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Feb 25, 2007 06:50 PM

Need good latino produce market in central OC

HI all.

I've gotten hooked lately watching Daisy Cooks on PBS and just got the matching cookbook. I already started small with the tostones (fried plantains), which were great. I want to make more of the recipes, but I'm having trouble finding the ingredients. This is crazy, since I'm in OC, which is about half Hispanic! In Irvine, the only ethnic markets are Chinese. I looked around a bit in Santa Ana and Costa Mesa, but the markets I saw didn't have anything I couldn't find at Albertsons.

Where are the good places?

FYI, here's some of the stuff I'm looking for:

cubanelles peppers
ajices dulces / cachucha / ajicitos (tiny sweet peppers)
culantro (like cilantro, but bigger leaves and stronger)
annatto / achiote seeds

Also, does anyone know of any places in LA or OC that serve Puerto Rican food? I could find any - the closest were some Cuban restaurants.



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  1. El Metate

    Northgate Gonzales

    El Toro


    For starters...

    1 Reply
    1. re: gabehoya

      Thanks for the suggestions. I've been busy the last couple of weeks, but I finally checked out the El Metate in Costa Mesa another huge market (don't remember the name) up in the San Fernando Valley (on Victory?).

      Unfortunately, I struck out. It looks like So. Cal. Latinos don't like Puerto Rican food! I'm trying to make sofrito, which is extremely common and popular in Puerto Rican cooking. I can't find two of the main ingredients:

      1) ajices dulces (also called cachucha or ajicitos). They're tiny sweet peppers, which look like Scotch Bonnets but aren't hot.

      2) Culantro (similar to, but different/stronger than cilantro). It's also calle recao, saw leaf herb, false or Mexican coriander, or stinkweed. I've found it's also used in Vietamese cooking and called Ngo Gai.

      Any other suggestions? Little Saigon/Westminster is only a few minutes away - any recommendations for markets there?

      Otherwise, I found web sites that sell seeds, but I hope I don't have to grow the stuff myself.


    2. Here's a link that may be useful for you.

      Also, for a great market, not sure of the name, but on Beach Blvd., just north of the 405 on the east side is a wonderful Viet market. They should have your culantro.

      BTW...did you try Gigante off of the 5 just north of Disneyland. I know they are a Mexican market, but it is huge..good luck.

      1. My co-workers would suggest Northgate, although based on what you said earlier, might not be likely anymore? Wish I could say for sure, but still have not made an effort to drive to one.

        1. David,
          Were you planning to make Daisy Martinez's sofrito? I stumbled across this post looking for culantro sources in LA area and recognized the other ingredients from her recipe. I plan to make her black bean soup tonight with the sofrito. I am just going to substitute extra cilantro for now, but if you find ajices dulces and culantro please reply back! Buon Provecho!

          7 Replies
          1. re: sweetTooth

            Culantro is readily available at 99 Ranch. It's called "ngò gai" (literally, prickly coriander) in Vietnamese and sawleaf herb in English. Vietnamese also have peppers that look a lot like Scotch bonnets but are milder in taste called (some variation on) nhỏ ớt tây, which means "little pepper Western". I've seen them on the shelves near the culantro wrapped on Styrofoam trays. Make sure they're not habaneros before you throw them in your sofrito!

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              Gracias! Ranch 99 is what I've heard so far from other sources as well. Pity there isn't one on the West side. A coworker is going to the one in Gardena and has promised to report back, but he doesn't have high hopes. Ah well, might look up metro routes.

              1. re: sweetTooth

                If you can get to Sepulveda Boulevard, the Rapid bus will take you straight to the 99 Ranch in Van Nuys. It's... er... not the shining star of the branch but the produce is fine.

            2. re: sweetTooth

              Yep - I've been watching Daisy's show and picked up the cookbook. I guess Puerto Rican / Carribean food isn't popular with Mexicans and Central Americans.

              Excellent tip on 99 Ranch Market - there's a ton of them around here, including one about five minutes from my home! I guess I'll try for it again this weekend - let you know.

              I hope to go back to NYC, where I grew up, this fall. I'll have to hit the places Daisy talked about in Queens (where there's also supposed to be great south Indian food - my favorite).

              1. re: unfrostedpoptart

                Success! First I went to the 99 Ranch Market on Culver. The place is a mob scene, with a semi-infinite number of very old Chinese people. Also, most of the market smells like fish. I couldn't find the ngò gai and the guy working in the produce section just pointed me to the cilantro. Even worse, they didn't have the great cantaloupe and melon cream wafer cookies that they used to carry :(

                I didn't give up, though, and went to the newer 99 Ranch Market on Jeffrey, about 5 minutes away (Irvine is about 1/3 Chinese). This market is much newer, cleaner, didn't smell like fish, and ... had the ngò gai (but still no melon sugar wafers)!

                I still couldn't find the ajices dulces, but used green bell peppers, as suggested on some web site. I got the rest of the ingredients and made a big batch of sofrito. I also made the achiote oil. With these in hand I made the roast chicken with garlic rub and the yellow rice. They were both great (and continue to be in leftovers).

                The chicken recipe is cool because you separate the skin from the meat, without removing it, and put the garlic rub under the skin. That way the skin gets crispy, but the meat and rub are nice and moist underneath. I think I know what it's like now to be a plastic surgeon putting in breast implants.

                On to other Daisy recipes.

                1. re: unfrostedpoptart

                  Congratulations! And what was your experience with ngo gai? Is it really 'cilantro times 10' as Daisy says?

            3. Drive down to Santa Ana, there about 50. Just make sure to get roasted corn in the parking lot while you are there.