You know you’ve had that issue before. The day when you had a craving for your mum’s home-made specialty dish. You emailed her for the recipe; she emailed back quickly and you got all fired up about making it. Except, you weren’t sure if you’d be able to find the ingredients in the regular stores. And sure enough, their “international aisle” was very limited.
The lovely thing about living in D.C. are the many ethnic grocery stores in neighbouring Maryland and Virginia suburbs. So many in fact that I’d never be able to do justice in compiling a full list of stores, so I’m giving you a selection of my personal favourites.
Gourmet Bazaar (Persian/Middle Eastern)
1321-A Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852
A recent craving for Indian food led me to find this Persian market by accident. Gourmet Bazaar is on the basement level of the Woodmont Station strip mall, right under the Indian restaurant. The place looks clean, well-lit and brand new, because they are: the cashier told me they’ve been open for about six months. There’s a butcher in the back of the house, and the rest of the place is stocked with all kinds of canned beans, jars of grape leaves and olives, boxes of Turkish delight, Middle Eastern chocolate wafers, and a table with the largest unleavened bread I’ve ever seen in a grocery store. I ended up getting some sweet dried dates, but the cashier let me try a fresh one all because I asked about the source of their dates. I hope this place survives! It seems like a great place.
Fair Price International Supermarket (Middle Eastern/Indian)
5703 Edsall Rd, Ste C, Alexandria, VA 22304
Fair Price is unimpressive at first glance. From the outside, it looks more like a locally owned pharmacy whose owners decided to rent shop space in a warehouse building, but with this grocery store, appearances mean nothing. Walking into the shop, you’re greeted by fumes from incense (possibly) and more importantly, stacks of curry powders and a variety of Middle Eastern and Indian spices more vast than you can imagine – I ended up lingering in the store longer than expected because of how nice it smelled in there! There were lots of interesting goods to browse, and the prices live up to its name. I spotted boxes of frozen samosas for under three bucks, and large packets of spices retail for half of what it costs at other places. It’s clean, and you can buy halal meats, including more unusual types like veal and goat. Finding Fair Price Supermarket now makes me want to have more experience cooking Indian and Middle Eastern food just so I can go there again, gawk at all the goods and know exactly what to buy. And the giant unleavened bread I saw at Gourmet Bazaar? There are stacks of those at Fair Price.
Kielbasa Factory (Polish)
1073 Rockville Pike Rockville, MD 20852
True to its name, kielbasa (Polish sausage) is the main lure of this Euro grocery store. Behind a glass case on the bottom shelf, sits a mouthwatering array of sausage links that a lady behind the counter will invite you to sample. Who can resist free samples??? As she cuts off a generous piece of sausage from the end of a spare link for you to sample, she’ll explain the flavors, the fat content (or lack of) and field questions. It’s your choice whether to buy of course, but after she hands you about three or four different samples, you either feel somewhat obligated to purchase, or you’re really sold on the delicious kielbasa and want to bring some home. The store also sells hams, cheeses, East European teas, chocolates and spreads, but you should pay attention to the fridges – they’re jam-packed with pierogies!
Meixin Supermarket (Chinese)
460 Hungerford Dr, Rockville, MD 20850
I wrote about Meixin in a full post months back, and am partial to this place because the previous owners were from Malaysia, hence ensuring that many favoured Malaysian items were well-stocked on the shelves. It used to be the most popular Chinese supermarket in Rockville, handily beating its competitor Kam Sam in weekend shopper volume even though they have practically identical goods. The new supermarket giant down the street has now diverted a lot of that traffic from Maxim, as they stock many similar items and at lower prices, but Maxim’s seafood is better quality, and they have Malaysian cooking sauces that the new place does not.
Asian Market (Southeast Asian)
2200 Veirs Mill Rd, Rockville, MD 20851
Products here are the Thai, Vietnamese and some Cambodian versions of products sold at Chinese markets. They also stock home-made baked/fried Southeast Asian snacks on wire racks at the front of the store. While it’s a little disorganised in here, prices are a tad lower than the Chinese markets. I don’t do my shopping here much, but pop in once in awhile in case they have surprise delights. Last year, I found my favourite made-in-Malaysia mooncake (and reasonably priced!) during Mid Autumn Festival, so hat’s off to them for that.
Eden Center (Vietnamese)
6751 Wilson Blvd Falls Church, VA 22044
If a small market for Southeast Asian goods isn’t enough for you, then head to Eden Center in Virginia, which is a Vietnamese shopping center with dozens of restaurants, bakeries, dessert shops, gift stores, food markets, a DVD house and one or two clothing boutiques. Apparently, it’s the largest shopping center in the East Coast that caters to the Vietnamese population and plays host to several Vietnamese festivals celebrations. I came here recently with my friend Sally, a fellow Malaysian and we ooohed and aahed over: roasted quail and rice, and spicy beef noodle soup (pho) at Huong Viet, a restaurant with high ratings on Yelp!; rambutan and mangosteens, as well as a very large whole roasted pig at the food market; a store dedicated entirely to specialty tofu snacks; and finally, bubble tea and che, a Vietnamese shaved ice dessert from Bambu. Anthony Bourdain dropped by here in 2009, you should too!
Hana Japanese Market
2004 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Hana scores big points for two reasons. Firstly, it’s in the middle of D.C. and metro accessible – extremely convenient for expats who don’t have cars. Get off at the U Street-Cardozo Metro stop, walk west on U Street till you get to 17th Street and there’s Hana, inconspicuously tucked away in a grey-bricked building. You might even be momentarily confused, because there’s a sign that says “TRAVEL AGENT” next to the front door. Don’t let that throw you off, because it leads me to reason number two: Hana successfully maxes out its small square footage with a very good variety of essential Japanese products. There’s even frozen foods and fresh produce in the fridges on the right side of the store. The store is clean, products look fresh and prices aren’t exorbitant. Even for the uninitiated, Hana market is an exciting, can’t-miss D.C. find.
Super H Mart (Korean)
10780 Lee Hwy, Fairfax, VA 22030
I haven’t been here myself, so I’m paraphrasing what others have to say about Super H Mart. I’ll update this section once I actually visit. Shoppers who’ve reviewed the place say it’s clean, has an aisle full of kimchi, lots of tasty Korean and Japanese snacks, many varieties of rice, and a Korean food court. They also sell American groceries.
Three locations – see where they are.
Rodman’s is an American-run gourmet food store with a large selection of imported wines, coffee, meats and cheeses, and chocolates. Other grocery products are organised by country; look upwards and you’ll see a row of (mostly Euro) country flags affixed from the ceiling. It’s a good spot to visit if you’re looking for gifts and entertaining food stuff. I always end up spending way too much money on Baci and imported KitKat (they taste different, really!) Read my full review of Rodmans here.
Find a store here
World Market is an American chain selling global goods. Furniture, home decorations, knick-knacks, jewelry, kitchenware, wines and gourmet food. Browsing here often turns up cutesy and kitschy finds. Although it’s pretty expensive, I keep coming back here for my favourite black dahlia scented candle, different varieties of imported Kit Kat, one-of-a-kind greeting cards, Cupcake wines, their mix-and-match global beer shelf, and my personal gem of a find, Bundaberg ginger beer, all the way from Australia. American ginger ale just doesn’t have any kick. None. (In fact, I’ve been told to mix Coke and Sprite to make ginger ale. Uh…what?)
These are my picks! What are some of your favourite ethnic grocery stores in the D.C. area?