<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Shopping for Food and Groceries in Mexico
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Shopping For Food in Mexico

by David Eidell (Updated 09/07)

2007 Update Note: As the years pass more and more gringo foodstuffs are to be found on the shelves of Mexican supermarkets. Below I have edited some of the things that have changed and left intact advice that continues to be current. If you pay close attention and load your rig SOLELY with the correct type of foodstuffs not yet found, you can stretch your ¨warehouse¨ of precious goodies over the course of a full six months or even longer!

To put it bluntly, most folks would get along just fine by taking nothing at all to México. Major destinations within the country lie adjacent to or beyond cities that have huge supermarkets (refer to end of article). México has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years. But, virtually no one who reads this article is going to pull out of their driveway empty. However, without some sort of an idea or guideline, the temptation to "Take It All" becomes irresistible once pre-trip shopping begins.

Many first time visitors bring far too much food because they are unaware of the similarities in diet between Mexicans and Americans. Many repeat visitors make the same mistake because they have never bothered to shop in a Méxican supermarket.

It may come as somewhat of a shock to some but most of the fresh winter vegetables sold on the West Coast of the United States are grown and packed in México. With this in mind it would be sort of foolish to stuff our rigs full of 'safe" gringo produce before embarking on a vacation to México. Sooner or later we end up paying extra for carrying unnecessary weight; the penalty may be in the form of reduced fuel mileage, unappreciated clutter in the cupboards, or the hassle and expense of a blown tire.

If the foregoing doesn't act as a deterrent to your impulsive grocery loading habits, then the following should: México's Border Customs Law states that you can legally bring fifty dollars worth of groceries into México. This rule is not always enforced but if a custom's inspector happens to open a few cupboards and discovers the interior jam packed with canned goods and boxed foodstuffs, he is entitled by law to charge twenty seven point six percent tax on what he estimates the "overage" to be. Personal experience reveals that your cupboards would have to be bulging before this becomes an issue.

Fresh citrus fruits, fruits and vegetables are prohibited. Except for perhaps apples and fresh corn (and of course exotics like Boysenberries and Raspberries) México has an amazing and satisfying supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. There is no law against bringing frozen fruits and vegetables.

The list below can be used as a general guideline when it comes time to outfit your rig for an extended journey. The first box if it is checked will alert you to foods that are prohibited from entering the country. To the right of the food name is another box; if it is checked it means that that particular food may be expensive, of inferior quality, or just plain hard to find.

Name Comments
Aluminum Foil X If you prefer heavy-duty foil bring some from home
Bagels X Uncommon. Bring some from home (spread too)
Beans Common. Several varieties and inexpensive
Beef Common, tasty but chewy. Usually sliced thin
Bread Common and inexpensive, but rye and sourdough breads are absent
Broccoli Common and inexpensive
Butter Look for "Lala" brand soft butter or Anchor brand New Zealand Butter. Both are superb
Catsup Heinz 57 lovers should bring some
Cereals Kid's sugar cereals are common, otherwise bring your own
Cheese Great selection of cheeses, but of unfamiliar taste
Chicken Common, of excellent quality
Chilies Many different types from mild to mind blowing in intensity
Chocolate Excellent quality. Usually laced heavily with crude sugar
Cigarettes Malbororo is common, others less so
Coconut Very common, very inexpensive
Coffee X If you are fussy bring some from home Otherwise very common
Cookies Some supermarkets are now carrying Oreos and Chips Ahoy!
Cream Excellent. Super Thick. Imported whipped cream is pricey.
Flour Excellent and inexpensive
Garlic Excellent and inexpensive
Hamburger Buns Common and inexpensive
Hot cereals Quaker Oatmeal and Quick oatmeal are very common
Eggs Common and excellent. Brown eggs are called "Rojo" (red)
Herbs Bring Dill, and Saffron. Otherwise cheap and plentiful
Hot Dogs Both beef and turkey are common and inexpensive
Honey México has some of the best honey on Earth
Jams and Jellies Common. Apricot, Raspberry, Blackberry uncommon
Juice Common, of excellent quality and inexpensive
Macaroni Good quality. Bring exotic pastas from home
Margarine Common. Specialty margarines should be brought from home
Mayonnaise Best Foods and Hellman's are very common
Milk Common and every bit as costly as in the US. Milk is dated and regularly rotated
Nuts X Expensive. A favorite snack item, bring lots from home
Oils Olive oil should be brought from home, otherwise common
Olives X Pitted and black olives are rare. Green pitted olives are common
Pet Food X Common but expensive. Purina brand is common as is Friskies.
Pickles X Bring pickles and relish. They are expensive and quite scarce in Mexico
Peanut Butter X Inferior quality and expensive. Look for pricey Skippy.
Pork Excellent quality. Trichinosis is almost unknown (but cook thoroughly)
Radish Common and inexpensive
Sauerkraut X
Rice Very common and slightly starchy
X Apples Imported and cost about a dollar a pound
X Avocado Avocado lovers, rejoice! Common and inexpensive
X Bananas Common, several varieties and inexpensive
X Cantaloupe Common, of excellent quality and inexpensive
X Carrots Common and dirt cheap
X Celery Common and around a dollar per bunch
X Cauliflower Common and inexpensive
X Corn X Corn lovers should bring several bags of frozen corn. Markets are now carrying excellent corn imported from USA
X Cucumber Very common and inexpensive
X Grapes Common in season, seeded
X Grapefruit Common, excellent and inexpensive
X Lemon X Yellow lemons are uncommon. Bring frozen if you like
X Lettuce Iceberg is common, other varieties less so
X Lime X Green Limes are very uncommon
X Limón Méxican "limónes" are common and inexpensive
X Mango A national treasure. Many varieties and superb
X Onions White, brown and green are common and inexpensive
X Oranges Valencia's are common and superb
X Peanuts X Common. Bring freeze dried peanuts if you like them
X Potatoes Mostly white potatoes. Some tiny reds.
X Tomatoes Roma potatoes are modest in price. Beefstake less so.

Kilos Versus Pounds

México uses the metric system. A kilogram is roughly 2.2. U.S. pounds. A half-kilo is very near to a pound (mentally form a picture of the weight that you desire in pounds and then form a fraction. By doubling the size of the bottom number of your imaginary fraction you'll also convert kilos to pounds: Example: 1/1 change to 1/2 (1 pound is desired which is 1/2 kilo), 1/4 convert to 1/8 (A quarter pound is 1/8 th of a kilo).


Converting liters is even easier than converting kilos. A liter contains five percent more than a quart. Because México imports most of it's food containers from the U.S. don't be surprised to find milk jugs and mayonnaise jars (among others) in U.S. rather than metric sizes.

One of the best surprises in México is the vast amount of tropical fruits that are encountered. Mango, Tamarindo, Maméy, Papáya, Zapote, the list is long and delightful. Thankfully México remains unsophisticated when it comes to "treating" fruit before it comes to market. It is usually picked ripe or very green: The former is usually much superior in taste and texture to U.S. fruit as found in the supermarket. Green fruits can ripen in the cupboard. Méxican oranges are usually found ripe with a mottled green and orange colored skin. They are sweeter than U.S. oranges that are picked and then gassed (when they are still fully green) to force them to turn orange.

If you are a steak eater, it's best to bring some from home. Méxican hamburger is not up to what most Americans prefer in ground beef. Méxican pork is excellent and Méxican bacon is superior to U.S. brands. Bring sausage, pepperoni, and salami, but leave bologna, and hot dogs behind. Méxican turkey is good but rather uncommon. Méxican sausage tends to be very spicy and full of fat. Update: I have been having excellent luck ordering custom cuts of beef at the meat counter at a local Soriana (national chain) Supermarket. If your Spanish is poor, pick up a foam package of whatever cut you wish and then pinch your thumb and forefinger together to show how thick you want it cut. If anything err on the fat side, as they'll always bring out a sample first to ensure compliance with your dimension. Costco warehouses vend Canadian beef, excellent and pricey.

Méxican supermarkets sell a variety of mayonnaises, including Kraft and Hellman's. Note that most Mexican mayos these days are juiced up with limon juice. If you want to find the regular mayo look for Best Foods. Regular mustard is common, specialty mustards are uncommon. Bring spicy mustards from home.

Snacks form an important "ritual" in most people's lives. Make an extra effort to include those munchies that you find indispensable.

Familiar brands and types of canned soups are common but they taste different. They are also quite pricey. Canned Tuna is abysmal, expensive or both. Canned vegetables are available at modest cost but of mediocre quality. Bring specialty crackers (saltines are very common). Bring English muffins, . Irradiated fresh milk is common and inexpensive. Candy is extremely common, but bring special stuff from home.

Fresh fish is common and familiar. Seafood is common and usually quite fresh. Vitamins used to be uncommon. Today you can find a good assortment of vitamins and minerals at a discount farmacia chain know as Farmacia Similares.Orange Pekoe, and Darjeeling teas are unknown. Coffee is expensive and rather disappointing in flavor. French Roast coffee is available in varous shoppes but you'll have to querey your camping neighbors if they know of a local outlet. A particularly good store is called "La Selva" and is located in the Chiapas city of San Cristobal de Las Casas. A real find is called La Surtidora, and is found on the big plaza in the city of Patzcuaro, Michoacan. Freeze dried coffee is common and quite good. Sugar is dirt-cheap. Some supermarkets are now carrying dark brown sugar.For a completely gringo treat I always bring a bottle of real maple syrup and a small box of pancake mix. Vinegar is common, but I bring my own wine and Balsamic vinegars. If you are fussy about the type and brand of bottled salad dressing bring some from home.

I shall repeat an important point: Snacks form an important point in many people's lives. If you are subject to "getting the munchies" at midnight at home, then suddenly find yourself "cut off" far from home, you are more likely to become irritable (a manifestation of homesickness). Instead of burdening the already groaning overload springs with Bomb-Shelter quantities of food staples, focus instead on provisioning your trip with adequate snacks. Even if you later discover that you prefer fresh mango over pretzels, you can trade those extra goodies for (perhaps) a slice of fresh baked pie offered in appreciation for your good deed.

Spices and condiments individualize our personal tastes in seasoned food. Although Méxican markets stock an amazing variety of spices, such specialties as granulated garlic, coarse ground pepper, exotic mustards, horseradish, and seasoning salts should be brought from home. Pickles and relish should be brought from home. I have yet to find "Eneldo" fresh dill here.

Not a food item: The trading of English language paperback novels is an institution in Mexico. Bring several recent novels, or several copies of tabloid, or newsy magazines, a Sunday newspaper (even if it's a month old) or other bit of Americana. You can be assured that other grateful "paper starved" travelers will read them until they fall apart.

Bakery Stores

Sliced white bread and wheat bread are becoming extremely common in México. However, traditional Méxican bread comes in the form of miniature "French Bread Loaves" called Bolillos (pronounced bo-LEE-oh, or bo-LEE-ohs). Mexicans are fond of sweet bread. Over the centuries traditional bakeries (called panaderías) sprang up all throughout the country. Bread in Spanish is Pan . Most of the bakeries were spare rooms in homes. Massive adobe brick ovens are fired with firewood in the middle of the night and by dawn trays of rolls, cookies, and Bolillos are being baked. It really isn't necessary to have a glossary of the various forms of baked goods -- cookies, rolls and Bolillos are easily identified. Customers grab a plastic tray and a pair of tongs (self-restraint in a big asset here but everyone ends up buying way too much) and help themselves. The baked goods contain no preservatives so it's best to shop often and purchase less. By the way the national brand bread company " Bimbo" offers excellent hamburger buns and hot dog buns (they taste the same as ours).


Méxican butcher shops (The word "Carne" means meat) are not for the squeamish. Mexicans love to eat parts of steers and hogs that sensitive gringos never think about. Butchering (thankfully the actual coup de grace of the animal is done elsewhere) is done right behind the meat display case. The aroma of ultra-fresh meat plus the sight of flies buzzing around the inside of the shop may be more than what you bargained for. Butchers that are used to strange gringo eating habits will anticipate an order for " Bistec", and (usually) won't puzzle over your desire for inch-thick steaks. Otherwise it's best to pantomime the size of the steak with both hands, then pinch thumb and forefinger together to indicate the thickness desired.


Tortillas de Harina are made from flour, while Tortillas de Maize are from corn. Most tortillaria's sell either corn or flouræ but not both. The cost is about fifty five cents a pound. Mass produced tortillas are pale imitations of the real thingæ those made by hand. Comparing one to the other is like comparing fresh, hot; home baked bread to mass-produced supermarket bread in the US. Regardless of the origin fresh tortillas are much better than the ones that you find in the Deli section in a US market. The real value of a tortilla is when you wrap it around something good to eat and consume it as a taco.


Literally "Pastry-eria". This is the store that sells cakes (including elaborate wedding cakes), "pay" pronounced just like our "pie", fruit turnovers, and all of the other diet destroying temptations that will drive you mad. Prices tend to be very reasonable. Compared to the ultra-fine texture of US pastries, Mexican pastries tend to seem a little coarse in composition.


Similar to a produce Mart in the USA. Fruterias tend to have a much greater variety of fruits and vegetables than all but the largest Méxican supermarkets. Prices average twenty to thirty percent lower also. There's nothing quite like enjoying a slice of vine ripened watermelon in January. Note: Some folks will tell you to not bother shopping for fruits and vegetables in a supermarket---this is just plain wrong. Many times you will find goodies like romaine lettuce, fresh spinach and other goodies that are missing in the public markets. Wal-Mart and offshoot Bodega Aurrera are especially good at binging in good quality vegetables from afar. Our local Soriana super store has a pile of heavy and rock hard (this spells juicy!) washington apples.


"Dulce" in Spanish means "sweet", and from the number of candy stores in the country Mexicans are obviously very fond of candy. Chocolate lovers may wish to try a milk chocolate bar by the name of Carlos Quinto. Look for a brown wrapper with the name "Carlos V" on it. Dulcerias have bulk wrapped candies available for stuffing inside a piñata. Another favorite is shredded coconut bars (white or pink) called " Cocada".


Specialty fish stores are in evidence in medium sized towns. They might tend to sell fillets of fish rather than the whole fish. Sea bass is quite common, as is corbina, and warm water cod. Most pescaderias also sell fresh seafood which may vary in quality and freshness.


Brandy México produces some of the best brandies in the world
Gin Good enough to spike your Beefeater's with
Mescal A cheaper relative of Tequila
Rum México produces excellent quality Rum. Castillo brand is superb
Tequila The finest (over a hundred dollars a bottle) and rival five hundred dollar cognac
Vodka Also good
Whisky Dismal. Scotch, and Whisky should be brought from home
Wine Fairly good selection and quality. The Petit Sirah is superb. Monte Xanic from Baja has a blended red that can be compared to Cheateau Mouton Rothchild!


Bohemia It's supposed to be the best beer in México. We'll let you decide
Carta Clara Found in Yucatán. Excellent quality
Corona Light Pilsner-type beer
Modélo Darker bock style. Modélo Negro is quite dark.
Montejo Another Yucatecan brew. Also excellent
Noche Buena Bock beer available only during the Christmas season
Pacifico Pilsner beer
Sol Lite beer Méxican style
Tecáte Slightly stouter Pilsner. Bottled Tecáte has a different flavor than canned


Ice plants are common in México. Ice is called Hielo (pronounced Ee-yellow). Ice plants are known as Fabricas de Hielo (pronounced FAB-ri-ca day, ee-YELLOW). Unlike ice cubes which by law must be made with purified water, ice plants generally use city tap water to make huge blocks of ice (called Marquetas (pronounced mar-KETTAS). An eighth of a marqueta weighs about fifteen pounds and will fill a standard ice chest. Note: Ice plants are usually open seven days a week. Use bagged ice cubes for drinks. Ice plants usually operate on ammonia (much more efficient than Freon) but traces of ammonia frequently taint the ice -- this won't affect foods cooled by the ice in chests, but poses a health hazard if the ice or water is consumed in drinks.

Shopping Tips

Méxican supermarkets have shopping carts.. Purchases will be carefully bagged in those thin (annoying) plastic bags just like in the states. I strongly recommend that you purchase at least two heavy canvas bags with handles in the US before you leave. In rural Indian markets your purchases will undoubtedly be made in smaller quantities but here you will find no bags at all. Collapsible fabric "ice chests" are wonderful for transporting a bag of ice cubes across town on a bus. U.S. marine hardware stores (and others) sell excellent collapsible wheeled carts; they're not cheap but can be a real chore saver.

Long-term residents of RV parks seem to be always aware of bargain hot spots.

Bottled Méxican beer is about forty percent cheaper than canned beer. The bottles are returnable and require a deposit which almost doubles the price. Of course the deposit is refundable when you turn the bottles back in. Every town has one particular " Deposito" that consistently under-prices the others.

Méxican soft drinks taste better than the same brands as bottled in the US. The reason is because Mexican soft drinks are sweetened with lots of sugar. Sidral de Manzana means "Cider of Apple", and this flavor is a standout -- something like a blend of soda and juice. Major brands of cola are sold in cans as well as bottles. Diet colas are available in the cans only. Note:canned drinks have the standard pull top plug.

Beer trucks roam the countryside and will sell directly to the customer.Also present are soft drink trucks and heavy users can arrange to have a "weekly" or bi-weekly purchase delivered directly to their RV space or campsite. These guys are unbelievably knowledgeable about streets, addresses, and locations of isolated Hot Springs, resorts, and other trivia.

Sooner of later you're going to want to buy one of those hand held cast aluminum juice squeezers for limes. They are called "Exprimadores" and are usually found in hardware stores rather than grocery stores.

Indian Markets

Open-air markets are found mainly in central and southern México. They are called "tianguis" tee-AHN-gees which is a native word for marketplace. Everything from potatoes to shoelaces to wonderful weavings is found at these amazing markets. Quantities bought and sold tend to be minor in size, but socially to the Indians the markets are interactive "happenings". Polite and respectful bartering over the price of an item to be purchased is part of the social interaction. Unaware tourists who pay the asking price (for whatever reason) of an item are secretly sneered at rather praised for their generosity. The vendor will believe (quite correctly) that the amount of money involved is of no consequence or significance to the buyer (or perhaps they believe "This one is a bit daft"). After years of experience I can offer a bit of advice: To get a feel for the going price for say tomatoes, I'll ask "Cuanto Cuesta" (How much does it cost). I will ask this question of two or three adjacent vendors. Then I will mentally deduct thirty percent off the price and then be willing to pay that amount (or slightly more -- the rule is not iron clad) Most of the time thirty percent off will take the price very near to what protracted haggling will. I always carry a pocket bulging with small-denomination coins as Indian vendors seldom offer change (small differences are made up in the form of a few onions or a small orange). It would be a great help to carry a peso "cheat sheet" and pocket calculator which can be referred to when trying to figure out prices in U.S. currency. As a final note, many Indian vendors sell fruits and vegetables that are very small and sometimes withered or bruised. They aren't trying to rip you off; the produce was undoubtedly grown in a tiny garden plot high in the mountains without benefit of fertilizer or pesticides. Never ridicule or belittle their inventory in an attempt to get a better price. Doing so will just create hard feelings and you'll probably discover that the price has suddenly skyrocketed.

General Glossary

(Includes all types of stores)

Abarrotes Ahb-ah-ROW-tes Groceries
Carneceria Car-nay-cer-EE-yah Butcher Shop
Dulceria Dool-ceh-REE-ah Candy and more candy
Fabrica de Hielo FAH-breek-ah ee-Yell-oh Bulk ice plant
Ferretería Fair-ah-té-REE-ah Hardware store
Fruteria Froo-te-REE-ah Specializes in fruits and vegetables
Gasolineria Gah-so-leen-air-EE-ah Gasoline (Pemex) station
Panaderia Pahn-ah-dehr-EE-ah Baked goods, Bolillos and cookies
Pastelería Pah-stel-ah-REE-ah Pastry Shop
Pescaderia Peh-skeh-dehr-REE-ah Fresh fish and mariscos (seafood)
Plomeria Ploh-mah-REE-ah Plumbing supply store
Refaccionaria Reh-fack-see-on-air-EE-ya Automobile parts store
Supermercádo Super mer-CAH-do A larger grocery store
Tiénda Tee-EN-dah A store (of any kind)
Tienda Rural Tee-EN-dah roo-ALL Tiny, subsidized rural grocery stores
Tortilleria Tor-tee-ah-REE-ah Harina is wheat. Maize is corn

Names Of Some Large Grocery Chain Stores

Gigante Hee-GAWN-tay
Commerciál Méxicana Coh-mer-SEE-all Meh-hee-CAWN-ah
Ley Lay
Sam's Club Sawhm's clube (Same stores as in the USA)
Costco* COAST-coh (Same stores as in the USA)

* Méxican Costco Stores are now part of a World-Wide network and membership is universal. You can join Costco in Mexico and use your card in the USA. Renewals can be done in Mexico as well!
Cooperative Dry Goods Stores
México's two largest HMO organizations operate discount price dry goods stores that are open to the public. Inside you'll find everything from canned salsa to laundry soaps (many sell washing machines and refrigerators). Although beer isn't sold here, hard liquor is. Prices range about twenty percent to forty percent lower than in a supermarket. The stores are worth seeking out. Ask for them by name: Tienda IMSS (pronounced with a long e: e-em-es-es), or Tienda ISSSTE (pronounced: IS-tay). Old timers may remember government subsidized grocery stores by the name of Conasúpo. The stores were phased out in the early 1990's -- to be replaced on a much smaller scale by country stores called Tienda Rural.

Cargo Trucks Parked On The Shoulder

Truckers sometimes sell excess fruits and produce right out of the back of a truck. Look for six and ten wheeled trucks parked on the shoulder with part of the load stacked on the ground behind the truck. Scales are used and prices tend to be rock bottom. It is common to find cantaloupe for ten cents a pound, tall sacks of Valencia oranges for four dollars, potatoes, onions, Roma tomatoes, just about anything that grows locally.