We lived in Las Cruces for a year in the late 1990s. When we first shopped at the local grocery stores after moving there from New Hampshire, we were pretty amazed at the differences we found. We liked those differences, mind you, because we could really tell that we had moved, not only to a different part of the country, but a different part of the world. We definitely had a whole new culture to learn about.
Here are some of the products--some familiar, some very unfamiliar--we found in our local grocery store:
Large, strange-looking unwrapped cones of brown stuff in the produce section that we eventually learned was a kind of Mexican brown sugar called piloncillo.
Really large containers--buckets, actually--of old-fashioned lard, used in refried beans, tamales, and more. They say that the flavor it gives is wonderful and not found in any substitute.
Big slabs of tripe, used to make menudo, a traditional fiery soup that is thought to be the best hangover remedy.
Each grocery store had its own tortilleria, where fresh flour and corn tortillas were made. We were always able to buy fresh, warm tortillas.
Canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. We had a recipe calling for these and embarrassed ourselves by asking the clerk for "chip-O-tel" chiles. He probably thought we were from Texas. The actual pronunciation is chee-POHT-lay.
Big bags of bulk dried red chiles, in more varieties than we had ever seen
Strings of dried red chiles (ristras)
Large containers of frozen green chiles
And Velveeta. We were amazed to find Velveeta cheese boxes stacked in the aisles by the pallet-load. I had grown up thinking that Velveeta was something found in the refrigerated aisle, but the boxes didn't sit around long enough in these stores to spoil, if that is even possible with such a fake food product.
Why so much Velveeta? More about that tomorrow.