Anatomy of a Latin Tiendita

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (here and here and here for example) I spend a lot of time in a couple mostly Latino suburban neighborhoods. And as I’ve mentioned in other posts, I spent much of my time in Bogotá ordering Coke Zero and Doritos from the tiendita around the corner from my apartment (here, here and here) and watching SVU episodes. No, I’m not proud, but it is what it is. These two facts may seem unrelated, but I’ve found that if ever I’m missing Bogotá I need only to take a quick stroll around my work neighborhood and I’m instantly transported back to Chapinero, haphazard architecture, potholes, rotisserie chicken aroma and all.

But there’s nothing quite like a tiendita to remind me of my days in Bogotá. Tienditas have a special place in my heart and although (as far as I can tell) I can’t exactly call up my local tiendita to order Coke Zero and Doritos, I do enjoy visiting tienditas from time to time, reminiscing about the days of old. My favorite tiendita is the Culmore Supermarket, which lies at the heart of the mostly Guatemalan/Salvadoran Culmore neighborhood. There’s nothing particularly memorable or unique about this supermarket — it’s really just your everyday, typical Latin food market — but it’s my favorite because it’s only a block from my office.

The tiendita is different from a regular grocery store in the following ways:

1.) It’s smaller.

2.) It carries Latino brands and products, almost exclusively.

3.) Everybody who comes in and works there seems to know each other. And everyone seems to speak Spanish.

4.) It’s usually independently owned.

5.) It’s usually less fancy. You will not find any organic options here.

6.) The tortilla section is out of control.

I don’t find that tienditas are much cheaper than regular grocery stores despite the fact that they cater to a mostly lower-income population, but I suppose their attraction lies in the fact that they carry familiar foods and brands in a small, welcoming environment. Aside from stocking up on fruits, poultry and chips, you can put prepaid minutes on your phone, buy the lottery and gossip with your neighbors. Sometimes I feel like I’ve stumbled on an unofficial party when I go to the Culmore Supermarket in Falls Church.  

Culmore Supermarket storefront.

Culmore Supermarket storefront.

Poultry/beef section at the Culmore Supermarket. I especially enjoy the photo of raw chicken in the background.

Poultry/beef section at the Culmore Supermarket. I especially enjoy the photo of raw chicken in the background.

It's a little blurry, but here you can appreciate the tortilla selection.

It’s a little blurry, but here you can appreciate the tortilla selection. This is a little different from Bogotá, where you’d find arepas instead of tortillas.

Spices and herbs at Culmore Supermarket.

Spices and herbs at Culmore Supermarket.

More spices and herbs.

More spices and herbs.

Every Latin Tiendita needs a queso fresco section.

Every Latin Tiendita needs a queso fresco section.

Produce, juice and more tortillas and arepas.

Produce, juice and more tortillas and arepas.

Canned goods section.

Canned goods section.

Miscellaneous section.

Miscellaneous section.

Produce section.

Produce section.



Categories: D.C, D.C Culture, Suburbs

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. Never heard the term “tiendita” before but I like it! Not quite a mercado but bigger than the bodegas I grew up with in NY.

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