Category Archives: Shops & Markets

NYC Food Adventures: Cancun Deli & Grocery

Christopher Rios mural

Yes, the empanadas make it worth a visit

During our brief trip to NYC, we took a tour of the outer boroughs. We visited Harlem, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, and we stopped for food twice. In the Bronx, we purportedly stopped to see a mural of Christopher Rios, a young rapper from the neighborhood who had met an early death. But really, the point was to visit Cancun Deli & Grocery, kitty corner from the mural.

I was happy to stop at Cancun for a couple of reasons. One, is that one of the typical foodie cultural experiences to have in NYC is to stop at a bodega. The second was their empanadas. They were mentioned in glowing terms in many of the reviews of the tour. Apparently, it is indeed visits from tour groups that keep Cancun Deli open – the enterprising owners started giving empanada samples to tour guides that came to visit the mural, and they got hooked. Now they have several tours stopping by daily.

Cancun’s empanadas are made by hand (though by now, they may be assembled by machine) by the owner,  Nathalie Rodriguez, a Dominican immigrant who learned to make empanadas by watching YouTube videos. After tasting them, I can say she found her calling. The fried empanadas, served warm, had a thin, crunchy tasty shell and a generous amount of filling. I ordered the Korean beef empanada and Mike had the standard beef empanada. Mike liked his empanada, which was quite flavorful, but we both loved mine. I don’t think there was much to it, it was basically a bulgogi empanada, which is a brilliant, brilliant idea that I’ll have to try myself (though, while fried empanadas are usually better than oven-baked ones, I’m not a fan of deep frying).

In all, the stop at Cancun was great, and if you happen to be in the neighborhood – or take a tour of the Bronx – make sure you grab an empanada there.

Cancun Deli & Grocery
908 E 163rd St
The Bronx, NYC
(718) 676-9765
7 AM - 10 PM




On Oxtails

The differences in prices are incomprehensible

Tonight for dinner, I made a fabulous oxtail stew from a recipe from Jerez de la Frontera – I will publish it shortly. Making the stew, however, was far easier than actually procuring the oxtails. They used to be a relatively cheap cut of meat, but I guess demand has gone up as prices are through the roof and all over the place.



I ordered my first four pounds of oxtails from Safeway, as they were on sale for $7/lb. This is what passes for a very good price right now for a cut that is mostly bone, fat and gelatin and, as a result, has very little meat. As usual, I asked for no substitutions as Safeway almost invariably substitutes the meat on sale I order for far more expensive stuff. Indeed, I’ve had to call to complain about these substitutions so often, that the day before I placed this order I spoke with two different Safeway employees about the fact that I did not want any substitutions, no matter how well intentioned they were.

Anyway, I digress, but as I half expected, Safeway did not send me the 4 lbs of $7/lb oxtails I ordered, but instead sent me two small packages of vacuum packed oxtails for $13/lb! To add insult to injury, those packages included some of the thinnest bones from the tail. I was not happy. I got a refund, but was still left in need of another source for oxtails to have enough for my recipe.

What do you think Safeway guarantees 100%?


Enter Cardenas supermarket, which also had fresh oxtails on sale, for $9/lb (though closer to $11/lb when you add Instacart fees and tips). That might seem a lot, but the price of oxtails at other supermarkets was even higher. They were $10/lb at Costco, $13/lb at Raleys, $17.3 at 99 Ranch Market and $23/lb to $34/lb at Hmart! Now, these are Instacart prices, but what the hell???!!!!

There were significant differences between the oxtails I got from Cardenas (those seen at the top of the pan) and Safeway (bottom). The former were all medium to large pieces, and had a fresh red color. The latter included quite a few small bones, and they had a weird purplish color, that didn’t quite show up in the picture, probably from the packing method. Still, once I cooked them they were all very good. Indeed, the tiny pieces had very little meat but what they had was particularly succulent, probably as it shared more surface area with the sauce.

I was telling my husband how this could have been an $80 dish if I hadn’t shopped so carefully (frankly, it’d have been more – I’d forgotten about the $16 bottle of sherry I’d pour into the stew). He said he felt it’d have been worth $80. He is a smart man.

Note: the link to Instacart is a referral link, if you subscribed immediately after you click on it, I might get $10 credit and you would as well. You probably can get a better deal elsewhere, though.

Where’s The Beef?

Review of Cardenas Markets’ T-bone steaks

Cardenas Markets is a relatively small chain of mid size Mexican supermarkets in California. They have regular groceries, an expanded section of Mexican and Latino groceries, as well as a bakery and deli which offers a small variety of hot meals. I discovered it when it joined Instacart during the first year of the pandemic. I have since ordered from it occasionally, it’s the only market serviced by Instacart that carries empanada shells (albeit the Goya brand).

I don’t usually order beef at Cardenas – though I was very happy with the beef chuck I got from them over the summer -, but their T-bone steaks were on sale ($6/lb), so I decided to give them a try. I was grossly disappointed.

A T-bone steak gets its name from the T-shape form in which the vertebra is cut. It includes a strip steak on one side, and a filet mignon or tenderloin in the other. It’s supposed to let you indulge in the tenderness of the filet and the flavorfulness of the strip, without having to compromise for either. They are supposed to look like the photo below, which I took from the Cardenas page at Instacart. What I got, is what you can see in the photo above. It was basically a bone-in strip steak with little to no tenderloin. I felt ripped off – $6/lb is super cheap for a T-bone (but supermarkets often have loss leaders), but I still expect to get a T-bone when I order a T-bone. If you are going to put a photo of a T-bone and call it a T-bone, make it a T-bone

Cardenas Beef T-Bone Steak
The second problem was that the steak was cut very thin. As Cardenas does not indicate the grade of meat they sell, I’m going to guess they are “select,” the grade with the least marbling and therefore toughest meat. If these are particularly tough, it makes sense that they cut them thin. But be forewarned that that’s what you get.

Now, flavor-wise they weren’t bad. They were pretty generic, tasty steaks. The type I did grow up eating as everyday fair for lunch without giving it much thought. Nowadays I expect a little more from a steak, of course, though for $6/lb perhaps I shouldn’t.

In all, I wouldn’t buy them again.



Note: the link to Instacart is a referral link, if you subscribed immediately after you click on it, I might get $10 credit and you would as well. You probably can get a better deal elsewhere, though.

Where to find exotic ingredients in the East Bay

A guide for myself

I’m lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, where I have access to lots of stores with lots of international ingredients. And these ingredients have become far easier to find in recent years. Still, finding them can still be a hassle, and often times I forget where I actually found a particular ingredient when I need to buy it again. I’m hoping to use this blog post to remind myself.

Black Truffles I found them at the Berkeley Bowl during truffle season, but I wasn’t too impressed with the flavor.

Candlenuts These large nuts are used as thickeners and flavor enhancers in southeastasian cuisine. I have yet to find them in the East Bay, so I’ve substituted with their cousin, macadamia nuts. The latter are sold in bulk at Sprouts at a reasonable price.

Coconut flakes, frozen, I was able to find at both the 88 Manor Markets and at Santos Spices in San Leandro

Curry leaves They are regularly sold fresh at Santos Spices in San Leandro.

Dark Soy Sauce is a darker, thicker and slightly sweet soy sauce mostly used to darken dishes. I’ve found it at the 88 Manor Markets. Recipes that call for it include Soy-Glazed Black pepper chicken and Lion’s head meatballs.

Galangal root (also spelled galanga) adds a special flavor to Thai/Indonesian/Malay dishes. I usually find it at the 88 Manor Markets in San Leandro, but it’s often available at the Berkeley Bowl as well. It freezes fairly well.

Glutinous Rice Flour/Powder is available at some regular supermarkets, but I got it at the 88 Manor Markets

Indonesian Bay Leaves aka salam leaves. They are different than Indian or western bay leaves, and I haven’t been able to find them locally yet.

Jameed is a Jordanian yogurt used in sauces. I was able to find it in liquid form at Santos Spices in San Leandro.

Kaffir Lime leaves are an indispensable element for many southeast Asian dishes. I’d seen them at the 88 Manor Markets in the past, but I couldn’t find them last time I needed them, so I bought them off someone on Facebook marketplace who had her own tree. Since then I’ve found that my friends J. & G. have their own tree. The leaves can be frozen, and they seem to retain their flavor well.

Kecap manis is an Indonesian sweet soy sauce. It’s been surprisingly hard to find, but I did find it at the 88 Manor Markets. If you can’t find it, you can make your own.

Light Soy Sauce is the default soy sauce in Chinese cuisine, lighter in color and a bit less salty than the standard Japanese soy sauce. It’s not the same as Kikkoman lite soy sauce. It’s widely available and I found it at the 88 Manor Markets. You can substitute with regular or tamari soy sauce.

Shaoxing wine This cheap, sweet Chinese rice wine is actually not too hard to find, and it’s available at the 88 Manor Markets. Recipes that call for it include Braised Winter Melon, Braised Pork Belly, Walnut chicken and Royal Concubine Chicken wings. You can substitute with sherry.

Shrimp paste This southeast Asian condiment is available at the 88 Manor Markets.

Palm oil. The small 88 Manor Market in San Leandro carries several brands of African red palm oil.

Palm nut sauce. An ingredient in west African recipes can be found at the small 88 Manor Market in San Leandro.

Palm sugar. Found it at the small 88 Manor Market in San Leandro, but not at the large new one.

Pandan leaves These leaves are used as wrappers and to flavor food. They are listed as available fresh at the Berkeley Bowl and I found them frozen at the small 88 Manor Market in San Leandro (couldn’t find them at the new, larger one nearby).

Rock Sugar Chinese rock sugar consists of large yellow sugar crystals and is used to give shine to glaces as well as a sweetener. It’s easily available at Asian supermarkets and I found it at the 88 Manor Markets in San Leandro. White rock sugar is available at Santos Spices in San Leandro.

Sweet Bean Paste/Sauce These are, theoretically, different sauces, with the former being made primarily of beans and the latter of wheat. However, the sweet bean sauce that I found at the 88 Manor Markets in San Leandro had beans as its main ingredient. Apparently, despite the different ingredients, you can use the two interchangeably.

Turmeric root. Fresh turmeric root is an ingredient in many Thai and Indonesian dishes. I’ve found it at Raley’s, but it’s also available at supermarkets like Sprouts and the Berkeley Bowl. It freezes well, but don’t defrost it before you peel/use it because it turns to mush. Just peel it frozen.

Pampa Direct – Review

This online store for Argentinian products really delivers

Argentine products used to be hard to find in the US. For years, we had to make our own dulce de leche by boiling cans of condensed milk or cooking it from scratch. Making empanadas meant making the shells by hand, and if you wanted yerba mate or Argentinian sweets, you had to wait until someone brought them to you from a trip.

Slowly in the 90’s and then quicker in the 00’s, Argentinian products started to make their way into Latin markets in the US. For years, I was able to find them at Casa Lucas in unincorporated San Leandro, but this closed a few years ago. Fortunately, there are several Argentinian stores in the LA area, so I’ve been able to fill my needs when I go to visit my parents. The pandemic, however, has put a stop to this so I went looking for a place to buy Argentine products online. Enter Pampa Direct.

Pampa Direct sells a wide variety of shelf stable Argentine products, from candy and snacks, to all sort of Dulce de Leche products, wines and even mate gourds. Their prices are very reasonable, in line with those of the Argentinian markets in LA, and most amazingly, they ship from Argentina.

I made a HUGE order that included alcohol and it took about 10 days to arrive. Shipping is free in order over $50, and they have a free gift if you order at least $100. They also added some extras to my order, perhaps because it was so big.

Raley’s Beef Ribeye Roast – Review

Standing Rib Roast with Rosemary-Thyme Crust

This year, I made a standing rib roast for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The 2-rib Thanksgiving roast was bought at a local butcher. It was expensive, so much so that my husband hid the total price from me to not give me a heart attack. Still, we had had a similar roast from that butcher 16 years before and he had dreamt about it every since, the Pandemic Thanksgiving seemed like a good time to revisit it. We all loved it. My husband rated it a solid 8.5-9 in a 10 point scale.

When time came for making our Christmas menu, both of them requested a prime rib roast again. I wasn’t thrilled about cooking the same thing, and there was no way I was going to revisit that expense – but when I saw that Raley’s had the equivalent cut for $6/lb I decided to give it a go.

I will admit that I was apprehensive. These days you a chuck or eye of roast costs about that much. But Raley’s advertised the meat as being choice grade, so I figured why not? I was pleasantly surprised.

Even though I kept the meat in the fridge until its “sell by” date, the roast was very good, tasty and tender. Not as much as our uber-expensive Thanksgiving roast, but much more than it had any right to be for the price. My husband gave it a 7/10. I would not hesitate to serve it to guests.

And I just might, because it seems Raley’s has sales on prime rib every year around the holidays.

Finally, Raley’s advertised its roast as “Beef Ribeye Roast, Bone In” which confused me for a while. I knew that butchers call a prime rib roast devoid of bones “ribeye roast”, but I thought that if it had the bones it was called “prime rib” or “standing rib roast”. So I spent a fair amount of time researching this. You can do the same, but for all extents and purposes, if what you want to make is prime rib or a standing rib roast, this is the same thing by another name. Do remember that “prime” can refer both to this cut, but also to the grade of meat. Prime grade beef has greater fat marbling than choice grade meat, which has itself more marbling than “select”, a grade that seems to have disappeared from supermarkets in the last few years.

Belgian Waffles

One of the delights of downtown Brussels is their waffle stores.  Here, you can eat freshly made waffles with a variety of toppings.  A big variety.  The ones I tried were delicious but a pain in the but to eat on the go, specially as the plastic forks provided were too weak to easily cut the thick waffles.  The flavors were great, however.  I might want to recreate this at home.

Candy Club Subscription Review: A half-sour experience

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Candy Club: Up to 3 lbs old-fashioned candies, $34/month
Promo: fbtreatyourself20 for $20 off your first box
I paid: $14 with promo, box value: $
To unsubscribe: call 888-598-5995, quick & easy

The Candy Club is a monthly subscription that sends you 2 to 3 pounds of old fashioned candies every month. Boxes come with 3 plastic jars of lose candy and individually wrapped candies filling up the rest of the box. The box is also supposed to include a “surprise confection”, generally a wrapped cookie or candy bar, but it was missing from my box. I didn’t notice until now, which makes me sad as it would probably have been my favorite item in the box. The candy containers look pretty cool, but they are actually made of thin, flexible plastic – so they are not really reusable.

This boxed is supposed to have a retail value of $60. To me, that seems impossible. I came up with a $16 value for this box, using online prices. Now, those values are calculated based on the purchase of much larger quantities, but even at regular candy stores, lose candy goes for $8-$12 a lb. I got 2 1/2 lbs of candy so, at the most, this box is worth $30. It was a deal at the $14 price I paid, but not much of one at the $34 cost of subsequent boxes. Fortunately, cancelling was easy. I just called the number and was unsubscribed without

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Sour Power Candy Belts in Wild Cherry, 9 oz, $2.5

These were sour, really sour. I had trouble eating even the tiny piece I tried. My children, however, enjoyed them.


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Gimbal’s Sour Gourmet Jelly Beans, 14 oz, $8.5

I also found these to be incredibly sour, though quite tasty after you were done with that. Nobody else in my family found them sour, however, showing their taste buds are gone. Enjoyable but not better than regular Jelly Belly’s.

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IMG_0178 Gimbal’s Red Licorice Scottie Dogs, 10 oz, $5

I didn’t realize these were made of licorice until I just checked what they were call to write about them. You would have fooled me, they don’t taste at all like licorice. That’s a good thing as I hate licorice. That said, these didn’t taste of much anything. Everyone at my house agreed these were not worth the calories.


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Sweet’s Cotton Candy Salt Water Taffy, ~7 oz, $2.5

These were everyone’s favorites. Really delicious taffy that really tasted like cotton candy. I may very well buy some more of these in the future.

Check out my other subscription box reviews.

African products @ 88 Supermarket in San Leandro

I just stopped by the 88 Supermarket to buy some frozen banana leaves ($1.20), and while I waited for Mike to finish the purchase, I did some quick browsing.  I was happy to find one aisle with a bunch of African items. They had manioc, cassava, semolina and plantain flours, some manioc couscous, flour for fufu, egusi, groundnut butter (peanut butter but African), lots and lots of palm oil (starting at $4 for a small jar).  You can see some of the other products they carry on the picture below. I originally thought they didn’t have maggi cubes, but clearly this picture shows that they do.

88 Supermarket
14405 E 14th St
San Leandro, CA
(510) 351-8200

Buying a Catfish @ 88 Super Market

New empanada venture in the East Bay

I haven’t been to SadieDey’s Cafe in downtown Oakland since it was called Tumble n’ Tea and my kids were little. Back then I enjoyed it, so I was sad to receive an e-mail today announcing that it was closer. The owners started selling homemade pies a few months back at the cafe, and they seem to have found their passion. They are closing SadieDey at the end of May and starting a pie-business.
The e-mail implied that they may be getting a food truck, but their website suggests that they’re selling the pies from a bicycle. In any case, while the pies are called pies they look very much like empanadas. Their fillings are pretty eclectic, however, and include chicken gorgonzola, beef in tomato sauce, apple brie and even coconut curry and aloo matar (Indian potatoes & peas). They also have some dessert ones. They use mostly organic ingredients.
The pies are not cheap, they cost about $7-8 and, in the pictures, at least, they seem to be the size of an empanada. But I imagine they must be considerably larger (or very filled), as otherwise they’d be significantly overpriced. You usually need to eat three regular-size empanadas to call it a meal.
In any case, I’m curious about them and if I ever come across their bike or their truck I’ll give them a try.
Sue’s Sassy Pies
http://suessassiepies.wordpress.com/