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Mexican Food: The Essentials
What to know about masa and aquas frescas
It goes back into the mists of history. The thick dough made from grinding and cooking dried corn, masa, has been used since pre-Columbian times. Part artifact, part everyday staple, it’s advertised on awnings and shop windows in neighborhoods throughout the city. At Amapola Super Deli & Market (pictured), a gathering place in Downey packed with everything from a carnicería to an antojito stand, it’s 65 cents a pound for the basic masa, which can be hand clapped into tortillas (or formed in a press). The kind for tamales that includes lard costs $1.05. You can even get sweet pineapple masa ($1.40 a pound). The combination may not be exactly ancient, but it still holds the promise of good things made at home. -Patric Kuh
These “fresh waters” are nature’s answer to Kool-Aid. Throughout Mexico you’ll find glass barrels of creamy horchata, made with rice milk, and jamaica, infused with hibiscus flowers. That’s just the start. At the Alameda Swap Meet (pictured; 4501 S. Alameda St., South L.A., 323-233-2764), ladles dip into drinks spiked with alfalfa and chia seeds. Cook’s Tortas (1944 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, 323-278-3536) combines watermelon with mint and lime. La Huasteca (see page 137) features a horchata with pumpkin seeds and prickly pear. Soda doesn’t stand a chance. -Lesley Bargar Suter
Photographs by Lisa Romerein