A vendor of Mexican ingredients in the Grand Central Market, Los Angeles (2008)
During my first couple of years in Los Angeles I discovered the wonders of regional Mexican cooking. What I once thought of as a singular cuisine revealed itself to be just as location based as Italian food. Dishes from places like Oaxaca, Jalisco, Veracruz and Baja are now among my favorites along with specialties typical of places like Mexico City and Guadalajara. In Southern California, if you added up all the Mexican street vendors, markets and restaurants they would easily number in the tens of thousands. This shouldn’t be a surprise, considering California was once part of Mexico, but it still amazes me what can be found here. I’d say something like if it exists you can probably find it here, but the truth is if something isn’t here you’ll just never know – there are just too many places to check and not all of them officially exist. There are some places though where you can find all sorts of things side by side, like the Grand Central Market in downtown LA. There are dozens of vendors here selling hundreds of classic ingredients. The stall in the photo above offers dried jamaica (hibiscus flowers) which you see on top of the jar of camarón seco (dried shrimp), dried guajillo chiles, ancho chiles and cumin (comino) line the shelves topped with jars of chía seeds, amaranth (amaranto), ground barley (cebada) and powdered pico de gallo. There are two mole pastes for sale on the counter, the well-known mole poblano plus mole Teloloapan, named for the city in the Mexican state of Guerrero.
There are also great places to eat in the GCM, some of the vendors have been in operation for decades.