Navigating Ethnic Grocery Stores

Navigating Ethnic Grocery Stores


By Meryl Fulinara

I grew up calling Asian markets “Oriental Stores,” which is apparently NOT. OKAY. And while it had quickly come to my attention that calling a grocery store “ethnic” has become politically incorrect, I say that those theoretical discussions about all grocery stores being in some scope “ethnic” should be kept around the time of 4:20 p.m. There is uniqueness in food cultures from around the world, and there ARE stores that specialize in celebrating that uniqueness.

These specialized food stores are great and more importantly cost effective. You can buy a case of your pretentious craft beer with the amount you’ll save shopping at ethnic grocery stores. The trick to navigating them is knowing what to look out for. Here is your guide:


Illustration by Charles Noerenberg. Click to embiggen.


Patel Brothers


Spices: Spices at your local grocery store can be expensive. On top of that, their spice rack can have products that have been there a year or more—sitting in a warehouse up to a year before it even hit the shelves. Don’t fuck around with that stale shit…you’re better than that. Peruse the spice section at this local market and purchase them whole. When you grind spices yourself you can taste the difference in flavor and intensity.

Ghee: Clarified butter is cooked until the water has evaporated, and the milk protein is strained out, leaving you with a butterfat that is great for searing meats. Since the milk solids have been drained, you can fry things at higher temperatures without it smoking. It has an almost nutty flavor that adds an intense richness to anything you are cooking.

Rice and flour: Buy a 10-pound bag of rice on the cheap and be ready for the impending apocalypse. You’ll never worry about getting your starch fix again—diabetics beware, your glycemic index will skyrocket.

Joong Boo Market


Meat and Imported Asian Fish:  Get fresh-butchered, marinated meats like kalbi (marinated short ribs of beef or pork) and bulgogi (marinated slices of beef sirloin), along with other cuts of meat and seafood. The live fish offerings are impressive—flat fish and monkfish still flopping around until butchered by the dude in a smock, wielding a meat cleaver. Whatever you do, try not to piss him off.

Other Imported Asian Goods: Give your own marinade a Filipino kick with Silver Swan Soy Sauce—similar to Japanese shōyu except with a slightly sweet aftertaste—and Jufran Banana Sauce, which is a sweet-meets-tangy condiment made from mashed banana, sugar, vinegar and various spices. Stock up on Chinese vinegar, but avoid ones that don’t have water listed as one of the first ingredients—points for bottles that feature a name of a town because they follow the traditional Chinese process for fermenting and aging. And don’t forget to stock up on Sriracha, sambal and fish sauce, because you definitely can’t beat the prices here.

Cookwear: Whether you’re in need of a pressure cooker, roasting pans, stone pots or even a hot pot, this housewares section has got you covered. It is some of the most affordable kitchenware you can get in the city. In the market for a second refrigerator? Store up all that meat you are thinking about buying, or the body of your annoying upstairs neighbor that has bowling balls for feet.

Marketplace On Oakton


Meat Oddities: Looking for the parts of the animal that hardly get any love? Now that I’ve given you a taste for beef tongue, you can buy that along with fresh heads, hooves, hearts and kidneys. There is nothing offal about that. Sorry. That was a dad joke. But you’ll be able to find any cut of a chicken, turkey, cow, pig, lamb or veal here. And as an added bonus, they have a meat tenderizer in the back that you can use to your meat’s content.

Seafood: Whole fish—I’m talking head-to-tail offerings. The only thing better than that? Affordable prices. Yeah, that’s right. You can buy the fish whole, but if you’re lazy like me they’ll fillet it for you. I’d opt for the shrimp with head intact. Great on the grill or as a base for seafood stock. You really can’t go wrong here.

A & G Fresh Market


Produce: I get it. You like meat, which is why you are on a site called Manbque™. But you got to get all herbivore every once and a while. You won’t find better looking or fresher produce for this price outside of a farmer’s market. With multiple varieties of different produce, you can buy regular, baby, Persian and Chinese eggplant all in one place. And the buck doesn’t stop there.

Al Khyam Bakery & Grocery


Cooking Oils: Olive oil, Sunflower oil, Mustard oil and everything in between. You can get a bottle of cooking oil that costs less than a gallon of gas. That’s a pretty good deal for something that should always be fully stocked in your pantry.


Special thanks to Charles Noerenberg—graphic designer, condo owner and Tom Brady-enthusiast who thinks 311 is actual music. Check out his portfolio.

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