Around the World ...
In 28 ethnic markets: where to shop when you want to live locally and eat globally
By Mick Vann, Fri., Feb. 28, 2003
As Austin has grown from a provincial culinary backwater to a more cosmopolitan cuisine scene, and the supporting casts of international cuisine refugees have arrived from all corners of the U.S. and the globe, we have noticed a slow but steady growth in the ethnic markets that supply and feed those global foodies. When Art Meyer and I were recently testing hundreds of recipes for our cookbook on appetizers from all over the globe, The Appetizer Atlas, everyone was amazed that we were able to find every single ingredient for all of the 28 unique culinary regions of the world right here in good old Austin. In retrospect it really wasn't that difficult because of our wealth of ethnic food markets and because of excellent resources like Central Market and Fiesta.
Fellow contributing Food writer Claudia Alarcón and I undertook the task of presenting a roundup of the ethnic markets in Austin, many of which may come as a pleasant surprise to Chronicle readers. They are scattered all over the city and represent most corners of the culinary globe. If you have never taken the opportunity to cruise the ethnic food markets in town, looking at the packaging, smelling the products, and reading the labels, you are missing out on one of the most interesting free excursions you can make. Shopping with our local ethnic markets also promotes greater culinary diversity, encouraging more ethnic vendors and restaurateurs, which can only benefit the Austin food scene in the long run. Grab your shopping bag and your reading glasses and join Claudia and I in cruising Austin's ethnic food markets. -- M.V.
100 North Loop, 453-1850
The very friendly Matsumae family has owned Austin's only exclusively Japanese market since 1967, making them one of the oldest ethnic markets in Austin. They offer everything imaginable for the Japanese chef foodwise and also include a nice assortment of sakes and sake sets, a wide range of gifts, and a fabulous knife assortment. An hour spent just looking at the cool product packaging and the snacks is worth the trip!
Han Yang Market
6615 Airport Blvd., 371-3199
Monday-Thursday, 9am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-10pm; Sunday, 10am-8pm
You can go there and watch them make their own brand of kim chee and rice cakes in their well-appointed and heavily stocked market. Open for nine years, Han Yang has a good frozen selection, videos, and nice produce, as well. They seem to have some good specials (1 quart of 100% sesame oil for $5.99, for example), and Korean markets, for the uninitiated, have the best deals on quality nonstick skillets and woks.
New Oriental Market
6929 Airport Blvd., 467-9828
Monday-Thursday, 10am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-10pm; Sunday, 10am-9pm
Open for two years now, they have a huge selection of Korean and Japanese foods in a massive layout for the genre. Half of the stock is gifts, dishware, kitchen tools, and the like (with videos) ... all at good prices. They have a large refrigerated and frozen selection, and a nice produce assortment. We love the thinly precut shabu-shabu meats and pork belly, and the ox foot and tendon, and they have an attached hot snacks kitchen that stays packed when it's open.
Seoul Asian Foods
5610 N. Lamar, 302-1090
Monday-Thursday, 9:30am-9:30pm; Friday-Saturday, 9:30am-10pm; Sunday, 10am-9pm
Seoul has been open for eight years and the relatively small outlet is jam-packed with a huge selection of goodies, including frozen shabu-shabu meats and lots of seafood, produce, gifts, kitchen gadgets, etc. Pretty much anything needed for Korean or Japanese cooking can be found here, and the owners are friendly and pleasant.
K&S Oriental Market
1729-A Riverside (at Parker), 445-7468
Open for 21 years, the folks at K&S couldn't be any friendlier or more helpful. They've got a really nice assortment of fresh produce, frozen seafood, Korean/ Japanese/pan-Asian cooking supplies, and one of the most tasteful selections of quality dishware at great prices we have found. They get about 40% student business, which might explain the nice assortment of snacks and cookies. Good folks that deserve your business.
2400 E. Oltorf Ste. 12-A, 443-2062
These guys have really built up their selection of Filipino cooking supplies, including the requisite frozen milkfish (bangus), regular, smoked, and stuffed. They are probably better known for their exquisite pearl and bubble teas, coffee drinks, smoothies, and halo-halo, but to have Pinoy food products here is a real find. If you're lucky, Mom will be there cooking up some snacks! If we could just get her to open a Filipino restaurant.
My Thanh Market
7601 N. Lamar, 454-4804
They are the biggest and most complete of the Austin Asian markets (with Hong Kong Market nipping on their heels). Although they are Vietnamese-operated, My Thanh carries supplies for all Asian cuisines, from Indonesian to Chinese. The produce selection is always fresh and reasonably priced, and they have a cleanly run fresh meat and seafood operation (including live fish tanks) with excellent pricing. The large frozen-food section holds some real treasures if you look hard enough, and that might be our only complaint about My Thanh. As often as we go there, we almost always have to waste some time searching for something, and the place is so busy that getting help from an employee is often difficult. The great thing is that seldom do we go for a particular item and walk away empty-handed. And usually the search for that elusive, weird item reveals some other surprising treats as well. It is the best market in town to go and just cruise the aisles, soaking in the sights and letting the smells carry you back to the Orient. There are imminent plans for My Thanh to relocate north, a little bit farther up North Lamar, but no one there has been able to give a definitive time for the move.
Hong Kong Market
8557 Research, 339-2068
Hong Kong is the other large pan-Asian market in town, and they too carry supplies from every Asian country, with sometimes slightly better prices. Their produce selection is usually more complete (for example, last week they had the small Thai eggplants and fresh kra chai) and a little bit cheaper, but the quality can suffer. The frozen section is superb (we found Chinese black-skinned chickens!), and occasionally you can find treats like balut (embryonic fertile duck eggs). Hong Kong suffers the same fate of little help locating items, but their shelf labels are bigger and easier to see. Huge crowds obviously feel that Hong Kong is the best, so we'd recommend you try them and decide for yourself (and remember that Din Ho's roast ducks are right across the parking lot).
5249 Burnet Rd., 453-1411
Monday-Saturday, 10am-7pm; closed Sunday
Owned by Chai and his popular Asian-cooking-teacher wife Pat, Say Hi is Thai-owned, but pan-Asian. They are perhaps the friendliest of the Asian markets (and one of the few where you can get cooking instructions and recipes while you shop) and have a great selection of just about anything you might need for Asian cooking. If you want to just hand them a list they'll locate everything for you and will even round up an order over the phone ahead of time.
Thai First Market
2769 E. Hwy. 71, Del Valle, 389-1868
Located across from the airport, just east of the Holiday Inn, they have a Thai-only selection that is fairly complete (fresh Chiang Mai sausage, frozen makroot leaves and galangal, the good kind of fermented soy bean paste, etc.). New owners Thiem and Moo are eager to please and will order in anything you want (as well as tell you how to cook any Thai dish). Small, clean, and efficiently stocked, Thai First is a real find.
8610 N. Lamar, 837-6641
Although they can't hold a candle to My Thanh and Hong Kong, they are almost exclusively Vietnamese. You'll find a modest assortment of produce, with a meat-and-fish counter and a fairly representative grocery selection. They do have a deli, where you can get Vietnamese home-style-prepared foods to go (or eat there) for next to nothing, with fabulous roast pork.
Asian Grocery Store
Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi (IPB)
9200 N. Lamar, 719-5552
Southwest Asian maybe, but Asian? No. What you will find here are most of the supplies needed to make IPB cuisine, with a Halal (the Muslim equivalent to Kosher dietary laws) beef, goat, and chicken market. They have a selection of sweets and pastries, fresh paneer, limited produce, and a few items that are grab-and-go for food on the run.
9515 N. Lamar, 836-6292
Indian-owned Taj is the largest of the IPB grocers in town, and they have the biggest selection. You'll find a large sweets-and-snacks counter of treats sold by the pound, and a nice selection of fresh produce (papdi beans, curry, and methi leaves, etc.). Bountiful choices in most categories (frozen breads, meats, entrées, vegetables, ice creams, etc.) and a full row of health-and-beauty aids and kitchen geegaws. A fun place to cruise, but you won't really feel welcome like one of their own.
World Food & Halal Market
9616 N. Lamar, 832-8365
This Pakistani-owned spot has a few more Middle Eastern/Southwest Asian goods than the rest of the IPB set and a very cleanly run meat market (with fantastic meaty goat heads for your goat head's soup ... only $2 apiece!). They have a large assortment of groceries for their size, and though their produce selection is limited, it's all fresh. The bagged-snacks selection (equivalent to our chips) is varied, and they've got videos and phone cards to boot.
MGM Indian Foods
7429 Burnet Rd., 459-5353
The Mathens are the reigning king and queen of local IPB grocers, having been in operation for 18 years. They are also the friendliest, the most helpful, and a joy with which to shop. MGM has a huge selection of all of the requisite IPB needs, including a nice assortment of frozen veggies, entrées, breads, and ice creams, as well as produce at reasonable prices. One unique angle at MGM is that they have taken on a Sri Lankan line of supplies; they carry Ethiopian cooking goods and also stock British-cuisine sundries (if, indeed, it can be said that the Brits have cuisine). They have a huge selection of Indian videos, and seem to have adapted to the DVD world a little faster than their competitors. One thing that their many years of experience has taught the Mathens is this: The shopper needs to be warmly greeted and made to feel at home. Drop by, say hello, and they will help you find whatever you need.
12410 N. Lamar (behind the 7-Eleven), 837-8668
Bangladeshi-owned Shahi is one of the newer competitors in the race, and they have plans to enlarge their modest location in the next three months. An impeccably clean Halal meat market is in the back, next to the freezers of fish, and the well-stocked shelves are neat and orderly. It will be interesting to see how they expand, but we know you will be warmly welcomed when you arrive.
Austin International Market
502 Pampa, 453-5487
A.I.M. carries African, Spanish, and Caribbean supplies and the Nigerian who bought it from its former owner has really cleaned the place up. Zambezi beer and anything you might need to cook from the continent can be found, as well as health-and-beauty aids and videos. They do a booming business in prepaid phone cards and will cut the dried cod any size you like. A.I.M. is a real find for the Austin African contingent.
1917 E. Seventh, 473-8487
512 W. Stassney Ste. 107-B, 916-9938
6908 Cameron, 451-9404
This excellent carnicería y frutería supplies my every need for Mexican groceries in my neighborhood. The meat market has all the cuts of meat preferred in Mexican cooking, including some interesting "grill packages" that come with an assortment of meats at a very reasonable price. On weekends, people line up early for freshly cooked pork carnitas, beef barbacoa, and best of all, barbacoa de borrego (lamb or mutton), the classic barbacoa of interior Mexico, all available by the pound. Also available are Mexican cheeses, sour cream, and chicharrones. Their produce department is not the best in town, but basic items are available in a pinch when all you need are a few ingredients not worth the trip to a big grocery store. A few specialty items are also available, like banana leaves and nopalitos. La Michoacana also sells fresh Mexican pastries and bolillos, locally made tortillas, tostadas, and chips, and a good assortment of grocery items including Mexican sodas, juices, instant pasta soups, agua fresca mixes, dried chiles, salsas, snacks, candy, etc. Some nonfood items available are CDs, videos, and kitchen utensils. All locations feature busy taquerias. Only downfall: They don't sell beer.
3600 S. Congress, 442-8398
This is a small, but remarkably well-stocked market. In addition to many Mexican grocery items, La Moreliana sells gifts such as CDs, videos, watches, and Mexican soccer team paraphernalia. Although the taqueria is small and the selection limited, the meat market makes up for it with an excellent selection of Mexican cuts. Parking is very limited, but their long hours make it accessible. On weekends, don't miss the authentic barbacoa de borrego and barbacoa de chivo (goat).
9717 N. Lamar, 339-4773
Thanks to the growing Mexican population in North Austin, this market provides a source for authentic ingredients in this area. La Hacienda features many Mexican grocery staples, fresh produce, and a good meat market; and they sell beer. They also have a small but good taqueria, with few but tasty items available in tacos, gorditas, or by the pound. The lengua guisada (stewed tongue) is very good here. Barbacoa de borrego and carnitas are available on weekends.
8120 Research, 459-4040
Named after one of the largest markets in Mexico City, this new market has been open for barely a month in the same location of the former Madina Market. The selection is not as good as at other more established Mexican markets, but the potential is there. There is a taqueria with about eight tables, but the menu selection is very limited. CDs, videos, and a small section of kitchen utensils are also available.
Taste of Brazil
707 E. Braker #202, 835-5556
Taste of Brazil is filling the niche as Austin's only Brazilian specialty store, providing a taste of home for Austin's Brazilian community and an interesting shopping experience for the rest of us. Whether you're looking for a tiny bikini, a Brazil soccer jersey, or some exotic fruit drinks, this is the place to go. Although small, it is packed with interesting items, and the owner, Simeão Costa, is friendly and willing to guide the novice on what products to try, happily providing samples. Recently, a friend of mine was having a Carnaval-themed party, so I paid Costa a visit. I got a bottle of palm oil, a necessary ingredient in Northern Brazilian cuisine, for a seafood stew called moqueça that we were preparing. Also got some guaraná-flavored soda and cajú juice, the fruit of the cashew tree. Other available items at Taste of Brazil are homemade Brazilian sausages, pastries, candies, fruit pastes, canned goods, and a great just-add-milk mix for paõ de queijo, or cheese bread, the "national" snack of Brazil. Costa is trying to expand his locale and get the necessary permits to make ready-to-eat foods on the premises, such as the aforementioned paõ de queijo, Brazilian empanadas, and other treats. In the meantime, he keeps himself busy also as a travel agent, finding the best possible airfares to Brazil for his customers. Warning: Although the address is on East Braker Lane, the store is on the west side of I-35.
2910 S. Lamar, 447-4444
4710 Burnet Rd., 323-6770
Although best known as a Middle Eastern deli, Phoenicia is the granddaddy of Austin ethnic markets, a miniature world market providing food from many countries in the Middle East, but also South America and Western and Eastern Europe. The Burnet store features a good salad bar and an excellent olive bar with more than 20 varieties to choose from. They also have prepared foods such as dolmas, hummus, and roasted-eggplant dip. Also available are delicious prepackaged salads such as a tangy roasted-eggplant salad (with tomatoes, onions, and lemon juice), fresh tabouli, and a summery white-bean-and-tuna salad (with parsley, olive oil, and lemon juice), all made on premises with fresh ingredients. The South Lamar location is best known for the bakery, where all their excellent breads and exotic pastries and desserts are prepared. Both locations have bread and pastries available for purchase, a deli with cold cuts and cheeses, and a few aisles with grocery items and canned goods. Their famous wraps and sandwiches are always outstanding and available at both stores. My favorite is the kafta (broiled ground beef seasoned with onions, parsley, and spices, wrapped in pita bread and served with hummus), but don't forget their award-winning roasted-chicken sandwich on pita bread. The Burnet location has a small dining area if you can't wait to get home.
Austin Gourmet Market
1931-G E. Oltorf , 444-4344
This Middle Eastern deli has a very small selection of grocery items and canned goods, but the deli stands out for their excellent prepared food items. Freshly made gyros, kafta, kebob sandwiches, soups, and salads are all very good and priced just right. They have good appetizers and dips like hummus, baba ghannoug, tabouli, and dolmas. Try the pickled stuffed baby eggplants for a unique and delicious hors d'oeuvre.
Pars Mediterranean Supermarket and Deli
8820 Burnet Rd. 452-4888
Pars is a little North Austin deli that makes excellent Middle Eastern sandwiches and specials for lunch and dinner. There are a few tables to sit and eat a quick lunch, but takeout is also a good option. They have a modest selection of Middle Eastern cooking supplies including produce, meats, and cheeses.
Sasha's Russian Deli
5523-B Balcones Dr., 459-1449
In business for barely a year, Sasha's popularity has grown rapidly. They have expanded their serving hours and added new menu and grocery items. The store now features many Polish products and a greater variety of smoked fish, cured meats, canned goods, and homemade items. They also have started renting Russian and Polish videos and DVDs and sell nonfood items like beautiful calendars and pottery. Sasha, the friendly owner and chef, is usually around and always willing to help with suggestions.
4001 N. Lamar, 206-1000
4477 S. Lamar, 899-4300
The ultimate paradise for food lovers, Central Market has many international items available for the one-stop shopper. Although the exotic produce selection does not quite match Fiesta's, the quality is usually better. The grocery section features many seasonal items from around the world and an excellent selection of beers from many different countries. Central Market also has the best selection of cheeses in town.
3909 N. I-35, 406-3900
Daily, 24 hours
Fiesta is great for finding international food items around the clock. Whether it is a packet of Scottish biscuits, a jar of Marmite, tamarind pods, mango chutney, a box of paella mix, or fresh banana leaves, you can find it at Fiesta whenever you need it. They also have the best selection of exotic produce at very good prices. The tortilleria produces fresh corn tortillas all day long, and the taqueria and snack stand provide good, quick food to eat in or take out.