Suffolk’s Best Food Shops: Casa Mexico
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Splashes of magenta and egg yolk yellow coat the walls. Baskets, intricately woven in a rainbow of colours sit side by side. Ceilings are festooned with party decorations. Welcome to Casa Mexico – the shop that’s so bright you actually might need shades.
Tucked along the sleepy, beautiful Suffolk Tourist Route (A1120) in Stonham Aspal, the store’s exterior (it was once a pub) belies little of what lays within. A vivid feast for the senses. A place where you can lay your hands on the wherewithal to cook, and serve, truly authentic-tasting Mexican food.
Casa Mexico has been a passion project of owner James Denny’s for the past three decades.
Amazingly, the shop is what brought 84-year-old James, who’d settled for a life in sunnier climes, out of retirement.
Following a career in London, he and his wife took a holiday to Mexico...and decided to stay, buying a house in Guadalajara.
“It was very different,” he says. “It was a perfect life. Lovely people, lovely climate. Everything was very nice.” The particularly enjoyed the local cuisine, spending many happy times in Guadalajara's restaurants, or using the plentiful larder on the doorstep to rustle up delicious food at home.
It was just over 30 years ago that, mesmerised by the beautiful crafts and incredible food her parents had access to, James’ daughter suggested opening a Mexican shop back in the UK.
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“We found a big old warehouse in Bethnal Green,” he remembers. “We converted it into a shop, with accommodation for us when we were in London. Our daughter ran it for us. The only reason we moved location is because our lease was coming up, and my daughter wanted to get married and go to live in Australia. The shop would be unmanned, so we decided to move back.”
And it was in Suffolk that they landed – having never visited the county before.
“We quite literally looked at a map and decided this part of the world looked very nice. We came to look for somewhere we could live and work from, and discovered this pub (the old Ten Bells). It had been closed for a couple of years.”
James laughs that he’s probably not the most nimble shopkeeper in Suffolk – but he really does know his stuff, with much of the stock at Casa Mexico sourced from suppliers he’s known and worked with for many many years.
“We’ve got all the sorts of things that might be found in a Mexican home, from big terracotta pots, to dried fruit. It’s quite a variety – and very colourful.”
Which is an understatement. There’s something to discover in every corner, be it handmade, colour-edged Margherita glasses, stunning serving dishes and tablecloths, or the collection of Mexican ingredients.
“We sell a lot of what we call ‘local village pottery’,” says James of what customers can find in store. “And a lot of hand-blown glass which is very pretty – much of it from the Guadalajara area.
“One of the things you don’t tend to find easily elsewhere is the flour they use in Mexico to make tortillas – masa. We stock that, and also tortillas made from it. Then lots of tinned spices and sources and popular chillies.”
Then there are the flat cooking pans, citrus presses...even tortilla presses if you fancy making your own.
It’s something a bit different, James says. “Instead of having a curry once a week, try making Mexican. It's delicious.”
Casa Mexico can be found at The 10 Bells, Stonham Aspal. Call 01449 710400 to find out more. The shop is open 10am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
Typical foodie finds at Casa Mexico
Masa: A type of flour made from corn – used to create tortillas and more.
Frijoles: Tinned refried black beans.
Mole sauce: These vary in Mexico from place to place, even house to house, but essentially is a combination of nuts, chillies, sometimes fruit, and earthy spices.
Achiote: A paste made with colourful annatto seeds, sometimes with chillies and other seasonings.
Dried epazote: A grassy Mexican herb.
Tomatillos: Green, papery, tart fruit, usually sold tinned. Used in sauces and salsas
Corn husks: Used to wrap and cook tamales.