Pick a Pepper

by

01/20/2002

Broadway & Tiemann Pl, new york, ny 10027

Neighborhood: Harlem

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Over the Internet came the call for help: my expatriate Upper West Side sister, living now for twenty years in a European capital, was soon to cook a Mexican meal. All the ingredients were to be had in the vast marketplaces of Amsterdam, all except the peppers.

Not being one to leave a sister in the lurch, I took a stroll to the little supermarket, Thrifty’s, across Broadway from where I live. The sign actually says Thrifty Supermarket, but locally it is known as Thrifty’s. It is too grand a term: supermarket. It is far too small and sells almost no fresh produce or meat, but it does have a reputation for stocking every common foodstuff (cereal, milk) and oddity (foil lined cupcake pan liners) one might need. The big question: would they have chipotle peppers?

I began my search in an efficient grid pattern, searching the four aisles for the mysterious spice. I was not really sure what they would look like so I inspected every likely wrapped, canned, and potted item I saw. Having no luck in the spice or pepper departments (impressive in itself as a complete rack of ten varieties of devilish looking dried husks) my sprits began to fall and I sulked over to the clerk.

I asked, “Do you have chipotle peppers?” and then, when he looked blankly back at me, I repeated “Chipotle” five more times. The apparent hopelessness of the conversation did not deter the faithful clerk from leading me on a fruitless second inspection of the spice and pepper departments. He then led us to the previously undiscovered Mexican department, which somehow I had missed during my solo tour. The Mexican department consisted of two shelves of authentic looking and oddly proportioned cans and jars. Pointing excitedly the clerk declared, "Chipotle!" exactly as I had said it him, and left me to attend to matters while he went back to the cash register.»

Goya the painter, not the canned food concern, but an illustration of Goya nevertheless.

My joy and relief began to fade when I realized that they had two kinds of chipotle peppers. One was in a Goya can (7 oz.) and looked fiery red on the label. The second one in a La Morena can (also 7 oz, but squatter in proportion and with an authentic south-of-the-border look about it) where the picture on the label looked like a clump of smoked oysters. Despite this new complication I knew I was closing in on success.

I studiously began reading the not-so-helpful labels when I was approached by what appeared to be a tiny Mexican fairy godfather. With no words passing between us he sensed my conundrum and took the Goya can from my hand, wagged a finger at me and made a hot face. Then he took La Morena from me and made a yummy face. So, half an hour later, wiser, slightly enchanted and a dollar and nineteen cents poorer (no tax on peppers in NY!) I sat before a glowing screen and the charming visage of Ms. Morena bragging SUCCESS from across the sea!

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