As soon as the mornings begin to get chilly, I inevitably find myself walking through the nearly 20,000 square feet of market space that is Canino Produce Co. I end up here because I know one of the dozens of produce stall owner’s will have a small hoard of out-of-season produce that my local H-E-B or Whole Foods suddenly can no longer find—and yes, I am that guy who has produce managers' phone numbers stored in my phone.
Canino Produce Co.
2520 Airline Dr.
It’s not that I go out of my way to eat out-of-season fruits or vegetables. In fact, I cherish the seasonality of most items. I treat the tiny window that is cherry season like a summertime, cherry-only Thanksgiving. But sometimes, you’ve just got to have something—and today, I really needed some plums.
But the real reason I end up at Canino is because of the amazing produce grocery stores seem to forget about. I’m talking about tomatillos, jicama, carambola, pitaya (a.k.a. dragon fruit), chayote, rambutan, lychee, and of course nopales and prickly pears. Why don’t my grocery stores carry these at all? Many of these fruits are just now coming into season too, so you know you’re getting it fresh—or at least as fresh as something shipped from Southeast Asia or trucked in from Mexico can be.
I like Canino, and farmers markets in general, because it reminds me that I don’t just have to eat pears, apples, pumpkins, and cranberries for the next six months. But markets come and go around Houston. While some are permanent, most are co-ops and collaborations that pop up with the seasons. Others hop from church parking lot to why-is-this-located-in-a-parking-garage odd spots.
Canino, however, is always there. It’s always has been there on Airline Drive, at least since the late ‘50s. So what if it isn’t always local (though it certainly strives to be)? And who cares if it isn't organic, or that the produce doesn’t come from hallowed ground? You can continue shopping at your precious little specialty market that will only have a wicker basket of pears and apples, and perhaps one or two oddly-white celery stalks, for the next four months. I’m going to explore the varied world of produce that your local grocery store labels “exotic”—that is, if they decide to carry it.
In case you're wondering what to do with all of that fruit I mentioned above, tomatillos make a perfect salsa verde. Jicama adds a sweet bite to salads. Pitaya and carambola, or star fruit, are both usually eaten raw, though carambola can be cooked with cinnamon and apples as a pie filling. Chayote has a crisp flavor and can be cooked alongside squashes or on its own. Lychee and rambutan are another two fruits best eaten raw.
Nopales and prickly pear are two edible parts of the cactus. Prickly pear, the fruit of the plant, is great raw—just be sure to remove all of the skin and spines if picking your own—but can also be cooked. It is also delicious turned into a syrup for cocktails or poured over desserts. And nopales, the pads of the cactus, are usually cooked and are great alongside sauteed peppers and vegetables in tacos or on their own.
If that sounds too adventurous to you, then you can visit for the Mexican Coke—Coca-Cola made with cane sugar instead of high fructrose corn syrup like here in the States. There’s Mexican Coke everywhere at Canino, which I think is reason enough to come.