Thursday, March 26, 2015
When I started visiting Mexico -- in my cross-border jaunts from pilot training in Laredo -- in the 1970s, visitors to Mexico could not find much on the shelves of Mexican grocery stores. Even finding a Coke back then was a major discovery.
In the six years I have lived in the Melaque area, I have seen a marked change in what is available from our local grocers.
Between 1970 and 2009, of course, Mexico went through a drastic economic change. Much of that was fueled by Gulf oil. But the combination of oil wealth, NAFTA, and an expanding manufacturing base turned Mexico into the 12th largest world economy.
With the wealth came an expanded middle class. And that middle class wanted a different mix of groceries on the table than what they had experienced in their less flush days. That effect was magnified by the number of Mexicans who returned from the north with new tastes in mind.
My current trips to Walmart or Soriana or Comercial Mexicana could make me believe I was in almost any middle class store in Omaha. There is no mistaking that the stores are appealing to Mexican shoppers. But you can find almost anything imaginable there.
When I first moved down, I would regularly bring down some of my favorite food stuffs in my suit cases -- or I would do without. I can now find almost anything here.
And if I cannot find it at Soriana, I can find it at Super Hawaii in San Patricio.
Alex, the owner, has created a store that is a merchandising dream. His suppliers can get him almost anything a northerner could desire during the winter, and everything that a middle class Mexican shopper could need in the summer.
I like to surf the shelves for new products. I told you about the best pasta I have tasted in some time in pasta and phil. It came from Hawaii.
While browsing the jugged salsa shelf, I noticed something that looked out of place. Tomato paste. Not in the usual Kirkland tins, but in a rather fancy jar.
The first thing I noticed was the Arabic script. Now, Mexico is not known for its contacts with the Arab world -- other than what it inherited through Spain from the Moors. There are fewer than 4000 followers of Islam in Mexico.
I thought the script odd. I was even more surprised when I saw the jar and its contents were from Jordan.
Jordan has always had a soft spot in my heart. Petra is the obvious connection. But the late King Hussein was always one of my Arab heroes. And they are few and far between in the Middle East.
So, I grabbed the jar. It was $62 (MX) (or $4.25 (US)) for 24 ounces. A little less than buying the same amount of paste in those annoying tiny tins.
Tomato paste is a rarity here. Alex says his Mexican customers do not generally use it.
That is too bad because this Jordanian tomato paste is some of the best I have used. I created a decidedly non-Italian Bolognese sauce with it. (If it had truly been Bolognese, the meat would have been veal and the tomato base would have been cream.)
The taste of the paste was excellent. It retained the sweetness and acidity of its parent tomatoes, but it also had a subtle citric flavor. Almost like a sour orange.
I have not tasted tomato paste that good since my last visit to Italy.
As testament, I purchased two additional jars. I may end up buying Alex's entire stock, if only to have tomato paste on hand.
The purchase caused me to wonder just how much trade passes between Mexico and Jordan. It turns out -- not much.
Recent statistics show Jordan imported $41 million in products from Mexico, and Mexico imported $17 million in products from Jordan. Those are not big trade figures considering the size of Mexico's economy.
But Jordan and Mexico have big plans. They are currently negotiating a free trade agreement. When it is complete, Jordan will be the only Arab country to have free trade agreements with each of the NAFTA nations.
Now, I will have another reason to keep Jordan on my personal most favored nation list.
Combined with my boutique pasta, my sauce was better than any spaghetti I could get in town. Once again proving the best food comes out of your own kitchen.