Five Mexican Essentials From Your Local Bodega You Need in Your Pantry For the Rest of Your Life

BY LINDSEY BAKER

Chances are, you’ve already found your way into your local bodega. Everyone has those “just a couple of things” moments, and bodegas are crucial to the re-stocking of those steady essentials. What you might miss — or might just be a plain mystery — are those wonderful pockets of authentic Mexican items usually spilling off the shelves in your local bodega. Everyone knows about the queso and the tortillas, and the peppers. But there is so much other bodega gold just waiting to be discovered. In the spirit of Cinco, we’re sticking to five. For now.

Mexican Oregano

Yes, there is such thing as Mexican oregano, and it is great. In fact, Mexican oregano comes from an entirely different plant than the Mediterranean oregano you’re probably used to. Here, it’s a more potent, earthier oregano. Use it in any recipe that calls for the traditional stuff, and never look back.

Tajín

Tajín is deceptively simple: It is chile peppers, dehydrated lime juice, and salt. You’ll often see it available as a condiment in Mexican restaurants, or shaken over fresh fruit and vegetables in Mexico. Once you have it at home, it’s one of those seasonings you’ll find yourself putting on everything. Popcorn. Mango. Watermelon. Eggs. The flavor profile is so interesting that it enhances almost anything. We recommend adding a few shakes to your regular margarita salt for a spicy, tangy take on the traditional salted rim.

Flor de Jamaica

If you take the calyx — the protective casing that encloses the petals of the hibiscus — and you dry it, what you get is Flor de Jamaica. A good bodega will have Jamaica by the bin, and you can scoop it by the bagful. If you steep 2:1 boiling water to Jamaica and sweeten it to taste, you get one of a variety of Agua Frescas, an inexpensive and traditional Mexican drink. The liquid that the steeping produces is a deep, dark red that is mildly floral and tastes slightly of berries. Keep this in mind: we’ll be sharing a recipe for a Flor de Jamaica margarita later this week.

Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

Sure, you’ve probably heard of chipotles in adobo sauce — you may even have a version of a chipotle aioli recipe saved somewhere by now. Even if you don’t, these are a secret weapon ingredient that you’ll never regret having on hand. Smokey, garlicky, spicy. Umami-y. Use these in anything that needs those qualities (enchiladas, anyone?) or calls for it. Most grocery stores will carry these, but for the “one with the lady on it,” you should hit up the bodega. It will be there, along with five or six other varieties, but trust us, this is the one you want. Pro Tip: you probably won’t use the whole can at once. Freeze your leftovers into ice cubes, and toss into recipes when needed.

Valentina Hot Sauce

But what about Cholula? Or Tapatío? Sure. Both are great. Both are everywhere, as well. Like Sriracha before them, they are no longer anyone’s secret sauce. Although not quite that, Valentina is close. Made in Guadalajara, Mexico and notable for its citrusy flavor more than an aggressive heat, Valentina is the hot sauce you try and realize you’ve been looking for all along. It’s also a good way to tell the great taco places from the rest: look for it on the tables.

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