Two months ago when I thought of Texas, images of cowboy boots and cows came to mind. What I did not think of was grocery stores. But hot damn, I love Texas grocery stores.
Kingdom of Nightshade
When I stepped into a relatively small grocery store in El Paso for a couple spices, I ventured over to the produce to check it out. Here I found what I will now refer to as the Kingdom of Nightshade. Peppers, peppers, peppers. Yellows, greens, and a few reds. Picture a large grocery store’s side produce where most keep a variety of lettuce, other greens, herbs, carrots – that sort of thing. Here? It was all peppers. Big. Small. Hot. Mild. I actually couldn’t find lettuce, which is one of the things I wanted.
I was prepping to make some mulled wine, and I just couldn’t figure out a way that anaheims would taste great in the boozy concoction. When I stepped up to the register, wine in hand, the cashier said, “Just slide your ID in the card reader to verify your birthdate.”
Wait – what? I paused and looked at my Oregon drivers license. Then, I gave it a slide.
She looked at me, paused, and said, “Ohhhh. You’re not from around here.”
“No,” I replied, “I’m definitely not from around here.” I thought that was pretty evident by the fact I wasn’t buying peppers.
Here Everything’s Better
This was the first of my Texas grocery store experiences. In my opinion, it’s only improved. I have come to love H-E-B, which I think means Here Everything’s Better. (I’ve since renamed it the holy grail of grocery food.) It’s a grocery chain that started in San Antonio. I’ve considered never leaving Texas, since I’m not sure how else to buy tortillas anymore if it’s not from a fresh Tortilleria.
The real kicker for me is the plethora of choices, on so many levels.
First, there are tortillerias inside the store. Cheese selections to rivel the French Alps. Beer to rivel… well no, it can’t rivel Oregon, but still, a good selection. But wait, there’s more. Holy Moly Seafood o-rama. Need barbecue sauce? One billion options. Spices? One trillion options.
In San Antonio, we saw huge banana leaves in the produce section, an enormous amount of corn husks for tamales, and some funky frozen meat that Jeremiah would have loved in a taco. In Victoria, we had the pick of the litter when it came to green tomatoes, atypical bananas, persimmons, and dragon fruit. It’s also the first place we saw pre-packaged Jicama tortillas.
Here Everything’s Bigger
The saying goes that “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” There is some truth to this; even in grocery stores, sizes change. The steaks are the most obvious example of that. A flank steak in Oregon is on average really thin: easy to grill, and make into fajitas or serve with some roasted brussel sprouts. Not the case in Texas – we saw a steak 3 inches thick…. is it even a flank steak that point? I have no idea how cows work, honestly.
The cost of the meat is cheaper than what I remember in Oregon, but I’m not totally sure by how much. Our prime New York Strip was 10.99/lb. Some obvious differences from Oregon (where we’re from) and Texas include the size of meat, and the price of it. Also, Milk! Milk is practically free here.
Oooh! Also! There’s chorizo in Texas in ways that aren’t a slippery tube of oily meat, so that’s pretty rad. I don’t actually like chorizo, and I think that’s mainly because as a kid I begged my mom to constantly make a Spanish a dish that was essentially a chorizo and garbanzo bean stew. Then, one day, I was over it, just like that. (If you ask Jeremiah, if I like something too much, I decide I’m “over it,” and that’s that. It’s done. That’s why I try not to like Jeremiah too much.) Um… what was my point? Oh, they have Chorizo.
The grocery stores in Texas are bigger, and frankly, better than the ones in Oregon. They’re large while still offering local oddities and catering to the Tex-Mex cuisine that reigns supreme here, while presenting the largest slabs of meat I’ve seen. We’re not likely to go to too many more grocery stores in Texas as we continue to make our way East, so the next segment in the groceries series may be either Louisiana or Arkansas, since we haven’t decided which way we’re going quite yet.
What types of things have you noticed when you venture out of your most common grocery stores? Are prices or portions different? Do you have specialty grocery stores you swear by, or ones you’ve found you miss while on the road? (Oh how I miss the Lebanese grocers in Portland with their perfect grape leaves and garlic sauce…)
P.S. This was not an advertisement for H-E-B. I freaking love the store. I legit do.