 1971; goods can be bought retail or wholesale at that location, too.
What You Need: Spices and Sundries
Where to Find Them: Kalustyan's, Manhattan
Kalustyan's is in Manhattan's “Little India”
strip of restaurants, and while it does stock a respectable range of Asian
ingredients, its inventory is wholly global. If you're looking for chiles, you
can find more than 30 types of dried ones here. The fragrant shop also has more
than 150 spices, 50 types of dried beans (including some we've only ever seen
in Mexican markets... in Mexico), and a variety of sugars, including coconut
palm sugar, panela, and piloncillo. If you're looking for yerba mate–and a bombilla with which
to drink it–you can find both items here, too.
What You Need: Corn Husks and Banana Leaves, Goat (Whole or butchered), Oxtail, Fresh Sugarcane, Fresh Papálo and Epazote, Nopales
Where to Find Them: Trade Fair Supermarkets in Queens
Though they're no-frills neighborhood supermarkets, the Trade Fair chain bills itself as THE place to buy “genuine ethnic foods” in New York. “No matter what country you are from, no matter what your ethnic background,” its website boasts, “more than likely we carry foods from your homeland.” Those homelands include 10 Latin American countries, among them, Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you can browse the fresh produce section for Mexican herbs like papálo and de-spined nopales, or cactus paddles, as well as stalks of fresh sugarcane that may be taller than you and fresh banana leaves for steaming tamales. The dry goods department carries corn husks and a variety of chiles that may be hard to find in other supermarkets.
The stores' butchers will happily section a goat for you if you're planning on making birría, but will also wrap whole goats to go if you, unlike most of your New York neighbors, have a backyard and a spit to roast on. The stores also sell excellent cuts of oxtail. Though rabo can be found at many stores (even Whole Foods) around the city, the pieces here tend to be thick and meaty, with little gristle or fat. Ask the butcher to custom cut the oxtail for you, though, rather than buy the pre-packaged rabo sitting in the meat case.
And don't skip the “Latin Foods” aisle. Though it has the usual offering of Goya beans, Carolina rices, and Herdez canned chiles, you'll also find shelves laden with glass jars of tejocotes from Mexico and palm oil from Brazil, cans of tuna from Ecuador, and bottles of soda from Colombia (Postobon!) and Mexico.