On Thursdays in Guerrero, a southern state on Mexico’s Pacific coast, the Pozolerias are packed. “It’s been the traditional day since I can remember,” says Ernesto, who grew up in Guerrero.
At a Pozoleria, “You can order chicken mole or taquitos,” Ernesto says. But on Thursdays, “You’re not going to look at the menu. You’re going to sit down with your friends and order pozole.”
Pozole is a Mexican stew of pork and hominy seasoned with chiles, oregano, epazote and topped with shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, cheese, avocado, tostadas or chicharrones. Leave as is, or swap chicken in for pork, and you have pozole blanco; add tomatillos, pumpkin seeds and cilantro for pozole verde; cook with dried ancho or guajillo chiles to make pozole rojo.
At his usual lunch spot – behind the counter at Lupita’s Grocery on the Italian Market – Ernesto dipped his spoon into a warm bowl of pozole blanco topped with sliced jalapeno, crispy chicharron, queso fresco, and chunks of avocado.
“A friend of mine cooked this and brought it yesterday,” he says. (It was Monday – since moving to the states in 1991, he enjoys pozole any day of the week.)
Ernesto doesn’t cook much. For lunch, he often orders tacos from Blue Corn down the street, or heads to the truck on the corner of 10th St. and Washington Ave. “Sometimes I cook. Like every other week,” he says. But for the most part, the ingredients at his grocery store are for customers.
Ernesto opened Lupita’s after working in Philly restaurants for more than a decade. His brother helped him get his first job after moving to the States, washing dishes at a now-closed mall in University City. “I was washing dishes, taking in deliveries,” he said. “I didn’t speak English so what was I going to do? It was not easy.”
He then found a job at the Midtown II Diner where he met Freddy, a Puerto Rican cook who helped him learn English.
“I asked him when he wasn’t busy to write down the words I heard in the kitchen in English,” Ernesto said. “At night, when I got home, I’d take out all the little pieces of paper and look through the [Spanish-English] dictionary.”
A few years later, he was out of the kitchen and looking to start a business of his own. He bought the 9th Street storefront from an Italian couple. “The walls were falling apart,” he remembers. He did major renovations and stocked the shelves with Mexican pantry items and home goods.
At Lupita’s you can buy dried herbs, canned hominy, fresh chicharrones (and the rest of the ingredients you’d need to make pozole at home), plus leather belts Made in Mexico, fútbol jerseys, and piñatas.
“[Shoppers] know the good thing are the avocados here,” Ernesto told me. There’s usually a box of Purepecha avocados from Michoacán – the Mexican state known for producing the best of the crop – in the cooler in the back. These avocados are named for the indigenous people living in the highlands of central Michoacán. They have the perfect creamy texture, rarely a brown spot, and a rich, slightly sweet flavor.
One change Ernersto has noticed over the years at Lupita's: “Now, American people buy avocados more that Mexicans!” he says, eyebrows rising above his black Oakley frames. “How about that?”