To read this story in Spanish, visit El Pasajero, Metro’s Spanish-language blog here.
One of the greatest pleasures in life is eating. And although meats and vegetables contribute a lot to the flavors we enjoy, there is something that complements the dish. We are talking about the spices which helps enhance the flavor, smell and color of our food.
Yes, you can find them in supermarkets, but there is a particular business that sells spices, dried chilies and even moles inside the iconic Grand Central Market. With the recent opening of the Regional Connector, you can take the A and E Lines to the new Historic Broadway Station — one of our three new underground stations in downtown Los Angeles — that is a very short walk to the market.
Valeria’s Chiles & Spices is one of the spice stalls inside the market with a very large assortment of packaged and bulk products. “When I arrived from Mexico in 1990, I started working in that business selling almost the same products,” says Rubén Yepez, 52, who together with his brother José Angel, are the owners of the place. “At that time, Grand Central Market had fruit and vegetable stalls and there were tortilla shops and even a currency exchange office. In 2001, the owner left the business to me, and I named it after my first daughter.”
Grand Central Market was considered the largest public market on the Pacific coast when it opened in 1917. Today it has evolved into a vibrant place with cafes, breweries, and restaurants serving typical food and fusions.
Rubén saw that, but decided not to join the booming restaurant scene. He trusted his line of business and was faithful to his products. Today of the more than 30 vendors in the market, Valeria’s Chiles & Spices is the only one of its kind.
His business sells spices — such as garlic, achiote, saffron, pepper and cumin as well as snack foods like walnuts, peanuts, almonds, grated coconut, prunes, and raisins. You can also find beans, chickpeas, chia, and even popcorn. That’s just to mention a few things.
However, besides the spices, the store’s star products are the 25 varieties of dried chili and the 15 varieties of mole that Ruben offers.
“The guajillo chili and the ancho chili are the most traditional,” he says. “There is also habanero, serrano and morita. Those that are rarely seen, but are spicier are the tepin chili, the ‘fantasma’ and the scorpion chili. The latter is about three inches long and has a tail. It is small, but it is very strong, and people use it to make sauces.”
He adds that, among the moles, the favorite are almond, poblano, green and ‘pipián’.
During the year, the Yepez business is closed for only three days: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. The rest of the time, the family works hard to serve their customers from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Although the sales are daily, the busiest month is undoubtedly December, when the purchase of banana leaves to make tamales and cod are very high. Other big holidays — including Lent, when there is a high demand for dried shrimp — help create business.
Rubén says that his clients are the same owners of the restaurants in Grand Central Market who run to his stall every time they run out of some ingredient. Other customers live around downtown Los Angeles. “People who live further away also come,” he says. “Some from Montebello, El Monte, Bakersfield and Santa Ana… Even some who are just visiting, from Las Vegas, Utah or Arizona, come to buy spices from my business.”
In addition to his clients from Mexico, people from Central America also go to Valeria’s looking for pumpkin seeds (or pepitorio), sesame, achiote, ‘saborin’ [MSG], olives or capers. “Americans look for mole a lot, but in reality, they come from different nationalities,” he says.
Rubén says that his business is a way to preserve Latino culture because many immigrants, after arriving in the United States, look for flavors that resemble the ingredients found in their countries to continue preparing traditional dishes. “Some tell me that my business reminds them of their land or that [in their countries of origin] their mother had a similar business,” he says.
Besides the chilis, what people buy the most on a daily basis, Rubén? “The condiment that people buy the most is pepper, cumin, oregano and bay leaf to cook; cloves and cinnamon to make tea… Oh, hibiscus and tamarind too, hot or cold, we always sell it. Visit us, we have almost everything here”.
Transportation is an opportunity
When Rubén left Michoacán to come to Los Angeles, he only used public transportation. He says he was reluctant to buy a car and that after moving to East LA, he traveled a lot by bus. “I used to take the Metro Line 18 to Broadway,” he says. “The trip was just a few minutes, so I took the bus for about 15 years.”
Later, he found out about the construction of the Regional Connector and recently a client told him that it had already been opened. Rubén thinks that is positive for people who have to travel far and for those in the East L.A. area who had to transfer to make it to the heart of downtown L.A. “Now you can get there faster,” he says. “It is not only a time savings, but an opportunity for more people to come to our businesses”.
Gran Central Market is located at 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013. To go by Metro, you can take the B (Red) or D (Purple) Line subway to Civic Ctr / Grand Park Station or the A (Blue) or E (Expo) to Historic Broadway station. You can also take Metro Bus Line 18 to Spring/5th; Line 28 or 33 to Spring / 3rd OR Line 40 to Spring / 2nd.
Categories: Transportation News