I sincerely hope that none of you think that I am a food snob. It’s essentially an occupational hazard. As a food blogger, I am forced to sound authoritative and omnipotent on the subject of food. Really, I am not. I’m just some girl in a kitchen with a little knowledge, a hungry boyfriend and a love of cooking.
That said, I do know my way around ingredients, especially the strange ones. I’m a really good orderer in restaurants! Being able to explain an ingredient on a menu is one thing, telling an interested party where to find it, how much it costs and how to get to it is something different entirely.
Below you will get a peak into my pantry. You’ll see where I shop and what I buy and how to use it. New York is an incredible place for food shopping; we have not one but TWO Chinatowns and everything from Little India to Little Poland. I suppose most cities have their own ethnic neighborhoods, but none feel as easily accessible or welcoming as the ones in New York. Well they feel welcoming to me, and at this point perhaps intimidating to you. Well, not any longer. Here is a comprehensive list of the markets I frequent and exactly what I buy there. Yes, most of them are Asian, but that’s how I roll.
I’ve included links to previous posts to show how you might use your bounty!
Let’s start with the basics.
I cannot wax poetic enough about the power of Trader Joe’s. Y’all East Coasters don’t understand, but having grown up in Los Angeles (where Trader Joes is a religion as big as Scientology) I am a member of the faith. I hear complaints that the produce isn’t fresh and the lines are long and their products taste weird. Well y’all are wrong. The produce is fresh and most of it is organic, the lines are long but they move quickly and their products don’t taste weird. Part of the magic of Trader Joe’s is that it’s so cheap. Staples like olive oil and balsamic vinegar can be found for LESS than half of what you’d pay at Whole Foods or the dreaded Gristedes. However don’t make the mistake of buying their cheapest balsamic vinegar. It’s about two dollars and is pretty bad, but spend just two dollars more for a delightful, slightly sweet version. It can get a little crazy; I’ll give you that. But you don’t have to go all the time. Trader Joe’s is a good source for things you’ll want to keep around for a while: canned goods, frozen veggies and pasta. Below is an annotated list of my favorite products to help you on your next TJs adventure.
Staples to buy at Trader Joe’s:
Olive Oil -the Spanish one is the best quality for the best deal.
Fancy Balsamic Vinegar – small, square bottle with red label.
Frozen artichoke hearts -I love these since they are about 3 dollars and can be the star in an artichoke pasta dish in about 20 minutes…just out of the freezer.
Pasta -TJs has the BEST and cheapest whole wheat pasta.
Buratta cheese – a creamier mozzarella sold in a tub, insanely cheap at $3.99. If you can even find it elsewhere, it’s going to be $$$$. Use it for a caprese salad.
Frozen Artic Char- this might be the only fish worth buying frozen because it’s so cheap and defrosts quickly because it’s so thin.
Marinated Bolgoki –Korean spare rips, paired with rice and Kim chi are awesome on a weeknight.
It’s expensive, we all know this. But you also live in New York, so you’re used to it. Mind you, another West Coast import. You’re welcome. There are some things to be found at Whole Foods that are actually awesome and hard to find elsewhere. I wouldn’t really call truffle butter a staple, but in my house it is. So, I’ll throw it on the list anyways.
Staples to buy at Whole Foods:
Truffle butter – the company is called Wild Forest Products and it’s about ten bucks. Put this on popcorn, grilled cheese or pasta and your mind will be blown.
Kukicha tea – ever been with your weird vegan friend to a macrobiotic restaurant? Remember those boring steamed vegetable and gross seaweed? Remember that amazing tea they served? It’s called Kukicha and it’s made from the stems of the green tea plant. It’s got a hint of caffeine and is just nicely sweet and smoky. It’s the whiskey of herbal teas! The brand is called Eden Foods.
Okay, that was the easy part. What you really want to know is where to get the weird stuff. I don’t really know how to classify these places for you. So I’m going to list my 10, yes that’s right 10 favorite food stores you may have never heard of! I hope that if you have any questions, you’ll leave them in the comments section!
The 10 best ethnic grocery stores in NYC (according to me and my Asian preferences)
1. Mistuwa Market in Edgewater New Jersey
595 River Road
Neighborhood: Edgewater, NJ
A short drive or a $3.00 bus away (include link), this Japanese MECCA is where I get all my Asian staples. I try to make the trip about twice a year and I die of happiness each time. Make sure you plan your visit around a meal as they have a food court with everything from udon to okominyaki. Also, get the black sesame ice cream from the dessert/tea place. So rich and refreshing.
Don’t leave Mitsuwa without:
Soy Sauce – here it’s sold in bulk for cheap. Kikoman has this really beautiful vintage-looking tin can of the stuff for about 8 bucks.
Produce! –they have everything, and it’s cheap. Bring your favorite hot pot recipe and buy buy buy. They have about 15 kinds of mushrooms, try “wood ear” in a stir fry with soba noodles.
Kewpie Mayonnaise –this creamy Japanese mayo goes well on just about everything, especially fried pork cutlets.
Sake – they have a great selection and great prices. Also a very knowledgeable staff. Generally I’ve found that they don’t speak English very well, but tell them how much you want to spend and what you’re cooking and they can certainly help you out.
Treats! – Japanese sweets are weird and delicious.
Tea- a great source for loose-leaf green tea. They have the good stuff, just ask for it. This is also a good place to get matcha powder if you’re going to make green tea ice cream.
Rice – Definitely the cheapest place for rice. Brown rice especially. They sell sushi rice in 50 lb. bags if you should require that much.
Soba and Udon noodles- more nutritious than pasta, I keep these on hand for easy lunches. Just stir fry with soy sauce and fresh or frozen vegetables.
Bonito Flakes – Delicious on a cold block of tofu and romaine lettuce. I’ve posted a recipe here.
Miso dressing – to put on the previously mentioned salad.
Inari – These marinated fried tofu skins are sweetly delicious and make a perfect lunch when filled with brown rice. I’ve posted a great recipe here.
2. Hong Kong Supermarket in Manhattan Chinatown
157 Hester St.
The biggest, best chinese grocery store. They have every kind of sauce and noodle you could ever need as well as meats, fish tofu and candies. Also a good place to find pretty serving dishes and chopsticks.
Don’t leave Hong Kong Supermarket without:
Shrimp Chips- I need to do a special post on these cause they are so so so so so so good. Here’s a how to and a photo http://thaifood.about.com/od/thaisnacks/ss/shrimpchips.htm
Pork Belly – to make momofuku pork buns of course.
Ramen – this is place to get all that sodium heavy ramen for those late nights when you are starving and all you have in the fridge is water and sriracha…on that note:
Sriracha – this chili sauce is good on just about everything from eggs to tacos.
Fish – while probably not your beautiful organic salmon filets from Whole Foods, they’ve got it all. This is a good place to get black cod (usually expensive, thanks Nobu).
Fish sauce – if you like Asian food, chances are you’re going to need fish sauce at some point. They have the best brands for the cheapest.
Mirin – this sweet cooking wine is cheap here
Rice vinegar – ditto
Hong Kong Supermarket in Sunset Park
he less-travelled-to Chinatown way deep in South Brooklyn. Admittedly I’ve only been to Brooklyn Chinatown once and it was on a Wednesday morning on a certainly well deserved emotionally wrought personal day (get my drift).
6023 8th Avenue
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
Don’t leave Hong Kong without:
Taking pictures – admittedly it’s far and is pretty much the exact same store (except smaller) as the one in Manhattan.
Live frogs- yes they have them and they sell them in buckets.
Having Dim Sum at Pacificana – after weeks of research and yelp-surfing, I settled upon this highly-regarded place. It’s sooo good, but go with at least 4 people so you can taste everything!
3. Sunrise Mart
4 Stuyvesant Street
494 Broome Street
Neighborhood: East Village and SoHo
This is the best source for all things Japanese. The stores are pretty small (in prime locations…fair enough) but stock most everything you need for a delicious Japanese meal.
Don’t leave without:
Kim chi – yes it’s Korean, but they’ll have it and it will be cheap.
Japanese Sweet Potatoes – these beauties have purple skin and white flesh, delicious when roasted.
Other produce: They sell things neatly wrapped in small packages, perfectly portioned for a meal for 1 or 2. Some of my favorites: enoki mushrooms, chives, shiso leaves.
4. Manhattan Fruit Exchange
75 9th Ave.
In the glorious expanse that is Chelsea Market lies this gem of a produce stand. You’ve probably seen the trucks driving around delivering glorious produce to swanky restaurants all over the city. This is their retail store and those large restaurant orders keep their prices astoundingly low. This is the place to get exotic fruits and vegetables; they pretty much have everything.
Don’t leave MFE (as it’s called in my house) without:
Beets! – they sell loose beets in bulk for about 1.49lb. That includes the sweeter, prettier golden beets and candy beets. I should do a post on beet chips.
Mushrooms- they have about 10 fresh varieties and dozens of dried.
Coffee –their whole beans are some of the cheapest in the city. I’ve been rocking the house blend all summer.
5. M2M – East Village
55 3rd Ave
Neighborhood: East Village
You’ll have to battle NYU students and the douche bags at The Smith next door, but this awesome ethnic market has a plethora of Japanese, Chinese and Korean food. There are lots of spices and noodles on the shelves, but also a great selection of ready-made food for you to take to work for lunch tomorrow.
Don’t Leave M2M without:
Mochi– they sell them in boxes of 6 in the frozen section. Try red bean, doesn’t taste like beans at all.
Glass noodles – aka Jap Chae. This delicious Korean dish is sold in the refrigerated prepared foods section. They are quite oily, sweet and delicious. Served cold, this makes a perfect picnic lunch.
Kim chi- A great place to grab that giant jar of Kim chi before hopping on the subway. You’ll also find Korean chili powder and Napa cabbage if you want to try yourself.
Frozen dumplings: this is the spot to get bags of frozen pork or veggie dumplings.
6. Brooklyn Kitchen
100 Frost St
This fancy store in the shadow of the BQE is a cook’s dream. It’s beautiful and everything is displayed in pretty ball jars. It’s expensive, but certainly worth a trip and is a great place to take the ‘rents. Also a good place to get gifts for culinary-minded folk as they have really cute glassware. I’m particularly fond of the milk creamer shaped like a cow.
Don’t leave without:
McClure’s pickle chips
Produce- while insanely expensive, it’s good stuff. Go with what’s in season. Sometimes they have good deals on heirloom tomatoes and it’s like Ramps ‘R’ Us during ramp reason in there.
Long Dong Sausages: The Brooklyn kitchen also contains within it, The Meat Hook. While the beef and pork here is some of the best in the city, it’s absurdly expensive. But the sausages are cheap by nature and this one, slightly spicy and cheesy is to die for.
Bitters- this is a showcase of all the artisanal Brooklyn bitters-makers that have sprung up in the last few years. Perhaps due to the bitters shortage of 2009!!! A fascinating story in which the infamous Angostura bitters company had a bitter dispute with it’s bottle maker and for three long and bitter months, no where in New York city could you buy bitters from any bitter salesman.
7. Mott St (between Grand and Hester)
This is not one store per say, but this “strip” in Chinatown has amazing fresh produce for pennies. There are produce stands and fish stores where live crabs are inches from your sandaled feet. Almost exactly
Don’t leave Mott St without:
Choy sum/bok choy: these succulent green veggies are an awesome healthy side dish to steak.
Ginger- giant nubs are sold in giant bins here.
Exotic fruits – rambutan, dragon fruit and giant Chinese oranges are found. Don’t be scared, just try it. And check out my amazing first blog post with it’s tiny, poorly-lit photos!
Visiting Pho Banc- this grimy spot is authentic, delicious and dirt cheap. Get the vegetarian pho, it will run you about 5 bucks. Pho-bulous!
8. Han Ah Reum Supermarket or “H Mart”
25 W 32nd St.
This is actually the only market in what is the awesome expanse of Korea Town. The aisles are extremely narrow, but the shelves are stacked high with Asian delights.
Don’t leave H Mart without:
Kim chi- it’s sold by the bucket here.
Produce- in the wasteland of midtown, their produce is fresh and cheap.
Shrimp chip snacks and dried edamame snacks
Mandoo (Korean pot stickers) –their fresh ones are amazing, especially the ones filled with jap chae (glass noodles).
Marinated beef and pork (bol go ki) –their marinade is awesome and makes an incredibly flavorful meal at home. Just fry or grill the meat and serve with rice, lettuce and Kim chi.
9. Patel Brothers
4292 Main Street, Flushing
Neighborhood: Flushing, Queens
Where else can you buy kohl eye liner, cheap as dirt rosewater and 8 different varieties of eggplants? Patel Brothers! It’s a good-sized grocery store on the main drag in “Little India” or whatever you want to call that neighborhood.
How to get there: Take the 7 train (ohh come on, it’s not that far!)
Don’t leave Patel Brothers without:
Rosewater – this aromatic blend of rose petals and preservatives is an amazing way to flavor drinks and ice cream.
Eggplants! – last time I was there I counted 8 different varieties including really cute little orange ones.
Basmati rice – regular and brown, by far the cheapest in the city.
Ready made curry – if you don’t want your apartment to smell like Karachi and are terrified of cardamom pods, consider Patel Brother’s ready made curries (sold in boxes).
Fresh curry leaves – I have yet to experiment with these, but they look beautiful.
Frozen samosas – weeknight appetizer right out of the fridge.
Mint chutney – sold in jars –don’t forget this to dip your samosas in.
10. Kalustyan’s and Foods of India
123 Lexington Ave
Neighborhood: Murray Hill
Foods of India
121 Lexington Ave
Erm…this is probably the only reason you should ever go to Murray Hill (SNOB!). I’m pretty late in the game on this one. In a recent search for fresh green cardamom pods…I came across this place and on a rainy Wednesday afternoon I found myself in a culinary wonderland of just about every spice I’ve heard of and hundreds more I’ve never heard of. Kalustyan’s is not cheap, so not a good place for staples. For that, go RIGHT next-door and downstairs to “Foods of India.” It’s a little dinky place that looks like a regular bodega, but is filled with fresh, cheap spices and dry goods. While these are separate stores, I’ve combined them into one due to their close proximity. But Kalustyan’s has EVERYTHING and I mean everything. Not just Indian spices, but Thai, Japanese, Lebanese, etc. If you need something out of the ordinary, they are bound to have it here. I was especially impressed with their selection of balsamic vinegars and oils. It’s a maze of a store. I almost missed the spice section entirely (downstairs to the left) and upstairs you’ll find frozen delights and cook ware. Literally, they have EVERYTHING.
Don’t leave Kalustyan’s without:
Rosewater – this aromatic blend of rose petals and preservatives is an amazing way to flavor drinks and ice cream.
Tahini- their brand is made fresh and is pretty cheap. Sold in 5 different sizes.
Ghee- this Indian clarified butter is a staple in most curries and vegetable dishes; they have both cow ghee and vegetable ghee and about 15 different brands of each.
Copper serving dishes – they aren’t cheap, but nothing will make your tikka masala look better than a beautiful copper serving dish with handles that look like the outline of the taj mahal. This is what they look like: http://www.nishienterprise.com/Dining-s/27.htm.
Don’t leave Foods of India without:
Green cardamom pods- they sell a little bag of them for 3 dollars, at least 9 dollars elsewhere
Lentils/dried beans – sold in giant bags, you should definitely stock up here.
Naan –while I didn’t actually purchase any, they had a pretty amazing selection of it
Cumin, garam masala, tandoori masala, ground cardamom, turmeric- these are essential spices for Indian cooking, here they are incredibly fresh and fragrant and sold in cute glass jars for reasonable prices.