New Yorkers are blessed with such a variety of dining options (not to mention fleets of delivery men prepared to bring them takeout from every corner of the city), so they may overlook the opportunity to actually use their kitchens. But if you’re using your oven for storage space, that’s a shame: There are a number of stellar ethnic markets in this city, and they offer ingredients for adventurous home chefs and tentative beginners alike. Here’s our guide to the grocery stores where you can explore the city’s culinary diversity — because having a spice rack stocked with dried mango powder and a freezer full of kulfi is definitely cooler than bragging about your empty fridge.
Han Ah Reum Supermarket, 25 West 32nd Street, 212-695-3283
Han Ah Reum Supermarket is in the heart of Koreatown, which means it is sized and priced for Manhattan (read: cramped and expensive). That said, it’s also a great resource for kimchi, pickles, seaweed, and Korean condiments like gochujang. If you have a sweet tooth, check out the Melona bars (honeydew-flavored popsicles) and the citron tea. There is also a generous selection of Chinese and Japanese goods and, for those fortunate enough to work nearby, Korean bento boxes at lunch time.
Kalustyan’s, 123 Lexington Avenue, 212-685-3451
Kalustyan’s sits on Lexington Avenue’s curry row, but its products span a vast territory, from South Asia to the Middle East and Europe. Professional chefs are known to frequent the store for its array of spices, which is no surprise, given that it offers one-stop shopping for the cook who needs both juniper berries and dried mango powder. You may also want to explore the grains (everything from amaranth to wheat berries) and the sweets (Persian ice cream!). In a shop that devotes an entire section to varieties of paprika, you’re guaranteed to find something you’ve never heard of on every visit. Don’t miss the upstairs deli, which sells dips, salads, and sandwiches that highlight ingredients like Middle Eastern cured beef and labneh, a Lebanese soft cheese.
Mitsuwa Marketplace, 595 River Road, Edgewater, New Jersey, 201-941-9113
The mother lode for Japanese expats and Japanophiles, Mitsuwa Marketplace is a shopping center in Edgewater, New Jersey, a 20-minute bus ride from the Port Authority. The enormous supermarket’s offerings run the gamut from sashimi-grade fish to Kit Kats in esoteric flavors. All the staples of Japanese home cooking — dashi, noodles, sauces, a wide range of miso and tofu — are available, and you’ll find regional specialties like karashi mentaiko (spicy cod roe). You can also pick up the necessary accoutrements for Japanese cuisine, including rice cookers and bento boxes. In-house restaurants hawk ramen, tonkatsu, curries, rice bowls, and baked goods for hungry shoppers; next door is a home goods store — stocked full of Japanese stationery you never knew you needed — as well as a Shiseido cosmetics shop, a bookstore, and, for those seeking a truly well-rounded experience, a Japanese-speaking dentist. Pro tip: A shuttle bus runs frequently from Gate 51 at the Port Authority ($4 one way).
New York Mart, 128 Mott Street, 212-680-0178
New York Mart’s aisles hold amazing juxtapositions — like dried octopus beside Kraft American cheese slices — as well as fantastic deals, like takeaway boxes of half a Peking duck for $8.75. Shoppers may find cheaper produce among the fruit and vegetable stands lining Mott Street, but this vast grocery is a microcosm of Chinatown, boasting an impressive fish market with live shrimp, crabs, turtles, and frogs; a bakery; and sections for prepared foods, frozen foods, and appliances. Go now to stock up on Chinese New Year decorations from the temporary booth inside, which sells red lanterns and charms celebrating the year of the horse.
Patel Brothers, 37-27 74th Street, Jackson Heights, 718-898-3445
Patel Brothers is located next door to the famous Jackson Diner, convenient for those who want to recreate at home the saag paneer and tandoori chicken they just had at the buffet. Most impressive is the range of spices and flours — many surprisingly cheap — and the selection of lentils, chutney, naan, roti, and produce, the most extensive you’ll encounter in the city. Customers who are new to Indian cooking may be relieved to find certain fundamentals like ghee pre-made; there is also a wide variety of snacks and frozen dishes if you’re truly kitchen-shy.
Sahadi’s, 87 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-624-4550
This Brooklyn Heights Lebanese grocery, in business since 1948, still has that Old World vibe, having remained a neighborhood institution despite years of gentrification pushing out most Middle Eastern residents. Customers obediently take a number and wait their turn to order from the massive olive bar and jars of bulk candy, nuts, and dried fruit. At the prepared foods counter, a staff member’s refrain of, “What else?” suggests that you’re cheating yourself if you leave with only a small tub of the excellent spicy hummus. (Try also the lamb-stuffed grape leaves, taramosalata, and orzo salad.) Top off your supplies for the world’s greatest picnic with freshly roasted coffee and Mediterranean sweets from the bakery.
Titan Foods, 25-56 31st Street, Astoria, 718-626-7771
Astoria’s once-dominant Greek population now shares the neighborhood with immigrants from Egypt, Colombia, and the hipster diaspora, but Titan Foods remains an important resource for the community. The Greek market offers the expected olives, feta, and spanokopites — all fantastic — but the bakery is a standout. Let yourself be persuaded by the woman behind the counter to buy a large box of melomakarona, cookies made with honey, cinnamon, orange zest, and walnuts; you’ll have no regrets. Also available is fresh fish, prepared salads and dips, produce, a massive selection of olive oil, and olive oil-based beauty products.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 29, 2014