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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

South American Cooking Inspired by a Trip to Tienda Centro America

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2017 at 5:00 AM

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San Antonio — a city with close culinary and cultural ties to Mexico and Central America — is slowly expanding its mercados to include the rich ingredients and dishes found across South America. Tienda Centro America is a delicious hybrid — half-restaurant, half- mini-mart — that celebrates the foods found in countries throughout the South and Central Americas and recently relocated from its former digs at the opposite end of the block.

Tienda is not a place to hurriedly shop and eat, especially on your first visit. This is a space where family and friends come to eat, laugh, gossip with the cashier, linger at tables, and occasionally look up at TVs to check out the fùtbol matches. Call at least 20 minutes in advance to place an order for pick-up, or prepare to wait.

If you’re just walking through the door, ask for a menu and order carne asada (or meat of choice) to-go. Tell the cashier that you will pay for your groceries and order together; grab a basket, and make a sharp left to pick up fresh onions, red and green bell peppers, cilantro, parsley, two cloves of garlic, and a couple of platanos.

Look for the refrigerated case mysteriously labeled “Sandwiches,” and pick up a couple of containers of dulce de leche. Attempt to ignore the aisles of conchas and palmiers, and head toward the money order counter, where you can pick up several packages of sugar cookies, located to the right of the counter.

Turn around and walk to the standing shelf for oregano, tomato paste, comino, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Products are often rotated throughout the store, so ask the cashier to point out the ingredients if you can’t find them.

Look to the freezers on your left and pick up several packages of GOYA’s discos para empanadas (six discs per package), or explore cheeses from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador. Keep walking along the coolers to check out their extensive soda collection, which includes everything from Jarritos and Micoco to Mexican Coke and Tropi-Cola. If you have extra time, stop by the back shelves for new veladoras, varieties of pasta and flour from Columbia and Peru, and an odd collection of fùtbol jerseys and cleaning supplies (sorry, no Fabuloso). Pick up the nearby small bottles of vegetable oil and red wine vinegar.

Your to-go order should be ready by now; head to the register to pay for your groceries, and make any final impulse buys (looking for a new bed sheet set?) before you head home. Don’t put anything away in the fridge; allow the ingredients to come to room temperature.

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