Latino market provides right ingredients in Boston

Latin major: Hi-Lo is Hub hot spot for Hispanic ingredients
By Mat Schaffer January 21, 2009

Planning a Latin meal? Then a visit to Hi-Lo Foods is a must - the Jamaica Plain supermarket has the largest selection of hard-to-find Caribbean, Central and South American ingredients in the Boston area.

Manager Bill Jordan began working at the store when it first opened - in November 1963.

“The neighborhood at the time was mostly Eastern European and Irish,” he recalls. “That’s how I first got the idea to bring in products relative to the ethnicities of the people that lived around the store.”

As the neighborhood changed, so did the products on the shelves.

“It was 35 or 40 years ago,” Jordan says. “We had a large influx of Hispanic customers. So we decided to do the same thing. Find out what they buy, find the companies that make those products and go from there.”

Today, Hi-Lo is a treasure trove of Hispanic and West Indian foods.

Walk down the crowded aisles and you’ll find Bolivian quinoa, Peruvian purple corn, Argentine chimichurri and Colombian panela sugar. There are foodstuffs from Venezuela, Uruguay, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.

The Mexican section has everything you need to cook Mexican - from dried chilies to bottled salsas and mole pastes.

Hi-Lo also stocks dozens of fresh Latin American-style sausages, cheeses and tortillas. The produce department is filled with boxes and bins of Caribbean roots and vegetables - from malanga to batata .

All of which are priced considerably less than almost anywhere else.

“We get the sales volume,” Jordan explains. “We find that as long as we promote the products that people are looking for - whether it’s a specific culture or country - and we sell it at a reasonable price or very good price, they’ll come.”

For socializing as well as shopping. Hi-Lo Foods is as much a community center as a market.

“Everybody knows everybody else,” Jordan says. “I’ve seen people come in and talk to people for two to three hours. It’s like a meeting place. We have people coming from everywhere.”

Hi-Lo Foods, 450 Centre St., Jamaica Plain. 617-522-6364.

ARROZ CON CHORIZO Y PASAS

One 7 1/2 oz mild Mexican chorizo
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 to 2 T canola oil, as needed
1 1/2 c converted rice
1/3 c seedless golden raisins
3 c hot water
1 t salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 c frozen peas
2 T chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 large ripe (yellow) plantain
2 hard cooked eggs, peeled and cut into wedges, for garnish
Pimento strips for garnish

Remove the chorizo from its casing and place in a heavy 10-inch skillet with a cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up the chorizo with a wooden spoon. When the chorizo starts rendering its fat, 3 to 4 minutes, stir in the onion. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring a few times, until the onion is transparent, about 5 minutes. If there is not enough fat and the onion starts sticking, add up to 1 tablespoon of the oil to finish cooking the onion.

Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute to coat the grains with the fat. Add the raisins, water, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over the lowest possible heat for 15 minutes. Scatter the peas and cilantro on top, cover, and finish cooking until all the water has been absorbed and the peas are heated through, about 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork, cover and set aside to dry for 5 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, peel the plantain and cut into thirds, then cut each third lengthwise into three slices. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over low heat in a medium size nonstick skillet. Add the plantain, cover, and cook until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.

Transfer the rice mixture to a serving platter and arrange the plantain slices, egg wedges and pimento strips on top.

Serve with a tossed salad.

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