I am baking a potato. A russet potato. To most, this would not seem like a big deal, nothing to even mention. But among my friends here in Mexico, their first words were “WHERE did you find them?”
Russet potatoes, like many items easily found north of the border, are almost impossible to find in Mexico. Why would something as innocuous as a potato be so difficult to find here?
I did some research and found that the National Confederation of Potato Producers of Mexico (CONPAPA) is not allowing the importation of U.S. potatoes due to health issues. Its policy does not refer to a complete ban, but rather restricts the importation of fresh potatoes to areas near the border (a 26 KM-wide area). It also fully allows the importation of semi-processed and frozen potatoes. U.S. potatoes were found to have 43 quarantine diseases not found in Mexico, which could adversely affect local crops.
Some other food in Mexico also cannot readily be found locally, but since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented in 1994, we have access to many more imported items. Sometimes things can be prohibitively expensive, though. California wine comes to mind, but in general everything is available at a price.
Many expats follow the “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” rule and buy locally. Local produce in Mexico includes mangoes, papaya, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes, avocadoes, zucchini, mamey, verdolaga, spinach and other wonderful greens.
I live on the coastline so we also have access to the fresh fish markets where we can buy all kinds of ocean delicacies: red snapper, sea bass, tuna, octopus, shrimp, oysters and squid.
To spice up your life, forage through the spices and chiles you’ll find in municipal markets and “bodega” stores. You can also buy bulk items such as beans, rice and other legumes, which are fresh and plentiful.
Buying locally has many advantages, economic ones especially. I can fill up my pantry with groceries at the local markets for under US$50 a week.
So, back to my russet potato story: I made the big score last week, nothing illegal, but felt like I had found the Holy Grail. An online grocery store in Mexico City, which sells heirloom tomatoes, baby vegetables and what I would call exotic food, also sells, yes, russet potatoes! If you are curious, post a comment and I’ll give you the URL.
Hasta la proxima!