Walking through my local outpost of the Supremo supermarket chain, under the Mexican, Colombian, and Brazilian flags, I got an intense dose of Latin American flavors that showed just how important those cuisines are here. Just what are all those different tortillas? In what way are Oaxacan, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran ones different from each other? And cremas? There are all those different kinds! Strolling down the aisles of Supremo gives a person hope. The presence of all these great ingredients means that somebody is cooking great Mexican, Central and South American food right near by. Because if they weren't, this place would be out of business in a second.
The cheese section makes you ask why we never talk about Latin America when the subject of artisan cheese comes up. There's some serious cheese here. A variety of fresh ones that you just don't see anyplace else. And the produce is for those who know. Fruits, roots and leaves of every description, and more habeneros then you ever thought could be in one place, with very little labeling besides names—and sometimes not even that.
I knew a Latin American supermarket would have big sacks of corn husks and tubs of lard. I didn't know about wax paper from Argentina, then the big tins of crackers, the wall of ramen noodles or instant Mexican hot chocolate. Supremo is also an interesting place for frozen foods. There are good buys on large quantities of frozen produce and all sorts of tropical items that wouldn't make it to New Jersey in decent shape if they were shipped fresh.
Strips of pig ear and pig skin packed in brine and offered in big jars bring us to the meat department. Meat has the place of pride in so many Latin American cuisines, and you can see it here. Pork and beef are both well displayed and clearly labeled. Cuts like tripe and oxtail remind you that shoppers here aren't just looking for something quick and easy.
Poultry is just as intriguing. Chicken feet are labeled "Perdue Frozen and Thawed Chicken Feet." Almost certainly what the chicken feet in most New Jersey ethnic megastores should be labeled. (How else can a store that sells a couple of hundred pounds of chicken a day come up with fifteen or twenty pounds of feet?) Yet not all of it is Perdue. Big hens labeled "Gallina Grande" seemed to come from another source entirely. But they're what you need to make perfect chicken broth, and you won't find them in a regular supermarket.
Supremo Food Markets
Various locations in New Jersey (map)
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