EUGENE, Ore. - I have to admit that the Plaza Latina Supermarket at 1333 W. 7th in Eugene is a placed I've passed by a countless number of times. Always present was the thought that I should stop in the next chance I got. When I finally made the trip I found myself asking the question, "Why did I wait so long?"
Plaza Latina is like any grocery store, really. You'll find fresh produce, baked goods and aisles filled with all the basic necessities. Most of it, however, you won't find just anywhere.
"We are hoping to create a store that when you step in you feel like you are in part of Latin America," said Sam Rezinos, who opened the store with his wife back in 2004.
Along with some pretty rare Latin American products, you'll also find an entire aisle dedicated to Middle Eastern cuisine, something that caught me a little off guard during the tour Rezinos took me on. Once he mentioned that his wife was Lebanese, the shelves lined with products in Arabic made much more sense. Rezinos also explained that the longer they are open the more the become more of an international market carrying products that he himself is still learning about.
It was during our tour that I also spotted one of the most unique items I had ever seen at a meat counter: Chapulenas, known here in the U.S. as crickets. I saw it as an opportunity to spread my wings as an adventurous eater. Before I knew it Rezinos and I were both shoveling mounds of crispy critters into our mouths, a first for us both.
The crickets themselves were not really that bad. The seasoning choice was a little strong though. They seemed to be soaked in lime salt, a flavor that on it's own was not ideal, but used as a condiment might actually turn into a tasty treat.
Rezinos said what is considered just a bug here in the U.S. is a pretty common snack in parts of Mexico. Many believe the crickets to have a great deal of nutritional value because they feed off of the many medicinal plants in the area. In fact, one of the supermarket employees testified about the crickets curing her from an ailment she had suffered from for quite some time.
While Chapulenas are readily available at the meat counter, you won't find them on the menu at the markets cafe. Instead they are cranking out authentic Latin American cuisine. Cooks like Mayra Medina, who whipped up a Ceviche Tostata for the Tasty Tuesday segment, diligently put together dishes they grew up on.
Everyone has different tastes, so saying there is something for everyone can be a dangerous statement to make, but as a supermarket Plaza Latina covers a lot of ground. If you take the time to browse around you might not walk away with a new favorite, but chances are you will walk away having discovered something new.