Variety Store

Variety Store

Determined to get outside my mundane supermarket routine, I stepped into Tlaxcala Grocery in East Rock (map), where I found that delicious feeling of something new and different.

Draped in the colors of the Mexican flag, the shop’s otherwise unassuming facade aligns with the its narrow, low-frills interior filled with authentic products. Equally daunted and excited, I spent the better part of an hour sifting through the modest wire shelves, not knowing exactly what I was looking for. After a while spent scanning the wall of spices and bins of assorted nuts, seeds and dried chilis and fruits, it finally dawned on me that before me was everything I needed to make mole negro, a darker, richer variant of Mexico’s national dish and an appropriate choice, as the store’s namesake Tlaxcala, positioned just east of Mexico City, is one of three Mexican states claiming to be the birthplace of mole.

As I collected the 30-plus ingredients, I questioned my ability to pull it off. With no doting abuela to impart her knowledge, the complexity of the task had me sweating. But apparently I’m a glutton for punishment as much as for good food. I cleared my Sunday calendar and got to work.

I started by removing the seeds and stems of the pasilla, guajillo and ancho chilis, which I then charred in the oven, rinsed three times, boiled and let soak. I seared the tomatillos, roma tomatoes, plaintains, onions and garlic to a medium char in my cast iron pan and fried the nuts, seeds and spices in pork fat. (At this point my kitchen was smelling really good.) I tossed it all into my dutch oven for a simmer in chicken stock. Then I blended the concoction, whole spices and all, “fried” the sauce in a pool of hot oil and melted in a hefty chunk of Mexican chocolate. The result was an incredibly aromatic, earthy sauce that coated my wooden spoon in a burnt umber.

Realizing I had finally made mole negro, I felt more like an alchemist than a home cook. I paired mine with a roasted chicken leg, but it would be equally delicious with grilled vegetables or fish, and while I’ve tasted better mole, I certainly enjoyed mine, which deepened my appreciation for this Mexican “mother sauce.”

There are plenty of ready-made, low-pressure items to enjoy at Tlaxcala. The tortillas imported from Mexico are the best around—pliable, tender and actually smelling and tasting like corn. I also sampled the squash blossom quesadillas, assorted tamales (my favorite) and gorditas de frijol, likewise imported from Mexico (and delivered on Fridays). Some esoteric items can be found behind the counter as well, including dried camerones (shrimp), pancita de borrego (lamb belly) and chapulines (fried grasshoppers). Mexican food staples such as cotija cheese, avocados, hot sauces and beyond are well-stocked.

So, whether you’re the type of eater to be inspired or scared off by my mole adventure, a trip to Tlaxcala Grocery is probably an adventure worth taking.

Tlaxcala Grocery
964 State St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm
(203) 497-8361

Written and photographed by Katie Lloyd.

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