It’s our first Christmas in Mexico and the first of many holidays we’ll spend outside the United States. Though I was tempted to enjoy our big meal at a local restaurant, Eric and I ultimately decided we should cook Christmas dinner at home this year (“home” being the Airbnb we’re renting until January 1).
So began the multi-step process of planning the meal, listing ingredients, shopping, and eventually cooking. You know the drill.
We’re very fortunate to be in Guanajuato, the capital of Guanajuato state. Though it’s a smaller city with a population of only 200,000 people, there’s a supermercado called La Comer only a few minutes away by vehicle. La Comer is a beautiful store, a cross between the shiniest HEB you’ve ever seen and a Super Target that sells appliances.
So there should be no reason why I can’t pull off Christmas dinner in Mexico…right? How hard can it be?
Well, it can be hard. Because trying new and different things is hard! The following is meant to be a humorous, light-hearted list of the challenges of shopping for Christmas dinner in Mexico, all of which I survived.
1/ Our refusal to use the metric system
As of 2021, the United States is only one of three countries that does not use the metric system. The other two countries are Myanmar and Liberia. Therefore, when I want to bake cookies for Santa and I Google a U.S. recipe to use, all of the recipe’s measurements are in cups and ounces.
That’s all fine and dandy until you get to the grocery store in Mexico and all of the ingredients are in grams and milliliters. What the heck is a gram?
2/ Baking soda in the pharmacy
In a foreign country, grocery items are not located where you would expect them. As a consequence, you find yourself wandering in circles, blocking the aisles, and harassing store employees about every little thing you’re looking for.
Case in point: sugar. You’d expect it to be on the baking aisle, right? It’s not.
Another case in point: baking soda. You’d expect baking soda to be right beside the baking powder. Well, the baking powder is with the flour, where it belongs. But the baking soda is across from the counter where the pharmacist hands out prescriptions. Yes, in the pharmacy section.
3/ As rare as macadamia nuts
The Santa we know is particularly fond of white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. In fact, there’s some doubt about whether Santa will even visit without this kind of cookie. Our Santa plays hard ball.
So imagine my dismay when I browsed the two nut areas of the store and couldn’t find macadamia anywhere. Christmas is ruined! It just so happened that Santa was my shopping partner that day, and he selflessly told me he would suffer through plain ole white chocolate cookies. I felt horrible (as if I were somehow responsible for the stocking selection of the store).
A little later while passing the meat section, I happened upon a display table of special Christmas ingredients. On the backside of the table were my macadamia nuts! They may have been 200 pesos for 250 grams, but that was beside the point. Christmas is saved!
4/ The search for brown sugar
After finding the glorious macadamia nuts, I was impervious to any other disappointment. But I did confront another challenge. I know this is hard to believe, but this beautiful, modern, well-stocked grocery store did not contain brown sugar. Oh, it had imported lemon curd from England, but it did not have brown sugar anywhere.
How can this be? I still don’t understand. I had to Google “chocolate chip cookies without brown sugar” to make sure such a thing was even possible. And I had to wonder how to make sweet potato casserole and candied carrots without brown sugar (I’ll let you know how it goes).
5/ I’m out of practice
As I stumbled through this bear of a grocery shop for arguably the most important meal of the year, one over-arching challenge hung over everything. Seeing as how we’ve been traveling full-time for almost eight years, do you know the last time I cooked a holiday meal by myself? I honestly can’t remember.
It’s one thing to be wingman to my mom, with her familiar kitchen and familiar grocery store–I’m really good at that. But it’s another thing to plan and execute a big meal in a foreign country, with no mixer for mashed potatoes and no brown sugar.
But as these things go, the problems feel more overwhelming before you confront them. At this point, the shopping is behind me and I know what I have to work with. I’m in the Christmas spirit and delighted to spend a cozy Christmas day in the kitchen, surrounded by the ones I love.
And so to you, Merry Christmas and our love for a bright new year.