The immediate influx of Latin American workers after Hurricane Katrina has had and will continue to have an indelible impact on New Orleans culture. Similar to the African and Caribbean influences on French culture centuries ago, the flavors of Latin America have infiltrated the gumbo of contemporary New Orleans cuisine to the point where some locals lament that tacos may soon overtake po-boys as the local’s preferred lunch. At Ideal Market, a small chain of grocery stores scattered around the metro area, the foods of Latin America are on offer in their full, unadulterated display for both natives longing for a taste of home and adventurous locals who are undeterred by a language barrier.
Like so many other modern food markets, Ideal includes a grocery, butcher, baker and deli all under one roof. The produce selection is a colorful cornucopia of fruits, vegetables and legumes indigenous to Latin America and difficult to find elsewhere in the city. Need yucca for Sunday supper? Not a problem. Looking for masa harina and corn husks for tamales? Got you covered. Similarly, the dairy aisle is chock-full of Mexican queso fresco, Salvadoran crema and other tangy treats.
In the butcher case, chicken breasts, leg quarters and beef flank steaks all glow with a red hue from a fiery marinade that seals their fate of a one-way ticket to a hot grill. Thinly sliced pork chops are stacked high beside a mountain of ground chorizo molded into a pig’s head at the top. Over in the bakery, a dizzying array of tres leches cakes in all shapes and sizes share space with fresh fruit tarts crowned with lightly whipped cream. Self-serve display cases overflow with cookies, pastries, muffins and other freshly baked goods—some filled with lightly sweetened cream cheese and others with fruit jams.
Most native English speakers first connect with Ideal Market by ordering from the deli, where the look-point-smile ordering method can work wonders. At breakfast, the Honduran baleada is the most popular selection—a thick, freshly made flour tortilla smeared with refried beans and filled with eggs, grated cheese and crema. At lunch and in the evening, the options can include fried chicken leg quarters, whole fried fish and slow-cooked pork carnitas, but a mainstay is the slow-braised beef known as barbacoa, which is the perfect filling for the soft, slightly sweet bolillo bread that are sold by the pair for a dollar. What results is a sandwich that has much in common with your favorite roast beef po-boy, which is just another delicious example of common interest between old and new New Orleans.
250 South Broad St., New Orleans, 4421 Airline Dr., Metairie, 653 Terry Pkwy, Gretna; laidealmarket.com