Vallarta Market

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Vallarta Supermarkets is a chain of 44 stores in southern and central California, specializing in Mexican and Latin American food products.

Since I was planning on making tamales, I decided to do all of my shopping at my local Vallarta market. Key ingredients that I needed were Maseca (corn flour), dried corn husks and pork lard. These were easy and plentiful to find at this ethnic market though not what you might readily see at your average grocery store.

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I also needed to purchase poblano chiles, jalapenos, white onions and tomatillos. These items were also plentiful and beautiful in the produce section. Other interesting items of note in produce were cactus, chayote squash, a variety of chile peppers both fresh and dried, tropical fruit including mangos and papaya, and banana leaves, fresh chesnuts and taro root.

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Vallarta has a butcher section that includes some of your standard fare but also includes a beef heart, liver and kidney mix, a mutton mix, smoked pork chops, fresh chicken gizzards and beef lips! There is a seafood section and many canned and packaged goods that are equally interesting and not what you find at your local supermarket. Hence the reason to seek out ethnic markets, both big and small in your local area. They are fascinating worlds of not only foodie wonder, but of another culture. I cannot get enough!

Galleria Market

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Los Angeles has the second largest Korean population outside of Korea. It makes sense that it also has some amazing Korean supermarkets. Galleria Market, located in Northridge, is one of the best I’ve come across.

Food Court

The first thing you notice when you enter Galleria Market is the Food Court. Different stalls entice you with their fare: sushi, tonkatsu, Korean barbecue, bulgogi, kalbi and other Korean specialties. Everything looks and smells delicious.

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The Bakery 

French-inspired bakery, Tous Les Jours entices shoppers with beautifully baked and packaged patisseries and breads. They also have a selection of stunning cakes.

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Korean Grocery Items

This large market is full of typical Korean grocery items including many versions of Kim Chee and pastes (Gochujang), sliced meats and fresh, mostly whole fish. There are many choices within the aisles of rice, noodles, snacks and produce.

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Prepared Foods

A specialty in Korean cuisine are the prepared foods. Most Korean markets have a section dedicated to vegetables and salads that are prepared fresh and purchased self-serve and by the pound. From Jap Chae (Korean Glass Noodle Salad) to many pickled vegetables to small fermented fish, this Korean salad bar is as colorful as it is interesting.

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Korean Culture and Food

Korean food is not as universally known as are many other cuisines in the United States, but the flavor profiles are bold and unique within the Asian culture. With a plethora of Korean restaurants in Los Angeles as well as a thriving population here, the opportunities to learn more about and experience Korean culture and cuisine abound.

India Sweets & Spices

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I love going to ethnic markets and wandering the aisles, discovering things I have never seen and trying to figure out what many of the products are. That’s entertainment for me. And, after traveling to India a few years ago with Raelene, I fell even more in love with Indian food. A fairly large selection of Indian products can be found at India Sweets and Spices in Glendale, California.

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There are aisles of spices in all quantities available at this market. From the typical cumin, coriander and turmeric to asafetida and names I couldn’t pronounce. Dal (lentils) come in many colors and shapes. Interesting pickles and condiments line the shelves. There is a produce section and ample frozen items including pre-made Indian specialties like samosas and naan, as well as paneer and frozen Indian meals. There are cooking equipment items, personal products and even Bollywood movies.

Another feature of India Sweets and Spices is the sizable restaurant attached to the market. They feature both northern and southern Indian specialties but their curry combos are the most popular. While I was there they were serving 4 or 5 fresh curries, served with basmati rice, chapati and puri, a vegetable samosa and pickles.

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My favorite find on my last visit to India Sweets & Spices was their snack counter. Delicious savory snacks were sold by the pound and the choices were inviting and varied. Because it was hard to choose, I ordered a little bit of 6 different snacks – from spicy cashews and peanuts to puffed cereals and fried dal and chickpeas, in various combinations and all with different spices. They were amazing and very different from any American-style snack.

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If you like Indian food and have any interest in cooking it, this is a great market to get your supplies. And while there, check out the restaurant and especially the snacks. They are a great way to sample a variety of Indian treat combinations.

Little Saigon

Little Saigon in Orange County, California is the oldest and largest Vietnamese community in the United States. There are 189,000 Vietnamese inhabitants in Little Saigon and 368,000 in the greater Southern California area.

Little Saigon includes the towns of Westminster and Garden Grove. The main street of activity in Little Saigon is Bolsa Avenue. For a first time visitor, a good place to start is the Asian Garden Mall (Phuoc Loc Tho).

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Inside the mall there are a variety of clothing and jewelry boutiques, gift shops, small eateries and even a place to worship.

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After visiting Vietnam this summer, I was interested in exploring Little Saigon and especially trying to recapture some of the wonderful food flavors I experienced in Hanoi and Hoi An. Based on some limited research and location, I had lunch at Pho 79 in the Asian Garden Mall.

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I tried the very popular dish of fresh spring rolls with pork and shrimp. They were beautiful but less flavorful than I was hoping for. The peanut based sauce that accompanied the spring rolls was very different from the vinegar, sugar and fish based sauces that were consistently served in northern and central Vietnam.

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I had high hopes for the chicken pho, hoping for memories of the chicken pho we had in Hanoi! Not close. Same experience when I tried to make it at home several weeks ago. What is the secret? The fried spring rolls were pretty but also just okay. I’m wondering if you can ever recapture flavors from another country in this country without the particular ingredients, climate, sounds, smells and textures?

A critical stop for me in Little Saigon was the ethnic supermarket. On this trip, I visited  A Dong Supermarket. I was overwhelmed by the fresh rice noodle aisle. I have never seen so many varieties of fresh rice noodles, sold in such large (5 and 10 pound) quantities.

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They also had some more unusual ingredients, including blue crab as well as snails that are used in the Vietnamese snail soup.

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There are more than 4,000 businesses in just 3 square miles of this Vietnamese-dominated community. In half a day I was able to explore only a few but got a good feel for the area and what it has to offer. I also bought a beautiful Vietnamese ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese national costume consisting of a colorful silk tunic worn over pants. I have no idea where or when I will wear it, but I couldn’t resist!

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Valley Produce Market

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Valley Produce Market, located in Reseda, CA (northern Los Angeles) is not for the faint-hearted. But for those who are brave and a little bit tough, it can be a find.

The product base is vast but specializes in Middle-Eastern foods. There is also a decent amount of Indian staples as well, along with some Latin and Asian products. But as their name suggests, they are known for their produce.

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They have every kind of produce you would see at a large supermarket, but in addition they carry multiple varieties of many items: 4 types of eggplant, at least 10 different fresh chiles, endless herbs and peppers. They even carried these beautiful Indian bittermelon. I’m not sure what you do with them, but someday I’ll find out.

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The prices are hard to believe. A bunch of basil for 59 cents. Parsley 29 cents. Radishes – 3 bunches for $1. Nectarines on special for 69 cents per pound. And the produce looks delicious and fresh.

In addition to produce, Valley Produce has an extensive meat counter with prices that look significantly lower than chain supermarkets. For example, chicken leg quarters were 99 cents per pound. And all of the meat is wrapped to order. There is also a decent selection of offal meat, if you’re into that. And there is seafood, too though the selection is fairly limited and mostly frozen. But there were lobster tails for $3.99 each!

There are bread and bakery items, mostly Middle-Eastern in nature. Endless styles of pita and lavosh. Dairy items included a large selection of yogurt and labneh. Hummus. There are many staples including an entire aisle of rice, cooking oils (olive, grapeseed, peanut, avocado, sesame, sunflower, flaxseed, ghee), as well as canned and bottled fish, vegetables and fruits. And the spices are incredible!

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There are many common spices represented but also many that I’ve never used. Dry whole lemons? Sour Grape Powder? Along with Zatar, Sumac, Middle-Eastern, Indian and Mexican spices and blends. The prices are incredibly reasonable.

The deli here is popular due to the selection and the prices, which also tend to be significantly less than chain stores. There is a decent selection of frozen foods with some more difficult to find items such as frozen okra or artichoke hearts and ice cream in flavors of saffron, rose water and pistachio.

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One of my favorite sections of Valley Produce is the dried fruit, nut and seed aisle. Individual clear bags are wrapped and sold of endless varieties of fruits, nuts and seeds in various forms: raw, roasted, spiced, mixed and combined with other things. The prices are low compared to other markets and the sizes allow you to try many different things.

Here’s a sample of what I brought home: gorgeous veggie chips, an Asian peanut snack mix, Jumbo roasted and salted cashews and whole nutmeg. Yum.

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To properly appreciate this market, it’s important to be aware that it gets CROWDED. Really crowded. If you can go when it opens @ 9 am, and better during the week vs the weekend, it will be better. Also, you may get your cart bumped now and again, and “excuse me” is not often heard here. There are sometimes long lines, at the deli and to check out. Unfortunately there is no organic much of anything here – though I did buy some organic tahini! But if you enjoy ethnic markets (like I do), this one is well worth a visit.

Nijiya Japanese Market

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Nijiya Market is my favorite Japanese market in my area. I drive up to 30 minutes each way to my closest branch located on Sawtelle Blvd in West LA. There are additional stores in both Southern and Northern California, Hawaii and New York. They carry quality fresh sushi and bento lunches of great variety for a small store of their size.

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They also carry fresh fish and meat of high quality, as well as a wide selection of Japanese food staples (rice, noodles, condiments, snacks and sweets), fresh and frozen items and Japanese produce.

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The service is always friendly. The area is busy but there is ample parking around and below the building. Prices are reasonable relative to the quality. This is a great market for all Japanese foodie items and also a lovely area for sampling some of the Japanese culture in Los Angeles.

 

Ethnic Markets

I love cooking international food.  For dinner tonight we had Chinese Kung Pao Shrimp and a very French dessert of Caramelized Pears.  When we go out to dinner we usually go to an ethnic restaurant.  We are lucky to live in an ethnically diverse city like Los Angeles where we could eat food from a different country every night of the week.  If we want to cook ethnic food at home instead, we have an incredible number of ethnic markets to choose from.  It takes a little research to discover where these markets are and some time to travel the LA freeways to get to them, but when we do it is like a trip to a foreign country only a lot less expensive and time consuming.

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Lauren and I are big geeks whenever we enter an ethnic market.  A trait not easily understood by family and other friends.  We have spent hours walking up and down each aisle in an ethnic market picking up products and asking other shoppers how something is used and oohing and aahing our way through the store.    We usually walk out with bags of spices and other goodies that will take us years to use and consume.  Once we visited an Asian market in Little Saigon in the South bay area of LA and we bought tons of Asian snacks after being recruited by the kiosk salesperson for taste tests.   A year later, I still have some of those snacks in my freezer.   Accessibility to varieties of ethnic food products of course will depend on where you live, but I encourage you to go out and visit your local neighborhood ethnic markets and learn about the world through their culinary tastes and food products. Here are a few of mine and Lauren’s favorite ethnic markets.  I would like to read about some of yours.

Middle Eastern & Eastern European

Valley Produce, Reseda

Q Market, Van Nuys

Olive Fresh Garden Marketplace, North Hollywood

Japanese

Mitsuwa Marketplace, Los Angeles

Marukai Market, Little Tokyo

Nijiya, Sawtelle

Beard Papa’s Bakery, Sawtelle

Asian

99 Ranch Market, Van Nuys

Korean

Farm Boy, Sherman Oaks

H and K Market, Glendale

Indian

India Sweets & Spices, Atwater Village & West Hills

Bombay Spiceland, Northridge

Sri Lankan

Indo Lanka Cash & Carry, Van Nuys

Thai

Bangluck Market, North Hollywood

Hispanic

Vallarta Supermarkets, Van Nuys

Italian

Monte Carlo, Burbank

Bay Cities, Santa Monica

Russian

Grandma’s Deli, Valley Village

 

 

 

 

 

Artopia

It had been about 15 years since I visited Grand Central Market (GCM) in downtown Los Angeles. The last time I went was during lunchtime and I had to leave without lunch because the smell of food was so unpleasantly overpowering. Over the last year, new owners have made a concerted effort to revamp the Market by attracting hip food vendors and restaurants to draw in the lunchtime crowds and offer a pleasant place to visit in the evenings for those people who are visiting or living downtown. I jumped at the chance to see what all the fuss was about when I read about an event being held there called Artopia. It promised to be a fun and interesting evening with live bands, performance artists and many food and product vendors. Our $30 advance tickets included admission to the event and drink coupons for beer and wine. We could purchase food from various vendors while there. Lauren and I went not knowing what to expect but excited at the possibilities. Besides a night on the town by ourselves was a real treat. When we arrived, the first thing we noticed while parking was a tall transvestite wearing a Kinky Boots outfit with thigh high red boots and a whip tucked neatly into the shaft as well as a long line waiting to get in.
After getting our wrist bands and drink coupons, Lauren and I went wandering around to see what the GCM had to offer. It wasn’t the sensual eye candy of European markets we have experienced in our travels but it was interesting. Sprinkled among the vintage vendors selling mole sauces, candy, tortillas and various Mexican cuisine, were the new ones offering moreupscale food, such as Valerie’s Confections, Bel Campo Meat Co., Horse Thief Texas BBQ, EggSlut, Sticky Rice Thai Food.
In between checking out all the vendors, we participated in the activities of the evening like being videoed in costume, listening to a great band, viewing all the art being shown by local artists and strolling around the black light room. After a meal of probably the best pupusas I have ever eaten at Sarita’s Pupuseria, we spent the rest of the evening people watching and sipping wine on the patio of the Horse Thief BBQ restaurant. By the time we left, the place was packed.
I have always loved our downtown having worked there for many years and it was great to see that efforts are being made to revitalize it and make downtown L.A. a fun and interesting place to visit.
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