{lifestyle} Guide to Shopping at Ethnic Markets

As more and more people are now aware about their foods and finding ways to eat healthy without sacrificing flavor, many of the traditional big box grocery stores are falling flat in offering exciting ingredients many home cooks and food enthusiasts are looking for.

Because of this, ethnic food grocery chains have flourished and have even expanded to multiple locations throughout the city. In my town, there is Caputo’s Market, an Italian and European focused grocer; Cermack Fresh Market, a Mexican and Southern American focused market; and H-Mart, a Korean and Asian focused grocery.

Besides these three big grocers, there are also many independently-owned markets that dot the city’s landscape offering authentic ingredients and flavors from the land they are representing.

Residents of big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles don’t have a shortage of ethnic grocers as many cultures are represented in a very dense population. However, even the suburbs have a diverse cultural landscape, and many can visit the different ethnic groceries to experience authentic ingredients from so many parts of the world.

Don’t be afraid if you don’t know the language (ever been to an Asian grocery?), it’s about exploring new things and having fun along the way.

Here are some of my tips on how to navigate ethnic markets.

  • Come with an open mind. Ethnic markets will most likely feature ingredients that aren’t seen in typical American grocery stores. (Yes, that there, is cow’s tongue!) Relax, and enjoy seeing cool or weird things!
  • In bigger ethnic groceries, the layout may be very similar to your local grocery. Fresh produce are in the outer isles, and the inner isles have all the prepackaged good and ingredients. If not, peruse through the entire store. You’ll be surprised how fun it is and how time will fly.
  • Visit markets where you have an interest in the cuisine. Do you just LOVE Japanese food? Then, visiting the local Asian market is something you’ll definitely enjoy! When you go to an ethnic market, you’re getting a glimpse of the people’s culture and traditions through their food. Don’t bother visiting the Indian store if you don’t love or are not interested in the cuisine.
  • Don’t assume, “They don’t speak English”!!  That is such an annoying cliche! Maybe years ago, it was true when typical ethnic markets were small storefronts. And this may still be true in very small “hole-in-the-wall” stores in neighborhoods that are dense in the population. However, today many great ethnic markets are big and savvy businesses that want Americans and the Americanized, to come and spend their money in their markets instead of the guys across the street . Trust me, you will find worker’s who speak English.
  • Talk to the shoppers. Don’t be intimidated to talk or ask questions of the shoppers alongside you in the isles. Chances are that person next to you does know the difference between Basmati and Jasmine rice.
  • Try something new. Does that fruit look interesting? Is that cheese screaming, “Take me home!” The whole idea of visiting an ethnic market is to see what’s out there. Don’t be afraid to take home foods that you may not be sure about how to cook, or have never tried. Look up a recipe in the internet, and give it whirl! You may just surprise yourself and find out that cooking traditional ethnic fair may not be as difficult as it seems.

Now get out there and visit your local ethnic or specialty market and get to know your food!

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