By day, Melissa Berthier works for the DC Metro System. By night, she devotes her time to Latinbag.com, a company she founded with her husband, Alfonso. Latinbag.com is the only website that strives to house all Latin food favorites in one place. They carry more Guatemalan food products than any other site, and are the virtual go-to for the best Mexican chiles, the sweetest Argentine dulce de leche, the richest Uruguayan mates, and so much more. With over a thousand products to choose from, you are sure to find something to satisfy your homeland cravings.
In addition to her day and night jobs, Melissa is also a round-the-clock mami to a beautiful one-year old daughter, Sabrina. And thankfully, she just discovered the magic of a slow-cooker. “My father doesn’t understand it,” she says. “He wants to know why I don’t just use the Dutch oven instead, which I know would be the ideal way to cook, but some days there is just no time.” And time, of course, is the this one thing this busy mami is always in search of…along with a great meal.
It took a few days and a bit of scheduling and rescheduling (she was in the middle of launching a big project at work), but she still managed to carve out a night to talk to us. We chatted all things salty, sweet, and succulent as she was feeding her daughter pork tenderloin that had been heating all day in that magical slow-cooker.
Mamiverse: How did the idea for Latinbag come about?
Berthier: My then boyfriend (now husband), used to work in the airline industry and he would bring me all sorts of Latin food (especially sweets—I love sweets!) from his travels throughout Latin America. Now it’s almost five years later and we’re married. Since he no longer flies all over Latin America for free, we had to find a way to satisfy my sweet tooth! Latinbag.com was basically born out of our desire to satisfy these food cravings—without passing customs. We wanted things easy, as in: delivered right to our doorstep. And it’s no coincidence that the company was conceived and built while I was pregnant with my daughter (can we say CRAVINGS—for dulce de leche and pulparindo!). It was born the same day, so in a way Mister Gallo (Latinbag.com’s mascot) and my daughter are twins!
Mamiverse: When did the site launch?
Berthier: The site officially launched in October 2010, two weeks after I gave birth! Crazy, isn’t it? We’ve just celebrated a year and we have added over a thousand products. We’re now working on original content and social media. It’s so exciting. And my daughter’s one year launch is exciting too—we just had a birthday party for her where we filled regular cupcakes with dulce de leche. (We piped it inside, after they were baked through. Easy!)
Mamiverse: Are there any products you are still trying to obtain for the site?
Berthier: We would love to carry all sort of Latin American dairy products (i.e. cheeses and creams), but we are still figuring out importing/storing/mailing these products since they have a much smaller shelf-life than our current products. But being able to send an authentic piece of Oaxaca cheese to my mami in Miami makes the research worth it.
Mamiverse: What are the most popular Latinbag products?
Berthier: Our top sellers are Natura Red Refried Beans, Klass Atole Nut Flavored, Bimbo Cochas, Morocha Cookies, and, believe it or not, El Chavo del Ocho Piñatas. We can’t keep those piñatas stocked fast enough!!
Mamiverse: What are your favorite Latinbag products?
• Klass Aguas Frescas: I especially love the Horchata, Jamaica, and Tamarind flavors. They’re so easy to make (just add water and stir) and these flavors taste homemade. I carry around a water bottle to work with Klass Aguas Frescas. And I love that there are many flavors to choose from.
• Dolores Chipotle Flavored Tuna: I’m obsessed with this product. It really makes chicken of the sea seem like…well, bland chicken. This tuna has some kick to it—in a great way. I keep it in my office and eat it at least once a week for lunch. My colleagues also know the drawer I stash these in. It gives me the protein I need, without added calories (that I certainly don’t need).
• Malher’s Refried Beans: Growing up, I never liked black beans (and I got a lot of grief about it from my Latin family!). Alfonso insisted I try the Guatemalan brand Malher’s a few months ago. One spoonful and I’ve been hooked ever since.
• Molcajetes: I love giving these as gifts and for the presentation of my salsas at home. If my mami-schedule permits—there’s nothing better than making your homemade salsas in a molcajete. And try bringing some homemade guacamole in a molcajete (tightly wrapped in plastic wrap so that the guac does not get brown). It makes a beautiful, tasty (and easy) hostess gift. (Oh yeah, you need to bring a bag of chips too!).
Mamiverse: What is your favorite fall recipe made from Latinbag products?
Berthier: Tacos with cheese, huitlacoche, and flor de calabaza. It’s hearty and the pumpkin flavor screams fall.
Ingredients (serves 2):
½ cup of huitlacoche**
½ cup of flor de calabaza**
½ cup of onion
Shredded white cheese
Directions: Cook the onion with a little olive oil first until it softens, then add the huitlacoche and flor de calabaza. Cook this mixture for about 3 minutes over medium heat, add salt to taste. Warm your corn tortillas on both sides over your gas stovetop (if you have one) or a separate pan. Place a spoonful of the mixture to half the side of the tortilla, add cheese and freshly chopped cilantro. Heat until the cheese melts and buen provecho!
** You can buy huitlacoche and flor de calabaza at latinbag.com. While these are popular staples in Mexico, they are hard to find Stateside … well, until now.
Mamiverse: What is your favorite mami moment?
Berthier: There’s too many to name, but most recently—Sabrina mastered the art of hitting a piñata. We’re spending the holidays in Mexico City, so I’m looking forward to her participating in the cousin activities.
Mamiverse: What is your favorite Latin family tradition?
Berthier: Celebrating Dia de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day) and eating the Rosca de Reyes—a circular shaped cake pastry filled with candied fruits and a plastic baby Jesus. My holiday season doesn’t end at Christmas, but after January 6th.
MELISSA’S LATINBAG PICKS FOR HALLOWEEN
Forget the Almond Joys, Milky Ways and Candy Corns, in my house we put a little sugar and spice to our neighbors trick or treat bags! My neighbors know me as the ‘exotic house’ and last year, I confess, I had to actually give out some M&Ms because I ran out of my favorite Latin candies! And I know that some kids came a knocking twice! But that’s fine with me. Hey, Halloween comes once a year, so indulge! Here are my favorites, and all of these are sold (and shipped straight to your home) on Latinbag.com.
Terrabusi Alfajores—An Argentine classic, this sandwich cookie is made up of two sweet biscuits joined together by delicious dulce de leche with a creamy chocolate coating. Package contains six alfajores individually wrapped.
Pulparindo de la Rosa—Tamarind fruit leather with a touch of chili and sugar. It’s a combination of flavors including sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Each box contains 20 individually wrapped pieces.
Conos Rellenos de Marshmallow—Marshmallow filled ice cream-type cones in four flavors—coconut, strawberry, vanilla and pineapple. This is a Salvadorean favorite.
Duvalin Hazelnut and Strawberry Flavored Candy—creams (similar to Nutella) flavored in Hazelnut and Strawberry. Contains 18 individual packets
Obleas Coronado—Mini wafers filled with goat’s milk caramel or dulce de leche. Package contains three wafers.
La Dominicana Plantain Chips—The dominican company, based in New York, makes these classic plantain chips. It’s the next best thing to frying a green plantain. Sometimes it’s good to have a savory option.
Motitas Bubble Gum—Delicious and chewy, package contains a combo of banana, grape and fruit-mix flavored chewing gum that offers long lasting flavor and makes big bubbles—something the American brands lack. Seriously, what happened to big-bubble quality?