Not far from my house is a tiny Latin-American market about the size of my dining room. It is cramped and in no way aesthetically pleasing, but it's cheap and I can usually find whatever exotic ingredient I'm looking for.
However, the place has always struck me as a little bit sketchy. Maybe it's the industrial neighborhood, or the fact that there's no room to move around, but more likely it has something to do with the long, mysterious line leading to a door at the back of the store. There's always a line, and it's unclear what exactly is going on back there. Nobody talks. Everyone seems very serious and determined. What's everyone in line for? That's what I wanted to ask. But asking too many questions seemed like a good way to get myself banned from my most convenient source of goat milk cajeta and passion fruit concentrate. No, best to keep my head down, pay for my corn tortillas, and get the hell out of there. It's always the innocent bystanders that get shot.
But I found myself back there on an errand one morning. The place was deserted. There was no mysterious line coming from the back. I decided to do some recon. I meandered over to the beverage cases and pretended to be really interested in ginger beer. Come to find out, I'm really interested in ginger beer. (Note to self: GINGER BEER!) Then I sidled down a little further to a giant freezer jam-packed with whole chickens. Whole, unbelievably cheap chickens. Interesting, I thought. Very interesting. DON'T GET DISTRACTED, I scolded myself! Then, like the seasoned CIA operative that I am, I pretended to trip and sort of stumbled over to the back door. Okay, fine, I wasn't pretending. The shoes I bought on sale were mislabeled and are a half-size too big. At any rate, I noted that it was more of a half-door, a window, really, onto a tiny room. That's when a woman's face appeared right in front of me.
"Oh, hi!" I said in something that wasn't Spanish. "Whatcha got back there?"
I braced myself for the worst.
After a bit of linguistic maneuvering, she directed my attention to the most gigantic empanadas I have ever seen in my life. Empanadillas, to be exact. Bigger than my whole hand, they were stuffed with chicken and cheese, and blistered from spending ample time in hot oil, just the way I like them. She had beef empanadillas, too, and fried plantains and some sort of corn thing I couldn't sort out. Behind her was a tiny kitchen. WTF? Why had I never noticed the smell of food before? Have I lost my ability to sniff out deliciousness? I bought one chicken empanada for $2, and went back to my car feeling like a complete idiot—but a happy idiot! I ate the whole thing before I even started up the car. It was fucking delicious.
So, in case you're wondering what goes on in the back of Cruz Market, that's what. Empanadas. They're not illegal, but they should be!!
Cruz Market, 139 Felton St., Waltham, MA (kitchen closed Sundays and Mondays)