Rancho Cooks Among Us

Phoenix Ranch goes to market

While I was traveling through Mexico on a bus, I spent countless hours looking out the window as we drove through villages, townships and cities. But what sticks in my mind are the ranchos we passed and their rows and rows of corn and overgrown nopal cactus.

When I think of those ranchos, they bring to mind a peaceful way of life far from our busy world, and of fields filled with corn, cattle and horses. But mostly, they make me think of the kind of food that makes your mouth water.

I'm no clairvoyant, but about 10 years ago I started telling anyone who would listen that there was money to be made by anyone who could translate that idyllic Mexican rancho life into a salable product.

The Provenzano family had the same idea.

Californians of Italian descent, the Provenzanos learned about the Mexican rancho after they opened supermarkets in California's San Joaquin Valley that catered to field workers and their families. They soon captured the essence of the Mexican mercado and have now brought it to Phoenix.

With one Phoenix Ranch Market on South Central and another opening soon in north Phoenix, the Provenzanos cater to a Mexican clientele with fresh produce like corn, coconuts, chiles of all types, mammee fruit, mangos and chayote.

Walk in the door and you go right to the focal point of the busy grocery store, the food area abundant with oversize glass jars filled with a large variety of aguas frescas -- fresh fruit waters. Picnic tables are filled with families enjoying a meal of such treats as freshly made sopes, cocido (soup), birria, tacos and tamales.

I call it street food -- simple and good. Nothing gourmet here, just plain and traditional. The prices are just right and the ambiance is of a busy mercado in Mexico.

The butcher shop offers such rarities as a whole cow's head for making tacos de cabeza, and the seafood counter offers an excellent selection of fresh delicacies for making a seafood cocktail called campechana. And unlike your run-of-the-mill and generic grocery store, the decor is well done, with a ranch feel.

Food City, move over. There's a new kid in town, and this Italian cowboy is ready to take on the Phoenix market.

Silvana Salcido Esparza is a local chef and restaurant owner.

 
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