Drive by window-shopping is my weakness. I was on my way to meet professor Robin Greene, who leads our Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice, at our mid-way breakfast diner in Sanford, NC. Almost there, and I noticed some pretty remarkable, huge pinatas hanging in a store front on the highway. The rubbernecking angels sat on my shoulder as I made a mental note to stop on the way back.
Which I did! making a quick (and careful) left-turn from the center lane on the highway.
La Cumplidora is filled with nooks and crannies of Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Columbian food. The selection represents all nationalities of clientele who live and work in the area.
I was the only gringa!
And, I felt at home among people who I know work hard for the food they are buying and are conscious of cost. Children were hanging on to the hems of mothers’ skirts as they shopped for fresh and beautiful produce: limes (7 for $1), avocados (99 cents each), choyote squash (99 cents each), cilantro (59 cents a bunch), plum tomatoes perfect for salsa, six different varieties of dried peppers, fresh habaneros and poblanos.
Tip: Save Money and Shop at Your Local Latino Mercado
All the produce was a fraction of the cost of what I find in the major supermarkets and much better. I found perfectly ripe mangoes — 8 for $7.50 — a price unheard of at Harris Teeter (usually $1.65 each) where you might slice one open to find a dark center damaged by early picking and refrigeration even though the skin is ripe and it is soft to the touch.
At the way back is a full-service carneceria — butcher shop — with all types and cuts of fresh meats — beef, pork, chicken, and goat. In the corner is the queseria — cheese shop — where the imported from Mexico fresh cheese is sold by the pound. There is even some house made entrees for carry-out.
Just like in Oaxaca, the pasteleria/panaderia (pastry and bread bakeries) section was doing a bustling business. The fresh out of the oven concha rolls were exactly like those I see in the bakery on Garcia Virgil. Several young men held aluminum trays in one hand, tongs in the other, opened display case doors, reached in and piled the savory mouth-watering treats onto the trays.
They looked liked confectionary pyramids:
Pink rolls filled with sweet cream, sprinkled with chocolate. Flaky pastry cones stuffed with vanilla custard. Alternating chocolate and white layered cake squares with mocha frosting. Jelly rolls. Sesame cookies. It was all I could do to pass this by (I’m watching my calories.)
Food is so important to retaining culture. It keeps us connected to our families of origin, the memories of growing up, our way of keeping our identities in our adopted homelands. And, for keeping the memories of a satisfying vacation or travel adventure alive.
As I stood in line in a U.S. “village” 35 miles from my own North Carolina home among warm and friendly people, I was reminded of my own family’s immigrant status at the beginning of the 20th century.
And, if you are ever in Sanford, North Carolina, be sure to make a stop at La Cumplidora. Or discover the local Latino market in a neighborhood near you. A world of wonder will open up to you and you will save on the grocery bill.
Oh, and the pinatas: huge fanciful animals and stars and dolls decorated with crepe paper streamers in bright colors, pictures of boys and girls, sparkles, perfect for containing the candy treats to celebrate a birthday.
La Cumplidora, 901 South Horner Blvd., Sanford, NC 27330, (919) 776-1060.