When it comes to ethnic supermarkets these days, it’s not enough to be just Vietnamese or even Pan-Asian. In the western United States, 99 Ranch has been the standard bearer of Asian supermarket chains — offering an inventory to meet the needs of every Asian cuisine. In the past few years, Mexican tortillas have been added to the shelves too. Hey, many of the people working the butcher and seafood counters are Latinos. Over time, I’ve seen more Indian and African patrons at not just 99 Ranch but many other Asian markets in the San Jose/Santa Clara area where I do most of my grocery shopping.
Such trends aren’t isolated to California. On business trips to Atlanta and Chicago, I’ve come across humongous markets catering to practically anyone who’s interested in good, fresh food. The markets just happen to be owned by Asian people. Here are some highlights . . .
On Buford Highway, the hub of Atlanta’s Asian community, there are two large markets. The big one is called Buford Highway Farmers’ Market and is owned by Korean-Americans. (Atlanta has one of the largest Korean comm
unities in America.) On a Saturday afternoon, the place rocks with activity. The produce section is mobbed as people shop for Korean radish, fresh turmeric, and Mexican quelites — hard to find ingredients in your average store. Caribbean, L
atino, and Asian shoppers check out the fresh banana leaves and the fresh aloe vera.
At the seafood counters, there’s sushi in one area, whole fish in another, and live crab a few feet away. The meat and poultry section is vast with fresh and frozen items to explore. The aisle are clearly marked by nationality. You can buy a pinata as well as frozen gyoza.
At the Vietnamese-owned Atlanta Farmer’s Market, the scene is a bit more quiet but multi-cultural, multi-racial, nonetheless. What unites the shoppers, who are predominantly Vietnamese, Latino, and African American is pork.
Never have I seen a wall of pork like the one that the butcheress was cutting up. We don’t have that in California. I chatted with the security guard, who said to me, "I’m a black man, an ex-Marine. Now I’m working in a grocery store with your people. Isn’t that great? It’s America!"
Similar scenes can be found in countless other markets in the U.S. New York-based H-Mart, a Korean-owned, chain from the East Coast, has a marvelous store in Niles, Illinois, which is outside of Chicago. (Many thanks to Richard for the tip!) The store is clean, brightly lit, and full of fresh produce and meat. The Korean kimchi selection knocked me out (in a very good way, that is), but there was a great selection of fish sauce for Thai and Vietnamese cooking, kecap manis for Indonesian and Malaysian cooking, as well as Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. The market is as big as the Home Depot next door.
Nashua, New Hampshire
Ive always thought of New Hampshire in terms of the presidential primaries, not Asian food. Well, that changed this week. On August 8, the Nashua Telegraph reported that its local Saigon Asian Market is doing quite a brisk business. At the ten-month old, 8,000-square foot store, the Vietnamese-Chinese owners have stocked the shelves with ingredients for Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Filipino, Mexican, African, Jamaican, and traditional American fare. People are loving it.
For details, read "Market sells food from wide range of countries" by
- Buford Highway Farmers’ Market, 5600 Buford Highway, NE, Doraville, GA 30040
- Atlanta Farmers’ Market (formerly Hong Kong Supermarket), 4166 Buford Hwy, Atlanta, GA 30345
- Saigon Asian Market, 33 Pine St, Nashua, New Hampshire