I encourage you to get out and explore local ethnic groceries in your area. We are lucky to have both small and large specialty stores where I can find foods from India, China, Thailand, other Southeast Asian countries, Mexico and other Central and Latin American countries, Italy, the Middle East and more.
If that isn’t an option near you, the internet has opened up a huge range of options for getting specialty food items that were unavailable previously.
In North Carolina there are cross cultural specialty food stores like World Market, Southern Season, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and even the “ethnic” isles of your local supermarket and big box store carry some harder to find items. Penzey’s spices now has a local storefront. My Kroger has an interesting selection of “international” foods and our BJs and Costco now have imported items reflecting more of the diversity of our local communities. Compare prices and look for sales: our local specialty store Southern Season have a great selection of cheeses and cured meats in-store that is hard to beat (but often pricey), but their once or twice a year clearance sales on dry goods are a great opportunity to stock up on unusual items at more reasonable prices. Sometimes the small local grocer is the *importer* selling to the larger local chain – going directly to the source is to your advantage! Freshness of foods can be suspect if the store has a low turnover of items, and while this can happen anywhere, most local ethnic grocers are frequented by the local ethnic community and replace items often.
Please tell me about your favorite shopping spots in North Carolina and I’ll be sure to stop in for a visit and include them!
Asia – Thailand, Southeast Asia, China
Saigon Super Mart (Total Oriental Foods), 1629 Ronald Drive Raleigh NC 27609
- Located in a strip mall near Wal-Mart off of Wake Forest Road.
- Great selection of unusual fresh vegetables, especially Thai and Vietnamese greens & herbs, fresh lime leaves, tiny Thai eggplant, squash, bamboo shoots, mustard greens. Selection varies by the day and season. Extensive frozen foods including frozen fresh coconut milk and frozen seafood. Good selection of cooking utensils, condiments, seasonings, other Asian groceries. Atmosphere: Local grocery with export business, somewhat cluttered but fully stocked, owner friendly and helpful.
Grand Asia Market
- http://www.grandasiamarket.com/ 1253 Buck Jones Road Raleigh NC 27606
- Large selection of pan-Asian foods; the focus is Chinese but it has a bit of everything Asian, (and even a nice selection of Mexican dried peppers), fresh fish and meats including a seafood and butcher counters, frozen dumplings/dim –sum, extensive fresh produce including everyday produce like cucumbers and peppers as well as Asian greens, herbs, bean sprouts, cabbages, fresh mushrooms, fruits. Availability varies with season and day of the week. Grocery includes items from India, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and China, but smaller local groceries may have better selection of country-specific items. Store takes all major credit cards, and that now includes a bakery, restaurant and take-out area for roasted meats and dim-sum. Atmosphere: Large busy supermarket with helpful but not always knowledgeable staff. [Note: the store recently posted a sign essentially saying that they are a multi-cultural/multi-language business, and to go to the front desk if you have questions or need help. Much appreciated. ] FYI: I think this is the best Chinese restaurant in the Triangle; take the time to eat in-store before you shop.
Far East Market 2265 New Hope Church Road Raleigh NC 27604
- Caters to the local Asian and African immigrant population. Selection varies, but they often have good selection of fresh vegetables including hard to find Vietnamese greens and herbs. Large selection of condiments, packaged spices, seasonings, and noodles, considering the small size of the store. Sometimes carry kitchenwares, serving dishes, etc. Quality can vary – check refrigerated and frozen foods for expiration dates. This is a nostalgic favorite from back in the day when it was difficult to find ethnic groceries. The strip mall it is located now also has an African Market and an International Foods (mainly Latino) Market. Atmosphere: Around the corner store, low shelves, small. Staff can be a bit reserved, but helpful if asked.
Around The World Market http://www.aroundtheworldnc.com/
- Two locations in the Triangle and one in Charlotte.
- Brand new location with extensive selection of foods from India, but includes some other Asian and British foods as well. Extensive fresh produce selection (including fresh curry leaves), grocery includes bags of whole and ground spices, large selection of papadams, snacks and many frozen foods. The store carries a bit of everything from toiletries to gourmet ice cream to rice and also has a small bakery and sweets counter. Atmosphere: modern ethnic focused grocery trying to meet most of your shopping needs. Staff friendly and helpful, willing to locate items, and serve samples (where appropriate).
Capri Flavors http://www.capri-flavors.com/ 1012 Morrisville Parkway Morrisville NC 27560 [They are moving nearby in mid-Jan 2018. Check their site for new location.]
- Best selection of authentic Italian foods in the Triangle, period. Prices are better on hard to find items than I have seen elsewhere locally. Frozen foods including bread and sausages, good cheese selection, lots of pastas and imported Italian grocery items. Italian wine selection is very good. Stock is not extensive, but is high quality. Atmosphere: The location is attached to a large warehouse and a cooking school, but the store consists of several small attached rooms and the atmosphere is friendly like an around the corner store run by your Nonna (that’s Italian for Grandmother). Titina Vuotto, proprietor, knows her stuff and is more than willing to help you find what you need, answer questions, chat about Italy and hand out samples (as appropriate), as are all the other staff. Check out monthly sales online and in-store.
Mediterranean and Middle East
Neo Monde http://www.neomonde.com/home/ 3817 Beryl Road Raleigh NC 27607
- These café, bakery and market combined businesses each have a slightly different selection of foods; with the Raleigh location being more extensive. Best breads of all kinds in the Raleigh/Cary area, in my opinion. A great place for cheeses (including Bulgarian feta – my favorite), olives, bulk spices, pita bread and hard to find items like pomegranate molasses, preserved lemons and quince jelly. Don’t miss the dried fruits including apricots in syrup or the Middle Eastern desserts. And, lets face it, you might as well have lunch while you are there since the food is delicious. Atmosphere: bustling café very busy at lunch and dinner, with small grocery added on. Staff is very friendly and helpful, including tracking down items in the back storage as needed.
The Independent Weekly recently published an article “Miles of Aisles” on ethnic markets by Emily Matchar (whose opinions and writing I trust). It includes selections from Asia, including Korea and Japan, India, the Middle East, Persia, and Europe (Poland in particular). I can’t wait to get out and try them all.