The quetzal is a tropical bird with colorful plumage and a long forked tail, a national symbol of Guatemala. El Quetzal is also the name of a Guatemalen grocery in Jamaica, Queens, located on Hillside Avenue, under which the F train runs. The grocery is less than a block from the Parsons Ave. stop. It’s a classic New York City bodega, a dense warren of ethnographic products so super-organized that you’ll find yourself walking hesitantly down the narrow aisle, fearful of knocking a thousand things off the wall with an inadvertent swipe of your arm. Following are some of the products we found there.
A plastic case near the front of the store sells Mexican-leaning pastries, many topped with colorful ridges of crumbles. One was an oblong roll shaped like a braided empanada. Cut it open and out spills a sweetened condensed milk filling that looks like–well, never mind!
Hung up on adhesive cards we discovered cheap mayo offered in plastic bags–an idea whose time has come?
There are bottled sauces galore. On the left is a sauce with the rather unfortunate name of Maya-ik, which tastes more sweet, salty, and sour than peppery. In the middle is Picamas, a cilantro-driven green chile sauce that’s also suprisingly sweet. On the right is a sauce whose name translates “Church Sauce.” It’s like a species of Worcestershire, only–surprise!–sweeter. I think we can conclude that Guatemalans like lots of sugar in their table sauces.
Here are some English-style biscuits made with rice flour instead of wheat.
Finally, we have an envelope of instant coffee with an engagingly retrograde picture of a blue enamel coffee pot. The envelope claims to make 6 to 8 cups, but seemed adequate for only a scant 2 cups by our tastes. Guatemalans like their coffee on the weak side, with lots of milk and sugar, we presume. 160-06 Hillside Avenue, Jamaica, Queens, 718-759-8574
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 13, 2009