In a world in which a quarter can’t buy a postage stamp, a vending machine snack, or a cup of coffee, it’s comforting to know that you can indulge in a pastry for a mere 25 cents.
A Mexican pastry, that is.
And although 25 cents sounds like a South of the border price, the Mexican bakeries, or panaderias, that sell them are as local as the neighborhood theater.
But you’ll enjoy more than just pastries at these panaderias; you’ll discover an oasis of Mexican culture where elaborate votive candles, pinatas and fried pork cracklings are sold side-by-side with sweet empanadas and Mexican cookies. With so much to offer, calling them bakeries seems a misnomer.
To the uninitiated, the offerings of local panaderias may be somewhat of a mystery. The half-moon shaped pies are empanadas filled with pineapple, pumpkin or sweet potato. The clam-shaped breads dusted with colored powdered sugar are pan de huevo, or egg bread.
And the golden, puffed Mexican “biscuits” are a delectable cross between a British scone and a Southern biscuit. That’s enough to get you through the take-out breakfast treats.
But don’t stop there. Rows of veladores, tall votive candles, line the shelves along with Mexican grocery items. The glass candleholders are decorated with scenes of Santos, or Saints.
It is customary to light the candles while offering prayers for special intentions. A rose-scented Virgin of Guadalupe candle is among the most popular.
Food lovers will have a field day combing store aisles. The chorizo (Mexican sausage), queso blanco (white cheese) and dozens of Mexican pantry items give the feel of a corner grocery store in a Mexican village.
Bars of Mexican chocolate flavored with cinnamon (excellent for making hot cocoa) and jars of Cajeta, a rich caramel sauce made with goat’s milk, are among the affordable luxuries stocked on the shelves. Try the Cajeta spread on toast or drizzled on ice cream – it is heavenly and decadent.
Checking out a panaderia with children means surveying the vast candy inventory. All the dulces, or sweets, trigger a nostalgic desire for re-living five-and-dime candy purchases of simpler days gone-by.
That’s part of the magic of a panaderia. It takes you beyond the bread, beyond the border, and back in time to the old-fashioned corner store you thought was extinct.