What To Buy

How to Build an Ethnic Pantry: Latin American

By Justin Chan | June 8, 2012

Photo: Julien H


To celebrate the many different types of cuisines around the world, we’ve created a mini-series, “How to Build an Ethnic Pantry,” that offers some advice on the kinds of ingredients every cook should have when they make a particular cultural dish. We also asked grocery store owners and chefs for suggestions and what they think makes their food unique. Check out what ingredients fill Latin American kitchens throughout the world…

Interested in making Latin American cuisine but don’t know what ingredients you need?

Don’t worry! The folks at Mi Tierra Supermarket in Jackson Heights were kind enough to share some knowledge this week. Located on 85th Street and Roosevelt Avenue as well as on Northern Blvd and 81st Street, Mi Tierra is the hub of Latin American grocery shopping. The market spans half of a block and caters to a predominately Mexican customer base. But all other Latin Americans also visit the store regularly and navigate through the long line of shelves in order to get the products they need to whip up a tasty traditional dish.

Ericka Ramirez and Jackie Hernandez, sales counter associates at Mi Tierra, offered some insight into what every aspiring Latin-American-loving chef should have in his or her pantry:

1. Rice
2. Salt
3. Beans
4. Cilantro
5. Onions
6. Peppers
7. Picante (chilies or hot sauce)
8. Sliced Beef
9. Salad (one that consists of mostly lettuce)
10. Adobo (for seasoning meats and vegetables)

All of these ingredients, they said, are crucial to Latin American cuisine. Some, if not all, are heavily found in traditional foods such as mole, a type of sauce used in Mexican cuisine that consists of one or more kinds of pepper, and guacamole. Customers also use some of these ingredients to make quesadillas, which are flattened tortilla sandwiches filled with cheese and other kinds of ingredients. Others may use ingredients like salt, cilantro and onions to make pozolé, a Mexican pork and hominy stew that has been known to cure hangovers.

Photo: Craig Dugas

Ramirez said what makes Latin American cuisine particularly unique is its focus on flavor. Much of that, she pointed out, obviously comes from the ingredients (some of which are listed above), which help highlight the savor of Latin American food.

“Everything has to do with flavor,” she said. “That’s why it’s hard for some people to copy our food.”

Photos : Julien H and Craig Dugas

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