Growing up in Southern California with both parents recent transplants from Mexico, the sights and smells of the local Hispanic markets were, for a good part of my life, more familiar to me than your typical American grocery store. I remember tagging along as my mother would sort through bins of fresh tomatillos, nopales (cactus paddles) and perfectly ripe avocados for the evening’s dinner, always making sure to grab some fresh cheese and still-warm tortillas while my siblings and I would beg for a chunk of sweet candied pumpkin or a piece of pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) to eat on the way out.
When we first moved to Oklahoma, it seemed as if the food and authentic ingredients that we were accustomed to using (which I’ve realized had kept my parents connected to their culture somewhat), would be a thing of the past. And for a time they were. But luckily in the past decade or so, our city has seen a growth of international food and markets, especially Hispanic. Now that I’m a father, it has been really fun to introduce my son to some of my favorite childhood memories and meals and to see him begging for some of the same treats as I did when I was his age.
Morelos Market, now with several locations in the city, has become our go-to Hispanic market. Many a Saturday morning we’ve spent exploring the aisles, always finding inspiration for an incredible weekend meal. My wife and I love to entertain and when we’re looking for a quick and easy meal to share with friends, this is the first place we go.
We usually start in the bountiful produce aisle, teeming with perfectly ripe, fragrant produce ready for use that day. In Hispanic culture, it is more common to shop for your daily meals rather than for the week so it’s rare to find a hard mango or avocado sitting on the shelf. Beautiful varieties of fresh chiles, green garbanzo beans, cactus fruit, papaya, coconuts and guavas are begging to be made into fresh salsa, agua fresca or a summery side.
We always grab some fresh cheese or a tub of perfectly tart Mexican crema (be sure to try the Jocoque, Mexican-strained yogurt) on our way to the meat market where they have endless options of pork al pastor, carne asada, and marinated chicken ready to be thrown on the grill and chopped up for tacos that will rival any taqueria. And no Mexican meat market would be complete without finding the huge sides of perfectly fried and never greasy pork skins (chicharrones) made in-house. Forget everything you think you know about the bags of pork skins you find at the American grocery store—do yourself a favor and try these at least once. It took me years to convince my wife of their merit, but after buying one fresh and adding a squeeze of lime and chile sauce on top, she’s now a believer (although only on occasion). You’ll also find their house-made salsa at the end of the meat counter—this is one of the only salsas I will actually buy versus making at home.
Be sure to check out the aisle with the Mexican hot chocolate; you will find several varieties there. If you haven’t tried Mexican hot chocolate, you are in for a real treat. Usually sold in tablets, you melt the heavily cinnamon scented chocolate in hot milk (buttered and toasted bread for dipping are a must). The next aisle over contains a wide variety of household items such tortillas presses and lava rock molcajetes for making superior salsa.
Usually by this time my six-year-old son has asked me for a concha, his favorite pan dulce, about twenty times so we always make a stop by the bakery. The concha is a round brioche like bread topped with a slightly sweet sugary crumb topping, cut to resemble a seashell (this is also my favorite). My wife loves the marranitos, a gingerbread-like soft cookie cut in the shape of a pig. We wrap them up and save them for dessert.
We always try to time our Saturday trips to Morelos to just before lunch for the excuse to stop by the lunch counter, where we grab a tray and order cafeteria-style from their hot lunch items. You can choose from tacos, gorditas, chili rellenos, stews and other home-style Mexican dishes. There is also a toppings bar at the end of the counter with fresh salsas, cilantro, limes, and, our favorite, pickled red onions with habaneros. You'll also find a huge variety of beverage options you can choose from to accompany your meal: agua frescas and a variety of Latin American sodas in glass bottles. My wife and I always choose a bottle of bubbly Topo Chico mineral water while our son always chooses horchata, a sweetened rice milk with a touch of cinnamon.
We never forget to grab a package of locally made fresh corn tortillas on the way out. There are almost always some that are still warm in the ice chest so that is always our last stop on our way out—nothing like bringing fresh, warm tortillas home from Morelos.
NW 50th St & Meridian, Oklahoma City