More and more I'm hearing friends say they don't go out to eat as much anymore and everyone is saving their money. Impulse buying seems to have gone down too, as people are being more careful about their spending, yet I don't hear anyone say they like the "status quo"..... everyone likes going out and having a good meal- yet, here in the USA, it seems the restaurants that are still getting consistent business are the national fast food chains (the "burger wars" are really something to see) and the others, it really doesn't matter which ones really since they all seem to be suffering... are offering some incredible deals to lure patrons in: two for one coupons or "package" meals, like two for $20, etc.
While there does seem to be more people cooking at home, I decided to make an informal poll the other day at the local Smith's Grocery and Walmart down the street and two of the leading Mexican markets here (Cardena's and King Ranch). A kind of antrophological study on people's buying and eating habits under the present economic conditions, so we could see what changes had taken place in family's eating/cooking habits.
The commercials on TV are kind of a thermometer of how things are going these days by telling you that "if you have breakfast at home, you can save $600 a year" or "packing your own lunches is cheaper than going out for lunch" and "schools trying to take out fast-foods out of the school lunch program yet they're having problems with the kids not wanting to eat what they offer" and "salads and chopped fresh fruit are now available in vending machines". TV Shows showing you how to "feed a family of four for under $100 a week", "alternate protein sources", etc. -all let you know what's going on.
Here is what I noticed: At Smith's and Walmart, people are still buying frozen, pre-packaged convenience foods (pizza, TV Dinners, bag dinners). Not too much produce and what they buy is mostly starch based (potatoes, yams, etc.)- Lots of pasta and jars of spaghetti sauce too. Fresh meat is mostly ground beef and chicken, fish was almost non-existent, people still afraid of pork products due to "swine flu" (go figure even though pork is cheap). Lots of bakery products and sugar based items as well. Soda was well represented, liquor sells well, and ice cream, candies and pop-tart kind things, along with kid cereals are big. Dairy is milk, cheese yet hardly any yogurt. Pre-made food like rotisserie chicken, ribs, salads, sandwiches, fried chicken, etc. is well represented as well as are some cold cuts. You don't see too many really full grocery carts here, older people buy very little, younger folks buy junk, middle aged women buy diet and frozen food, men buy beer, pizza and boxed dinners. I didn't see anyone using coupons but everyone used their discount cards.
Now, compare the Mexican markets and there is a BIG difference here: grocery carts are FULL and while the kids are going nuts running all over the place, Mom & Dad (they make this a family outing which drives me crazy, but represents family unity so it's a good thing even though it makes me almost homicidal) take care of the food, checking prices and filling their cart with lots of chicken and some beef. Pasta, canned tomato sauce and salsas, tortillas (of course since these markets typically have their own tortilla factory as well as having a restaurant and ready-made food to-go at reasonable prices) and WHITE bread (eewww...).
Latinos are not known for their whole-wheat anything. Bimbo is big in the US and they've absorbed Hostess, Wonder and Orowheat brands so they're among the big guns in baking yet not known for healthy offerings.... Some sodas and Dad gets beer. There is hardly any frozen foods here and what there is are mostly veggies and Mexican ice cream treats. Gallon tubs of ice cream are popular. Chicken here is VERY cheap compared to the US chains, at .39 cent a lb for thigh/legs vs. $1.29 at Smith's) and vegetables are ridiculously cheap too, typically selling 4-5 lbs Roma tomatoes for .99 cents, 5 lb green lemons, 10 lbs yellow onions, 4 lbs pears or green apples, 5 bunches of cilantro and more for the ever present .99 cent specials. Latinos couldn't conceive of eating without some form of protein so carts have plenty, and at these prices you can see why. Some cheese and yogurt and lots of greens. 30 count flats of eggs too, another cheap form of protein. Legumes are also cheap and popular, but I also noticed lots of canned beans being purchased. Dried chilies and spices are popular as is the full service bakery on-site offering the "typical" Mexican breads and cakes.
Lots of people eat here too, they even have a "taqueria". Yet, even though everyone in the area gets the sale flyers in the mail telling you of their lower prices, it's rare to find any Anglo's shopping here at all. Latinos only and now and then you'll see an African American and then only to buy Mexican Beer. People segregate themselves, it's really interesting to me. In any case, we go all over and buy wherever we decide is best which is: Smith's for meat (corn fed from Nebraska) and milk specials, Sam's Club for pork, salmon, tuna, cheese, kosher products, contact lenses, dressings; Whole Foods for natural & organic items (if I was wealthy I would buy everything here, it's fabulous yet wildly expensive); Walmart for cleaning and pet products and the Mexican markets for everything else. Phew! You tired yet? Add to these the oriental markets I go to when making anything Asian.....
In talking to people in the market or street, I've also learned that Anglos eat primarily American style food while Latins stick to what they know. Anglos that "cook" Mexican food make it from processed food so Green Sauce comes from "Old El Patio", taco shells from "El Paso", cheese is pre-grated from Kraft and sometimes chicken is pre-cooked too, so not really Mexican but you can't have everything. In the West (the whiter side of town, plenty of BBQ's with Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Ribs and Chicken while on the East side of town you'll find some Carne Asada, Chicken and Mexican Food all over. Especially Mexicans living here who feel more comfortable speaking Spanish and watching Spanish programming on TV, all they eat is the Mexican food they grew up with, so plenty of Enchiladas, Tacos, Pozole, Tamales, etc. While the other nationalities like Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, etc. all maintain their own specialties. In and around where the Latin Supermarkets are all you hear is Spanish. No English is spoken here and while some may speak English, it's not needed in any of the businesses in these areas, it's really mind boggling.... everywhere you go and as soon as you initiate contact you hear "habla Espanol?" and you take it from there..... Amazing! Lots of changes in four years and being bilingual is a plus all over the valley.
We still cook Mexican food all the time too, don't get me wrong; my husband can't conceive of going without beans, rice and tortillas and goes into withdrawal when we do (really...lol). The kids and I like to eat something different every day so we run the international gamut as you can tell from these postings. Having spent the last 4 years living in Mexico seems to gave tempered our taste for Mexican food and unless I make it at home, what's out there just isn't the "real stuff" so other things strike our fancy instead: we love Szechuan, Indian, Thai, Sushi, French, Italian, etc. (yes, even a juicy hamburger can be amazing!) and we rotate to make sure we have good global representation. Whatever is on the menu, Ricardo has beans & rice on the side to fend off those pesky withdrawal symptoms, lol...... Oh, he's got to have very hot salsa too! I haven't been able to get him to stop putting the Habanero on everything so far so I've kind of given up.....
Having just come from my weekly foray into the wilds of the ethnic market scene and having all the ingredients needed to produce a tasty and traditional Pozole, I'm enclosing an easy to make yet extremely satisfying recipe that you too can make and share. This is an ideal dish to have if there's plans to party any time soon since it's great for hangovers:
POZOLE ROJO DE JALISCO.- This could be THE defining dish for the state of Jalisco and pretty wonderful....
1 K Pozole white corn or "maiz cacahuazintle" found in Mexican markets
1 whole garlic head
4 lbs pork meat either loin or leg, preferably de-boned, cut in pieces
1 lb pork feet, cut in quarters
1 whole onion, cut in half
salt to taste
4 ancho chiles, deveined, roasted, soaked until soft in very hot water
2 guajillo chiles, deveined, roasted, soaked until soft in very hot water
1 tbl dried oregano leaves, preferably Mexican oregano
Reserve the broth after cooking the meat
Sides to serve with the pozole, you will need:
1 head of lettuce, cut very fine (or white cabbage is great)
1 bunch of radishes, cut in fine slices
2 medium onions, chopped fine
6-8 green lemons, cut in quarters
16 corn tostadas (either store bought or make your own)
To make the hot sauce:
20 chiles de arbol, dried, roasted, deveined
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
salt to taste
Rinse the corn really well and remove the little "heads" (little black things that might have been left on the tips), these need to be removed or the corn won't "flower". Cook in enough water just to cover, along with the head of garlic, unsalted, until it softens in a large pot where the pozole will come together.
Cook the meats along with the first onion and some salt, until tender. The pig's feet bones can be removed and the meat cut in small portions. The ancho & guajillo chiles, when soft, are put in the blender along with their soaking liquid and oregano. You will need to run this through a sieve and add to the pot where the corn is along with the meats and some of the meat broth you reserved; add salt to taste and let it simmer for at least 15 min so the flavors will come together, adjust the seasonings. The pozole broth should be light and flavorful. Remove the head of garlic when you're ready to serve. (or when I'm feeling lazy and want it done quickly- I throw it all together in the pressure cooker and TA DA! done in no time flat!
To make the hot sauce, blend all the ingredients really well, run through a sieve and adjust seasonings. Put the sides for the pozole on the table, along with the hot sauce so each person can customize his plate. Serve the pozole very hot in deep bowls so you have space for the toppings.
The pozole is traditionally topped with onion, lemon juice, some more oregano, salt, the cabbage and then topped off with the radish slices and a tostada on the side. Hot sauce can be added for those "curing" a hangover so you find it for breakfast or late night eats.... There are cafe's that only sell this dish called "Pozolerias".....
NOTE: You should also know that Pozole can be made in many ways, like Chicken Pozole, Beef Pozole, White or Green Pozole. You can use the head of the animal or "espinazo" (my favorite) which are the spine bones with a little meat, making it an economical dish. Pozole can be almost any kind you like and it's always a favorite with people, satisfying, nutritious and very definitely a classic of Mexico.
There you have another long post, I think I might have gone a little over board but there was so much to say on this interesting subject of food and how it's different for different people, yet so similar at the same time. Everyone loves good food and depending on what your background is can mean totally different things to each one which makes it so cool.... But wherever your interests lie we can all relate to: "Come and get it... soup's on!".....YUM!