Call me a little crazy, but when I lived in the West Village I was always complaining about the price of basic groceries like milk. Well, especially milk, because not only did it cost a lot more there than it did anywhere else, it also almost always spoiled long before the expiration date.
Now that I live uptown, the situation has improved in a big way. My closest grocery store is not some overpriced gourmet shop selling bloated milk cartons. It is called Food Universe, and I, for one, love it. No, it's not the most organized, nor is it stocked to perfection. But the milk is fairly priced–and often lasts much longer than the expiration date. What's more, the people stocking the dairy aisle have been known to finish brief transactions with a kindly "God bless you" in Spanish. Beat that, downtown grocer!
The neighborhood surrounding Food Universe is changing, so among the Goya products you'll find dozens of Kombucha flavors, three brands of pink Himalayan salt, and every type of grain that Bob's Red Mill produces. But it's the Hispanic food, from Mexican-style corn tortillas to Ecuadorian cheese to Colombian chocolate, that has my heart. Here are just some of my favorites:
1. GOYA FROZEN TROPICAL FRUIT
Basic banana-and-strawberry smoothies may be tried-and-true, but at home I love to copy the fruit drinks I've tried in the tropics. And the best way to do that is with a trip to the frozen food aisle, where I can find everything from frozen passion fruit to papaya, which I blend with ripe bananas and pure coconut water for a healthy morning treat.
2. ENDLESS VARIETIES OF COCONUT WATER
Speaking of coconut water, Food Universe's customers really love it. How else to explain the fact that you can find this refreshing natural drink in almost every corner of the store: near the entrance, all the way in the back, and throughout the aisles. And not just the big brands like Vita Coco. I find new ones every time I go, such as Sococo from Brazil. I simply see what's on sale and buy it.
3. TAKIS Chips
I first learned to love Takis while on vacation in Mexico. These snacks are getting easier to find in New York (and the packaging is now sometimes in English), but I still get excited when I see them. Takis are supposed to be like mini taquitos, or small, rolled-up tortillas that have been fried. I would describe them more as lime-y Mexican Doritos–so addictive, you will need a lot of napkins to keep your fingers clean from the dark orange seasoning.
4. TAJIN SEASONING
Last summer I was obsessed with trying to replicate the mangos that street vendors cut into flowers and dust with spice. After trying to make them the Martha Stewart way (pure chili powder and fresh lime juice) and the Trader Joe's way (it sells a Chile Lime Seasoning Blend), I did a little more digging and discovered the spice in question is usually Tajin, a Mexican-made blend of chili peppers, sea salt and dehydrated lime juice. Naturally, Food Universe sells it.
5. GOYA STuffed OLIVES in a can
I can't remember which friend told me about these canned Goya olives years ago when I lived near C-Town on Avenue C. But lo and behold, here they are again. These olives are great with an aperitivo when there's not much else in the house. The minced anchovies add a certain umami taste (not fishy as you would expect).