Saras Mercado

Photo by Matt OttoSome people bemoan the lack of affordable housing in this county. Me? I whine about Colombian grub.

The 2000 Census found that Colombians are the county's largest South American group, but I could never find a business—not a market, not a restaurant, not even a damn pushcart—that sold Colombian goodies such as cheesy arepas, sausages the size of Mag-lites and the country's brick-big tamales. I pursued rumors and hounded my Colombian friends and enemies—nothing. I even cornered a parking lot attendant with a Colombian-flag wristwatch and called his countrymen lazy.

I can now take the insult back—and pin it on me. For the past four years, Sara's Mercado, a storefront in a section of Westminster Boulevard not occupied by Little Saigon, has imported Colombian produce directly from the homeland. Its three badly lit aisles tower above shoppers' heads with Colombian favorites: smoked oysters, slabs of arequipe (a decadent, silky milk candy), fruity cooking sauces and three different types of salty-sweet fried plantain chips for snacking. The beverage cooler near the entrance is a Sam's Club of Colombian sodas—Cola Colombiana, a cross between 7-Up and Orange Slice; the sludgy, alcohol-free beer Pony Malta; and the breakfast-in-a-carton Alquera oatmeal drink. A rack bulges with Colombian entertainment rags. Next to pots and pans are shelves of votive candles, the biggest seller being Our Lady of Chiquinquira.

But in the back, in the corner, are two freezers stocked with what will be your lunch for the next couple of weeks. Here, the man-and-woman team that runs Sara's keeps microwavable Colombian food, items you won't find anywhere else in the county. Throw away your corn tortillas and replace them with arepas, thick griddle cakes made with cheese-spiked masa. Greasy cheese breads called buuelos await soup-dunking; luscious morcilla sausages plumped with rice and congealed blood are perfect for grilling; amongst the five different types of empanadas are some stuffed with milky guava fruit. Sara's even offers ingredients for the cooks amongst ustedes—mostimpressive of these is a minty herb called guasca that's necessary for the national Colombian chicken soup, ajiaco, and is notoriously difficult to obtain in the States. Sara's bounty is a godsend and a lesson for me: I will forever keep my yap shut about the entrepreneurial spirit of our Orange County ethnic groups. Now if the Bhutanese community would only get off their asses . . .



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