Today I drove from Duluth to the MSP airport to pick up my sister and her friend, who were returning from California. Not wanting to lose an opportunity to sample some new chow in a relatively chow-rich place (compared to Duluth), I decided to leave earlier than needed and visit the Mercado Central. A few weeks ago I asked where I could find pupusas in the Minneapolis area; somebody mentioned a pupuseria in the MC. I searched for them, found their website, and discovered that they had a very wide range of offerings at their Lake Street location, somewhat similar to the "African mall" I went to in August or even the Hmong Market.
So I made the 2.5-hour drive down, parked a block away on Lake Street in what seemed to be an area densely packed with interesting "Chowish" (sorry if I over-use that term) locales (Guayaquil Restaurant, a tortilleria, etc.), and went on in. Unlike when I entered the Midtown Global Market or Hmong International Market, the entrance I used at the Mercado Central opened right into the little mini-restaurant I was most interested in, La Loma. However, that wasn't a good thing - I had to use the bathroom, my shoes were untied, and I wanted to find the restrooms. I did that, and returned.
Getting back, I ordered a "tamale oaxaqueña", which came at the rather attractive price of about $3.25. Enough for a light-to-moderate lunch, the tamale was packed per tradition in a corn husk and contained spicy beef and, well, I think the other standard tamale ingredients. At the point of sale it struck me that I didn't know the proper way to eat a tamale! I'd had those cheap microwave ones in the past, but never one wrapped in a corn husk, or banana leaf, etc. So I returned to my car, a bit ashamed, and figured out that the corn husk is a covering (and really hard to eat) and you simply open it up, take a spoon, and eat!
And it was good. The meat and mix inside was spicy, but not overpoweringly so, like a certain papaya salad I once had. The heat was balanced by the starchy goodness of whatever else they put in tamales, and it generally made for a good meal. But I was thirsty.
So remembering a lead I had read somewhere, I returned to the stand and got myself a medium-sized "fresa" (strawberry) atole. "Atole" is a corn-meal based drink probably foreign to the palates of most gringos. Whatever the case, it wasn't bad - it had a certain warm, "comforting" quality to it - and I finished the entire cup. I bet it was fattening too.
I didn't eat breakfast or lunch prior to visiting the market in order to be able to try more food, so I bought a pupusa from a little lady working a little stand called "El Rincon Salvadoreño". I ordered the pupusa as it was written on the menu - "pupusa con queso y frijol", and she responded in Spanish asking me how many I wanted. Now I "know" Spanish, sometimes in the same way a mostly deaf but literate person would, and could have understood what she said should she have written it down, but her pronunciation (Salvadoran?) simply had me confused, and a bit embarrased. She clarified saying "una pupusa?" and I responded in the affirmative. She then told me it would be ten minutes.
And about ten minutes later, I received my pupusa ($2.75), with salsa but not curtido per my request (I hate coleslaw). It was hot, maybe too hot, but obviously that's a sign of freshness. Unfortunately, fresh or not, I didn't care much for her pupusa - it just seemed to bland. I prefer the ones at La Hacienda in St. Paul, the only others that I have had. Or maybe I ate it when it was too hot, or didn't eat it right, or got one of her worser ones. She was a nice lady though.
Finally, as I was leaving, I decided to culminate my chow session with a semi-randomly selected Mexican pastry. It was good, very sugary - but very dirty. Unfortunately, much of the contents inside (I don't know what it was) spilled on my jacket and in my car.
After picking the girls up, I went to Kiev Foods. Although I was full by now (and certainly set for the ride!), I wanted to make the most of my little trip and see if there was anything (food, CDs, those cute crafts) of interest at this little store. My sister and her friend (14 years old) also came in and found some Russian candies and Russian mineral water they thought were interesting, and I scoured the store, finally finding some frozen pelmeni that I had heard of. I only had $16 on me, but I figured the frozen pelmeni, being humble dumplings, couldn't be more than, oh, $5. Wrong. The woman told me they were $12.99, and between my tiredness and the language barriers (though she was a lot better of an English speaker than the last one I dealed with there!), I was entranced and bought them, telling my sister and her friend to return their goods. I regretted this decision from then on, not having the heart to try to return a bag of pelmeni. They now sit in my freezer; who knows, they might be good, but I'm way too full for them right now.
1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407
St. Paul, MN, St Paul, MN