Living here in San Miguel de Allende, you can get almost anything you need in life. Everything is available if you are willing to pay for it—and then maybe only one of everything. This is most definitely true of American foods in San Miguel de Allende.
Foods that are eaten by Mexicans in daily life are plentiful and more than reasonably priced. Foods that they do not often eat are wildly expensive. For example, if you go to La Comer (the largest grocery store in town) you’ll feel like you’re in a modern American supermarket in any major city in the United States. However, when you begin walking around and you’ll start noticing the difference. The produce section will contain all the local staples—and cheaply: potatoes, oranges, lettuce, bananas, and avocados. Boy are these items inexpensive! Then look for American foods in San Miguel de Allende that Mexicans don’t often use. Lemons are rarely available, as are Russet potatoes. Good apples are available, however they’re imported from the United States. And prepackaged lettuce has little selection with questionable freshness—unless you purchase the fancy hydroponic lettuce from France.
If you then walk over to the bakery, there are lots of sweets, cakes, sticky buns that come out of the oven every ten minutes—they are fresh, cheap, and oh so good. However, there is no rye bread, nor sourdough bread? How about the classic double chocolate chip cookies with M&Ms? It’s unlikely. A wide selection of bagels: cinnamon bagels, poppyseed bagels, everything bagels—don’t hold your breath.
The meat section has lots of cheap chicken, pork, and beef such as: roasts, steaks, and ground beef. However, there is no pastrami or roast beef. Turkey, what’s that? Other things are more expensive, such as bacon or some types of sausage—there certainly isn’t any breakfast sausage, like chicken-apple sausage. It’s all chorizo.
Now as you are in the middle of the store, there are a few aisles of “exotic foods”. Here you will find expensive cereals, snacks, crackers, jams, Asian goods, pistachios, or perhaps lasagna noodles. However, your mouth will drop at the prices. And in the frozen food section, there are no frozen dinners, no 25 different varieties of toaster strudels, and dozens of frozen pizzas, or 50 varieties of prepackaged Marie Calenders dinners. There are exactly two 20-foot freezers devoted to these foods, and hardly any of the brands to which one becomes accustomed living in the United States.
Recently I went to La Comer, and I jotted down a list of foods that are just not available—or that I can find: water chestnuts, rye bread, chocolate pudding, Half-and-Half, strawberries are only seasonal thing, celery (for some reason they were out), leeks. . . the list continues. On the other hand, I bought 20 pounds of local oranges for the equivalent of one dollar, and large, perfectly-ripe avocados at 25 cents a pound.
So what do you do?—adjust. Try substituting one ingredient for another in that particular recipe; and enjoy a bite when an occasional treat shows up from the United States. Mega started stocking Tillamook cheddar blocks—we bought 5 blocks of cheese. My favorite was the Americans that rushed to buy out a truckload of Johnsonville Italian sausages. They only had one variety—and not one spicy.
As money arrives into San Miguel de Allende, and as more Americans and other Western expats arrive, more and more we are noticing foods that you would find in the United States crop up at exorbitant prices. However these foods are still somewhat rare—and there are some ingredients that are just not available. I assume that’s how it is for immigrants to the United States, with only one small section in the exotic foods isle of their local grocery store.
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