No website,no Facebook page. Only a recommendation by someone from work had led me to a tienda tucked away in a faceless mall near my neigHBorhood. It was a rainy Sunday morning and the windows were steamy from fresh corn tortillas. I wandered the aisles of the grocery, feeling the forgotten thrill of seeing ingredients I had no idea what to do with. So many types of chili, curious kitchen utensils. I was a novice, a new world open to me.
Through my life I have loved these places.When I was a teenager growing up in London my mum and I would go into to Chinatown and feel transported. The shop workers talked in their dialect, shelves would be stacked with pungent dried meats or vegetables. I peered into freezers to find a an eye peering back at me through the cold mist. Used to seeing prepackaged, sterile meals in our typical British supermarkets, the produce here was minimally packaged and labeled with Chinese characters. We desperately wanted to try things, inspired by the perfumed air that came from the restaurants surrounding us, but we never could find the nerve. We always left with bags stuffed with only ramen and tea.
Later, when we moved back to the West Midlands, the communities were different. In my home town one area that had been home to a large Pakistani community, started to see other groups arrive - Iranians, Iraqis and Afghanis escaping war. With them they brought their cuisine and started shops that were filled with spices, exotic sweets and fresh mangoes.
Stepping into these shops for me was like taking a micro vacation. Food looked like food here. You could smell it, you could touch it. The music they played was from their homeland, the labels often were unintelligible to me. There was a sense of not knowing where I was, of being completely out of my depth, and I was always met with kindness.
Anyway, back to the tienda. We had come for the tacos and weren’t disappointed. I said to my husband that I now finally understood what all the fuss was about when it came to tacos. These were no fuss, perfectly flavored with a few simple trimmings - cilantro, lime wedges, radishes, tomatoes. I realized that the tacos I had had up to now at the hipper, more expensive places I’d been to in town, were not even close to the real deal, but created to appeal to the masses of tourists.
I hope that tienda has a future ahead of it. With the rising cost of living in Asheville, who can say? It would be sad to see it go to be replaced by another, bland eatery that justifies its overpriced food by creating a fancy ambience full of re-purposed retro furniture, that serves you drinks in a ball jar and for which you have to wait an hour to be seated. Thanks but no thanks.
La Tienda Hispana La Piedrita does a brisk trade, so next time you fancy brunch, give them a chance.
Welcome to Illustrated Foodie!