Forget the generic versions of peppers and tortilla you’ll find in your local C-Town; for Brooklyn cooks, Flatbush is the gateway to Mexico.
In groceries and bakeries off the Newkirk Avenue stop, you can browse for a vast array of staples imported from Mexico, purchase house-made Mexican cheese, and find sweet breads and rolls — all the fixings for a fabulous fiesta.
They’re the types of places where Mexican-Americans shop — that’s because they offer fresh, authentic ingredients, rather than the versions from food conglomerates that also make soy sauce, frozen pizza and feta cheese. The variety is also broader; you don’t just have one or two types of chiles to choose from, you have a dozen. And, best of all, the ingredients are often much, much cheaper.
Tienda Karina on Newkirk Avenue is full of Mexican ingredients — you can find dried peppers in a dizzying array of varieties at half the cost as the supermarket (try $1.75 for pickled jalapenos versus ShopRite’s $3.59); mounds of tortillas, also at half the cost; ground pumpkin seeds (pipián) that’s used in green moles; and corn husks ready to be made into tamales.
There are also chipotle peppers in adobo, an array of Mexican beers, and unsweetened Mexican chocolate used not only to make hot chocolate, but for the fabled Mexican main dish mole poblano.
And you’d be hard pressed in a Key Food to find epazote, an herb traditionally used in refried beans; and nopales, cleaned pieces of cactus traditionally sautéed with onions.
For cheeses, you can do no better than Vaquita Cheese on Foster Avenue. The small storefront is essentially a family-run factory, where a small team of workers has cajoled milk curds into two types of fresh cheese for the past decade.
Choose from queso fresco, rounds of slightly tart mild cheese that’s crumbled on top of finished dishes that go for $3.50, versus $4.99 at the Key Food a block away, and Oaxaca string cheese, a mozzarella-like product that is often melted on top of tacos and the like.
“We make the cheese one day and sell it the next,” said Gabriella Ramos, the owner’s daughter.
The place to stop for dessert is La Nueva Union on Cortelyou Road. The bakery offers a wide variety of sugary nibbles including puffy conchas — sweet breads flavored with banana, chocolate or strawberry; fragrant cinnamon rolls, sparkling under their sweet and fragrant dusting; and bumpy piedras — sweet rolls that looked like oversized scones.
“These are the desserts that taste like home to customers,” said owner Alfonso Bidls.
Tienda Mexicana Karina [1612 Newkirk Ave. between E. 16th and E. 17th Streets in Flatbush, (718) 859-4941]; Vaquita Cheese [1307 Foster Ave. between Rugby and Argyle roads in Flatbush, (718) 434-8543]; La Nueva Union [1008 Cortelyou Rd. between Coney Island Avenue and Stratford Road in Flatbush, (718) 284-7218].
©2011 Community News Group
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