Our dear friend Carl celebrates his birthday about 10 days after Marcus', and last year, since both he and Marcus enjoy cooking, his wife Trish and I sprang for a culinary tour of Houston for the two of them. (Houston is, by the way, the best city in the country for foodies. If you don't believe me, take a look at this.) The tour was led by Chef Hugo Ortega, a multiple James Beard award nominee and one of the most renowned of Houston's chefs, and included a tour of various restaurants focused specifically on authentic Mexican food (Chef Hugo's eponymous restaurant is one of the best in town). And while the food (and tequila) were great, what Marcus came home raving about the most was the Mexican market where they started their tour.
"I really need to take you there," Marcus gushed. "It's where Chef Hugo gets all of his ingredients. It's amazing. And it's huge. And there's this bakery that has ... well, everything. It's a photographer's dream. We have to go."
It took almost a year for me to make it there, but this weekend, Marcus finally took Alex and me to see it. First, we stopped at the bakery to pick up a couple of pastries for breakfast.
El Bolillo Bakery is one of those places that smells like what I'm sure heaven smells like. Everything is fresh, made right on the property (one of the employees told me that they have a team who bakes all night before opening at 5 a.m. every morning), and it's sort of difficult not to be paralyzed with indecision, everything looks so amazing. But I chose a fresh bread roll stuffed with cheese and jalapeños, and Marcus and Alex chose something equally delicious, and once we paid, we headed across the street to the market, while we munched on our very delicious breakfast.
Canino Market opens up into a gigantic (and immaculate) produce hall, with just about every fruit and vegetable that you can imagine -- both locally grown, and clearly shipped in from more tropical climes. The variety was astounding.
And then ...
... once we made it through the produce hall, we entered the real market. This area was full of the more exotic fruits, as well as kitchenware, medicinal herbs, dried peppers, children's toys, handmade pottery, piñatas, Mexican and Latin American candies -- everything. And while the clientele was clearly predominantly Mexican and Central American, I couldn't help but be strongly reminded of Trinidad, especially the open-air markets that we have there. There were fruits I haven't seen in years: green -- green! -- avocados the size of my head (as opposed to the small black wrinkly ones that are more popular here in America), and we bought the most delicious mangos I've ever had in the United States. Biting into it, I was instantly transported back to my grandmother's garden behind her house.
I was kicking myself for not having visited this place sooner. It was amazing.
Both the bakery and the market have been in Houston for decades, and I can't imagine how I missed visiting these places earlier. So if you're in Houston, don't make my mistake -- go see them both. I'll definitely be back (especially around Christmas time, when my hankering for making Trinidadian food is strong.)