What do you buy at international markets / grocery stores of different cultures?

H-mart just opened up near me, and it brought a weird sense of joy when I saw the sign up.

I love international stores — asian, middle eastern, European, I’m pretty equal opportunity in my enjoyment of exploring specialty and not-so-specialty stores of different cultures.

As I wandered the aisles of the new H-mart to familiarize myself with their offerings, I wondered — what do people buy at international markets that are or are not of their own cultural heritage?

What I bought that day: a gorgeous maitake mushroom.

I almost bought several more types of mushrooms, a couple of bags of dumplings, and a few packages of pristinely packaged and beautifully displayed meats.

I asked them when the hot and other prepared food bars would open (there was signage) — “in a couple of weeks, so sorry!” and he threw in a few sets of pretty chopsticks to make up for it? Or as a new store gift, perhaps.

So, where do you frequent and what do you like to buy?

6 Likes

I visit two with some regularity. One basically South Asian. The other basically Eastern Mediterranean.

Purchases - bread and herbs at both. Pickles, sauces, etc at the latter. Spices and “ready meals” (like dahl) at the former .

Others more occasional. If I’m in the city during the day or early evening, I’m likely to pop into Chinatown to have a look at one of the supermarkets there. And there’s a East European food shop not too far from home - frozen pierogi, kielbasa, sauerkraut.

Yes, I can buy much of the above in our normal supermarket but its more fun to go shopping in the specialities.

5 Likes

It is, isn’t it?!

My favorite international market is Adonis in Montreal. It’s a giant supermarket, but devoted to middle eastern foods. There’s a long wall with a feta & olive bar, another one with baklava and other baked treats that go on and on (I found middle eastern jalebis there once, delicious!), and of course a hot food deli counter, a kibbe bar (6-8 kinds), and bagged prepared lahmacun and zaatar (the flatbreads) of assorted types.

Kid in a candy store.

My aunt and uncle live nearby, and whenever I visit I pick up assorted treats and bites from the store for them that they didn’t know were available there. I’m like — what are you doing even if you’re not there at least once a week? It’s a couple of blocks away!

4 Likes

Oh, WOW. I wish. I just wish.

Unfortunately, my local ones don’t have much deli type stuff. We did go for lunch the other day to a vegetarian Indian restaurant near where I used to work (the family are Gujarati). They have a small shop on the premises. Mainly packaged stuff but a good array of sweets. I asked them to make me up a small selection - came away with about eight different ones. Unfortunately no jalebi.

2 Likes

I shop at Berkeley’s Tokyo Fish Market once a week, for their big selection of inexpensive fish trim. But I also get fresh ramen noodles, panko, tinned mackerel, and fish sauce. The Japanese snacks look interesting, but I can’t read the labels.

2 Likes

The ones near me usually have a printed English label (I thought it was legally required for imports), but also Google translate is sometimes useful.

3 Likes

They don’t keep very well, vs many other sweets. Best eaten fresh, so if you see them at a store, ask for a taste (if it’s an open tray that is).

At this place, the “English” labels are mostly just transliterations of the Japanese.

1 Like

H-Mart is now fairly accessible to me, which is great. I’ve grown up with Chinese grocery stores (and some pan-Asian goods at the larger ones), but still having dedicated stores to Korean and/or Japanese goods is always a plus. Generally the variety of sauces, or products, is far superior to the international aisle of an American store.

HMart - great for big value sized Japanese rice that I is a staple for me (koshihikari, brown rice version, haiga version, etc); Korean kimchi and banchan (more variety); a few Korean pantry items like gochujang (better variety); their marinated meats are great in a pinch for dinner; very specific Japanese ingredients that I can’t find elsewhere like. Most of the Japanese markets near me are much smaller so this place subs for a lot of Japanese groceries otherwise.

Thai/Cambodian markets - herbs or spices! Makrut lime leaf (before I started growing them), fresh galangal, Thai curry sauces, or Thai fish sauce

Indian market - Paneer, more herbs and spices (that’s a common running theme) - but also fresh peppercorns; if they have frozen prepared foods, I’m more likely to try these at the ethnic grocer than the ones at the big US store

4 Likes

I know. Another place, along Manchester’s “curry mile” makes them almost to order. It’s the only sweet that they prepare in the front of the shop and always seem to be frying.

1 Like

It is an embarrassment of riches, foodwise, here in the DC/VA area. Our shopping split of duties is that spouse goes to Costco and Safeway. I do farmers market and a regular circuit of international markets. Closest to me is LA Mart, a small local chain. The store I visit is in a neighborhood with many African immigrants so literally produce from all over the world. I get veggies, tofu, rice, sauces, pinto and red beans in bulk, condiments, meat, and random frozen items. They also have a large hispanic selection so I can get my crema, queso fresco, tamales de elote, etc. There is a Vietnamese market not much farther so when I go to Eden center for lunch, I visit Good Fortune for fish, produce, noodles, etc.

Also:
I get injera at a 7-11 that is run by an Ethiopian guy who gets daily deliveries from a bakery in VA
I get fresh pita, dolmas, olives, and some spices at Mediterranean Bakery (owned by a Lebanese family)
I get spices, legumes, frozen cocktail samosas, paratha, idli mix, and other items at a small Indian market next to my favorite restaurant

Sometimes I imagine moving somewhere to a less congested place where I could enjoy country life. And then I shake in fear about the possible lack of access to all of this culinary magic.

7 Likes

That’s one thing that keeps me in the Bay Area (another is the amazing libraries, with books available via inter-library loan).

4 Likes

North of Boston, we are near a couple of family owned Lebanese/middle eastern markets that we visit (almost) weekly. Spices, pita, olives, baklava, salads and spreads, labneh and lunch. We head to Patel’s in NH every so often for spices, and sauces, snacks, Cadberry chocolate, and their prepared foods.
And the CSA we joined starts this week, so looking forward to some fresh veggies.
Our base is always the local Market Basket but we visit Wegmans, Trader Joes, Costco and Aldi in no particular order or schedule.

4 Likes

I suppose I should also have mentioned Lidl (which we always find better than Aldi). Always a good selection of German and East European products. And their “country of the week” can be good. Currently Italy then, from Thursday, “Alpine” (looking at what will be on offer, it’ll be the best of times and the wurst of times). I’m tempted by their upcoming Spain week - there’s always very cheap jamon on the bone but it’s such a lot of meat with only me eating it I’m sure there would be a lot of waste.

5 Likes

We have 99 Ranch and SF Market as the big names in Asian markets. One staple I pick up frequently is miso, which I use in my cooking more than I’d expected.

Other frequent grabs are ramen noodle kits w fresh noodles, fun snacks, frozen tocino for weeknight dinners. And those Chinese restaurant almond cookies which I’m
trying to master baking myself.

I’ve also just discovered Oto’s Market, a Japanese market in the Pocket neighborhood that does daily bento and sushi boxes that are quite good and not badly priced!

I think Corti Bros counts as ‘ethnic’, in that it stocks many Italian specialties. I know I can reliably find guanciale, 00 imported Italian flour, and real San marzano tomatoes there, though at moderately inflated prices.

The deli sandwiches are the killer app there, though. Order ahead. Skip the wait.

4 Likes

Hmmm, I assume you’re asking about markets besides (Far) Asian ones?

Eastern European… Sausages, bacon, pickled vegtables, pelmeni, dry goods.

Italian… Oils, cheezes, pasta, charcuterie, truffles, wines, olives, flour, rice, tonno.

French… Cheeses, mustards, wines, pate, spices and seasonings, confits, duck, bacalao, patisserie.

Pan-Asian… vegetables, rice, live crustaceans snd mollusks, sauces, offal, seasoning pastes, noodles.

1 Like

Why would those be excluded?

Ernie - I’ve used Apple translate for labels, signs, menus and much more in Japan. Haven’t thought to do so at Tokyo Fish (duh), but will!

1 Like

Great idea! But Google Translate or Lens here. I’ll try it.

We have several very well-stocked Asian grocers (mostly Chinese owned, but also a Korean market), a Turkish / Middle Eastern / randomly German market, an East European market, and an International Market that carries predominantly Indian, South Asian, and South East Asian products.

Food stuffs bought at the Chinese grocers: all kinds of Asian greens & veg, fresh shiitake, king oyster mushrooms at a fragment of the supermarket price, fresh noodles, hot pot base, spicy Sichuan peanuts (an incredibly addictive snack), soy sauce, vinegars, frozen dumplings, roast duck & occasionally pasteis de nata delivered from the big bad city every Thursday.

Turkish store for frozen baklava, olive oil, halal meat, Greek cheeses, ayran if I’m too lazy to make my own, lavash.

East European store for smoked fish, sour cream, homemade pickles, sausages, fresh-baked rye.

Korean store… nada. My PIC doesn’t care for kim-chi, which is one of the few Korean foods I like, but neither of us are much into Korean food in general :woman_shrugging:t3:

International market for dolma, pomegranate molasses, Bulgarian feta… other random ingredients nobody else carries.

I guess for a town in the boonz we’ve got some decent shopping options.

1 Like