Greensboro’s ten best ethnic groceries…
El Azteca Abarrotes, 4131 Spring Garden St., 336.851.1482
This well-lit general store in Greensboro’s west end features wooden shelving and a cashier’s shed covered by red tile. El Azteca, which has been in operation for about two years, carries some basic Mexican foodstuffs ‘— pickled vegetables, a Mesoamerican version of mozzarella called queso Oaxaca, and conchas pastries, as well as dried seasonings such as red chili, chamomile flowers and anis seed. This after-work hangout goes further though. With a clientele that is Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran in addition to Mexican, the store stocks soccer shirts; baseball caps; CDs and DVDs that cover the genres of norteÃ±o, bachata, reggaeton, conjunto and rock en EspaÃ±ol; Catholic votive candles; documentary movies about the civil war in El Salvador; and a magazine rack that includes everything from telonovela glossies and Spanish-language erotic magazines to commemorative publications honoring the late Pope John Paul II.
Saigon Market, 807 W. Florida St., unlisted number
Sharing real-estate frontage in the Freeman Mill Square strip mall with the Tien Phong Bida billiards room, Outreach for Christ Ministries, Que-Huong Vietnamese Restaurant and Labor Ready, this Vietnamese market in Glenwood undoubtedly caters to a working-class clientele. The battered metal shelves are efficiently stocked with Southeast Asian staples such as rice noodles and spring roll wrappers. They also carry CafÃ© du Monde chicory coffee from New Orleans, an obscure brand with many loyal fans. The connection, I suppose, is that both Louisiana and Vietnam are former colonies of France. The store also carries some food items that might be particular to Vietnamese cuisine: cooked salted ducks eggs, lychees in heavy syrup, BÃ¡nh Quay Cheo sesame candy, green aloe vera candy, cans of boiled lotus seeds and packages of salted dried stingray ‘— which resembles an off-colored sunflower.
Jerusalem Market, 5002 High Point Rd., 336.547.0220
Saliba Hanhan, a chemist by training who grew up in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has been running the Jerusalem Market for 16 years. Roughly organized around the cuisine of the Middle East, Hanhan’s store also carries some European specialties you won’t find in your local Harris Teeter. In the late ’90s, the Jerusalem Market became a culinary haven for Croatian and Bosnian immigrants fleeing the Balkans war. The Jerusalem Market might be the only place in Greensboro to get vegeta, a Bosnian seasoning often used as soup base, or the Bosnian-American newspaper B-Link. The store’s selection is wide. From the Middle East: labneh, a tangy yoghurt cheese preserved in olive oil; and zatar, a mix of oregano, sumac and sesame that, mixed with olive oil and spread on flat bread, is like gold to my friend Billy. From Greece: phyllo dough for making baklava and spanikopita. From Slovenia: ajvar, a delicious vegetable spread made from various peppers, eggplant and garlic. From Central Europe: Swiss fruit preserves and German herring fish. Hanhan makes his own hummus, feta dip and baba ghanouj, not to mention foule, a spread made from chick peas, fava beans and hot peppers.
‘“It’s very filling, very stick-to-your-ribs,’” says employee Heather Lanier. ‘“With that and some pita bread you can make a whole meal.’”
Dong Huong Oriental & African Fish Market, 3410 Spring Garden St., 336.854.9877
Ethnic groceries in Greensboro ‘— where some nationalities are represented by only a hundred or so families ‘— tend to cater to more than one geographic group, and Dong Huong, a fish store, is no exception. Proprietor Tho Do, who emigrated from South Vietnam 18 years ago, sells seasonings popular with African immigrants such as ukazi, ugu leaves from Nigeria, Egyptian green cardamom, Jamaican jerk seasoning and curry paste. But the fish are what bind the two disparate regions together; fully intact sea bass, mackerel, flounder, snapper, blue fish, mullet and butter fish lie packed in ice in a long cast-iron bin along the left side of the store.
Hang around long enough and Do might treat you to a lecture on politics. (See story page 6).
El Buen Gusto Panaderia, 3006 Spring Garden St., 336.851.0737
Under the watchful eyes of Greensboro boxer Pedro Tapia ‘— who looks down from a billboard among the pines ‘— the sweet aroma of fresh pastries hot out of the oven wafts from this bakery. Customers select their conchas, empanadas and walnut cookies right off trays that, stacked on rolling racks, take up most of the store’s floor space. Also on offer are flaky spiraled pastries covered in powdered sugar, custard-filled rolls, glazed sweet breads and bulging, sugar-coated doughnuts.
Phonesavanh Oriental Market, 1810 Coliseum Blvd., 336.854.9231
Just a couple blocks from the Vietnamese Saigon Market, Phonesavanh caters to the Laotian, Cambodian and Thai families that call Greensboro home. A wooden table and some folding chairs in a side room serve as social space for members of the Laotian community, which numbers about 200 families, according to owner Siphonexay Phongsavanh.
‘“What people like in Laos is lap ki, a papaya salad, with steak cooked medium rare, and cut with red chili sauce, garlic, onion, lemon and Thai pepper,’” he says.
The store also stocks coconut milk, curry paste, pressure-packed frog legs, farm-raised clams, octopus, and cold guava and coconut drinks. Phongesavanh promises he can beat the prices of any chain grocery store on bulk ramen-style noodles and lemon grass.
African Caribbean Market, 4119A Spring Garden St., unlisted number
The TV is set to C-Span in the African Caribbean market on a recent Monday afternoon, to a filibustering speech by liberal California senator Barbara Boxer on American military casualties in Iraq, as the clerk and three African men grouse about the exorbitant cost of airfare to Africa.
For the fish, grains, vegetables and seasonings that constitute the diet of transatlantic Africana, this is probably the best one-stop shop. There are bins of couscous, potato and semolina flours; cans of callaloo and frozen meat patties such as you might find on the street in Brooklyn’s Flatbush section. There are cases of Malta, a non-alcoholic caramel malt drink. And the freezer holds an abundance of seafood I’m sure only a granny from Trinidad would know what to do with: salted pig feet, chicken feet, cow skin, tripe, oxtail and smoked bony fish.
Altaqwa Halal Market, 4109B Spring Garden St., 336.547.9930
Whereas Jerusalem Market departs from Palestine to southern Europe, Altaqwa is anchored in the Middle East and caters to the Islamic world, with reference points in Pakistan in the east and Nigeria in the west. There are decorous robes and framed pictures of historically significant mosques for sale. As for food, there’s pita bread; flours made from chickpeas and yams; rice; and cassava, not to mention several kinds of halawa ‘— a sweet paste made from sugar, ground sesame seeds and nuts ‘— and cans of ready-to-eat potato curries from Pakistan. The store also carries Jordanian coffee and Pakistani-made hair products.
Latin-Asian Farmers Market, 4711 High Point Rd., 336.855.5060
This Korean market is making a valiant effort to reach out to Greensboro’s exploding Latin American population. ‘“Bienvenidos amigos Hispanos,’” the sign on the front door reads. Tamarind, tangerine and sangria-flavored sodas hecho en Mexico share shelf space with dried lotus leaves, bean sprouts and tofu. It might seem like an unlikely marriage, but ginger, coconut, jicama roots and plantains are vegetables common to both cultures. The Spanish-language packaged Kool-Aid and frosted flakes seem beside the point, but a block of dulce de atado, a Salvadoran candy made from sugar cane and wrapped in corn husk, is an item you’ll probably not find any place else, much less for a dollar forty-nine. The Christian music cassettes and Korean-American newspapers testify to a singular kind of transplant experience. For those who like to immerse themselves in foreign cultures through less challenging means, the Latin-Asian market has an Asian beer selection that even the Taj MaTeeter can’t match: Singha (Thailand), Maharaja (India), Tiger (Singapore) and 33 (Vietnam), among others.
El Baraka Market, 2222 Patterson St., 336.854.5655
This market, which sits in the shadow of the Coliseum on a rough stretch of Patterson, was closed when I came by, but a glimpse through the window suggests that the store carries all the Middle Eastern food staples you would expect, and halal meats ‘— that is, meat that is slaughtered according to Islamic specifications ‘— as well as items relevant to the practice of the Muslim faith. There are robes made of light material for men, incense, and a prodigious selection of books on Islam.
* This list is by no means exhaustive, as surveying every ethnic grocery in Greensboro would probably require months of research. There are dozens of other groceries which are almost certainly worthy of patronage, which I could not visit because of time constraints.