The antojitos of Ninth Street — How cravings connect us back to our culture

Customers wearing face coverings to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, shop at a produce stand on South 9th Street in the Italian Market neighborhood of Philadelphia, Thursday, April 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Customers wearing face coverings to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, shop at a produce stand on South 9th Street in the Italian Market neighborhood of Philadelphia, Thursday, April 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Growing up I remember my house being full of Bimbo pastries, Totis and Gansito among other products. My mom and I would go to the tiny Mexican markets located on the Ninth Street Market, along the Route 47 bus route.

At the time I did not think much of the importance of stores like El Pueblo; I just helped my mom pick out the groceries. But now I can recognize how these shops connected me to my culture.

I’m the child of immigrant parents, that like many, left behind their lives for a better life for their children. My mom always tells me stories of her life in Mexico, her childhood, her life at college and her trips to the beach. Sometimes, she explains her favorite antojitos, the way she used to eat them after school.

Antojitos means “little cravings” — snacks like mango with chamoy and spicy chips; snacks found in stores like Meat Market El Pueblo and Paleteria Y Helados Bambino. These Ninth Street Market stores, owned by Beatriz Rojas and her late husband, Crisoforo Romero, are the places I rely on to satisfy my cravings.

I don’t always feel connected to my culture. I don’t always feel like I belong. At these times, these shops help — and that’s the point. With stores like Paleteria Y Helados Bambino, I’m able to eat the same antojitos that my mom grew up eating. I still get to experience and connect with my culture, even if it’s in the form of a chocolate muffin or a cup of mango with chamoy.

“We wanted to help the community, we wanted people to come and be able to communicate, we wanted the Hispanic community to have more access to their everyday products,” said Beatriz Rojas, whom I often see when I get my snacks.

Succeeding as a small business has been tough, Rojas said. It took the community time to find the small shops and begin frequenting them. But at this point, Rojas is focused on growth. She hopes to open another market that can fully showcase all the products she loves and welcome more customers.

Antojitos, Rojas said, aren’t just for the Latino population, but “for everyone that is part of this country.”

Dariana Garcia is a Gwen Ifill Legacy Fellow for PBS Student Reporting Labs and a student in WHYY’s Pathways to Media Careers Youth Employment Program (with support from The Lenfest Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Bank of America). Dariana is currently attending Community College of Philadelphia.

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