Last weekend we took advantage of the sunshine's long awaited arrival in London to go out walking. Even though I have lived in the East End of London for several years I'm generally not adventurous with routes, tending to stick to the main roads and thoroughfares. On this occasion because it was such a nice day and we were keen to get up to the park, we cut through a side road off the main Bethnal Green Road. Walking down a nondescript residential street, imagine our surprise when we came upon Casa Mexico, a large emporium with a fine collection of Mexican hand made products - somewhat out of place in an ordinary residential street.
The sign outside promised 'the finest products from Mexico', including kitchen ware and cooking utensils, tableware and glassware, 'casita de modas' (fashion) and 'artesania' (folk arts or handicrafts). Unable to resist and to satisfy our curiosity, we wandered in. What met our eyes was a veritable Aladdin's Cave of Mexican treats.
The shop begins with a long corridor lined with hand made Mexican mirrors, earthenware and ceramic pots, tiles and garden ware. There is an entire wall of shelves dedicated to animal shaped pottery (including chickens and rabbits) and coloured porcelain parrots hanging from perches.
An abundance of Mexican produce in the grocery section
We headed into the main part of the shop and were stunned with the range of groceries on offer. From tortillas to tinned food, from chorizo to coffee, we soon realised that this shop was the place to get hold of virtually ANY Mexican specialty you can think of. Apparently you can buy chillis in Casa Mexico that you can't get anywhere else in London and the selection of coffee and hot chocolate (that famous Mexican export) looked pretty special too. There was also a fridge full of aguas frescas - the cool drinks found on Mexican food stalls, with delicious but strange sounding flavours such as hibiscus flowers and almond and rice.
And that wasn't all.. Casa Mexico is fully licensed and we were pleased to see a cabinet full of tequila as well as plentiful stacks of Mexican beer. By this point we had already started planning a Mexican-themed dinner party, shopping for all of the food and alcohol at Casa... Tequila is an absolute must for any party, never mind a Mexican one. In amongst the food items were plenty of lovely handmade objects such as some chunky blue margherita and tequila shot glasses if you wanted to fully extend the theme through your table and glassware.
Skull and death themed party decorations for El Dia de los Muertos
As if to reinforce our thinking, we then came across a whole selection of party paraphernalia for 'El Dia de los Muertos' - the Mexican 'Day of the Dead' festival. We thought it was a little early, given that the festival is usually held in November, but it seems that it is party time all year round in Casa Mexico. Fiesta!
The lure of the Mexican wrestling masks proved irresistible
When we turned the corner we got to our favourite part of the shop... The fashion section. My boyfriend just couldn't resist donning one of the Mexican wrestling masks before trying a sombrero for size. Oh dear.
However, there were also some beautiful handmade craft clothing, blouses, dresses and shirts for women and some snappy looking shirts for men too. I spent some time admiring the handiwork of hand woven Mexican rugs and textiles in beautiful colours.
Finally, there was a wall full of pottery and ornaments, including some religious iconography that ranged from the beautiful (an abstract wooden crucifix) to the ghastly (a fully 'bling' gold garish plastic statue of the Virgin Mary). A skeleton decorated with a feather boa in the corner completed the surreal effect.
We bought a couple of lolly pops which had pictures of a goat on them (luckily they were caramel flavoured, not goat) and then tried some of the 'tasters' on offer on the counter. These included a very sour crystallised fruit (specific to Mexico) and candied in sugar and a bizarre sweet that tasted and looked a bit like kidney beans.
As we headed on our way we reflected on the merits of cutting down side streets to find the most unlikely of things. This has to be one of the best, a random Mexican emporium in the middle of Bethnal Green.