After Hours: Online Ethnic GroceriesBy Kathy Biehl, Published on November 20, 2005
I love to explore the aisles of ethnic grocery stores. My attraction to
them began as a child, when my
chemistry students from Taiwan periodically took over our kitchen and
prepared enormous feasts full of dishes unlike anything I’d never eaten
before. Most of the ingredients were unlike anything I’d ever seen,
either, and certainly not for sale in our thoroughly white-bread Dallas
neighborhood. Something – rubbery-chewy dried bananas, probably, which I
equated with candy – intrigued me enough for me to ask one of the cooks
where it came from. Her answer amazed me: They had bought it in a Chinese
grocery store. Here. In town.
For people who grew up in the midst of distinct ethnic communities, this information would not have been news. For me, though, it blew shopping forever out of the homogeneous waters of Safeway, Tom Thumb and Piggly Wiggly, which were distinguishable from my perspective largely on the basis of the amusement value of their names. (Guess which one routinely won.) Suddenly, simply going to the grocery store could mean more than shopping. The task held the prospect of traveling without leaving town.
This column offers a catalog of some of the best online ethnic markets I have encountered, but is by no means all-inclusive. If you are a happy patron of one that is not on the list, please let me know about it.
(Regarding my last request for e-mail assistance: Thanks again to the readers who responded to my plea for help with the lyrics to the Rice Krispies jingle. May all your breakfast cereals have your taste and texture of choice.)
EthnicGrocer.com is an international food bazaar with products
from 17 countries: China, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan,
Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, Thailand,
Turkey, and Vietnam. The virtual aisles are arranged by country, by
product, and by category of customer favorites. To facilitate stocking the
larder, there’s also an Ethnic Pantry link, which groups staples by
product type. (Spam is in the photo for Soups, Stocks, & Broths -- why?)
The site’s specialty shops include EthnicKosher and EthnicOrganic,
featuring the wares of Manischewitz, Osem and Kedem, and Amy’s and
Newman’s Own Organics, respectively.
Kalustyan’s online store is as jam-packed as its counterpart on Lexington and 28th in Manhattan. Known for its comprehensive Indian and Middle Eastern stock, the store carries a wide array of products from northern Africa, Europe (including the former Eastern bloc), the Mediterranean, Asia, and island nations from both the Atlantic and Pacific. Breadth of coverage is not its only strong suit. Kalustyan’s is a reliable source for hard-to-find beans, pulses and grains, as well as herbs (culinary and medicinal), extracts, floral waters and a mind-blowing spice selection. Whether what you seek is orange blossom water or Israeli cous-cous, you are likely to find it here.
When Michel Bouvier decided to go into e-commerce, he found a focus for
his business in his experience as a Frenchman in the US searching for
products from home.
French Feast debuted in December 1999
with a diverse lineup of venerable brands that are not widely distributed
in this country. It has remained a solely online store, while expanding
into an array of condiments, vinegars, jams, cookies, confections and
chocolates, beverages, and such classics as cornichons, chestnuts, foie
gras, and truffles.
Its simply structured directory contains fine wine vinegars from 200-year-old Martin-Pouret, the only remnant of Orleans' 700-hundred-year-old sour wine (or vin aigre) industry; galettes (cookies) from Brittany-based La Mere du Poulard, which achieve melt-in-your-mouth transcendence with little more than pure butter; and candied chestnuts and jam from Clement Faugier, which has been transforming native-grown chestnuts into all kinds of everything since 1882.
Hard-to-fine items include pillow-shaped confections called coussins -- curacao-laced chocolate ganache in an almond paste shell -- from the 100-year-old Lyons chocolatier-confiseur Voisin. The store is also among the few reliable sources for the extraordinary Pommery Mutarde de Meaux. This style of sharp-to-the-max, whole-grained mustard began appearing on the tables of kings in 1632, but the Pommery family has been making the recipe only since 1760. Want to share a culinary sensation that impressed Brillat-Savarin? This is it.
is combination supermarket, home and houseware shop, and drug store (minus
prescriptions), founded and owned by the daughters of a German mother and
American serviceman father. What they sell is not merely products, but also
memories and a sense of home away from home. The company’s
warehouse/storefront, near D-FW Airport in northeast Texas, features a
wall-mounted map of Germany dotted with pushpins that visitors have used to
mark their hometowns. Every Saturday, the store feeds customers samples of
sauerkraut and sausages, or whatever the latest shipments contain.
Visitors to the online store miss out on such sensory perks, but have plenty of reasons to browse all the same. GermanDeli.com is not just authentic, but inclusive to the brink of being overwhelming. It has extensive canned, bottled, jarred, boxed, and mixes of groceries; meats and sausages, both imported and domestic; cookies, candies, and chocolates; and dairy products, too, down to butter and (be still, my heart) Quark, a yogurt cheese with an obscurity in this country that mystifies me. From greeting cards to bakeware to magazine subscriptions to bath products, this store contains threads from the fabric of life that will tug at anyone who has lived or spent much time in Germany and its neighbors. And regardless of your familiarity with the country, if you have a passion for Christmas, do not overlook that section of the holiday heading.
GermanDeli.com will alert you to the latest arrivals and specials by e-mail newsletter. German foods are also available from EthnicGrocer.com, discussed under Multi-National above.
Namaste.com has all the expected grocery aisles (beans, rice, flour, beverages, spices) and a few dedicated to items specific to Indian cuisine: chutneys, savory snacks, pickled ginger, limes, mangos and other fruit, papad, which are like tortillas only thinner, made from bean flour, and meant to be fried or roasted; and sweets.
A special word about sweets: They play a role in Indian life that is
broader than desserts. Though they are commonly consumed with (not after) a
meal, they are also a celebration food, offered to visitors, served at
weddings and parties, and exchanged during holidays. They come in geometric
shapes and eye-catching day-glo colors and are more akin to confections than
what Americans normally call sweets. One source, which Namaste.com carries
and which ships directly itself, is
Rajbhog Sweets & Snacks. Burfi is a type of
fudge, made from milk that has been boiled until the sugar in it carmelizes;
three-color burfi, has layers of pink cashew, white almond, and green
pistachio. Halwa is like its Middle Eastern cognate in name only; the Indian
style is more of a dry pudding, which has been cooked down to the point that
it can be eaten with fingers. Carrot halwa resembles moist, dense, spiced
cake; sohan halwa is a hard (very hard), golden toffee. Ladoo is a sugary
fried ball of dough, such as besan ladoo, which is made from chickpea flour.
Namaste.com also carries DVDs, body and hair care products, bindis and other beauty products, books, magazines, appliances, utensils, and holiday items.
You will also find Indian wares at EthnicGrocer.com and Kalustyan’s (both discussed under Multi-National above).
PurelyOrganic.com specializes in organic products from Italy. If
you like to support small scale growers and manufacturers, you will find
much to appreciate within this company’s directory. The proprietors, who are
based in Iowa, boast only products from farms or producers that they have
personally visited. Their choices include some exquisite finds, several of
which I have singled out in my Best of the Fancy Food Show columns. Use the
site for staples (olives and oils, vinegars, juices, coffee, rice, and the
occasional splurge of a specialty item (honeys, sundried tomatoes,
artichoke, hazelnut or pistachio cream, and a mind blowing marzipan).
Italian products are also available from EthnicGrocer.com (discussed under Multi-National, above).
TasteofTurkey.com bills itself as a Mediterranean super store. Indeed, it carries much more than non-perishable groceries, and its products hail from all over the Mediterranean. Though beverages, canned foods, grains, crackers, spreads and other pantry staples abound, this store also offers dairy products, such as sheep’s milk cheese, as well as bologna, salami and soujouk. (Look under Sea Food for taramosalata, a superbly creamy Greek caviar spread that requires refrigeration.) There are almost as many choices for filo dough as there are for Turkish delight. Coffees, spices, desserts, oils, olives, honey, tahini, chocolate, and cookies are also in the mix. Non-edibles include movies, music and soaps.
Middle-Eastern products are also available from EthnicGrocer.com and Kalustyan’s (both discussed under Multi-National above).
TempleofThai.com stocks staples, fresh ingredients and a range of
cookware and utensils, then helps you use all of them with recipes, cooking
articles and directions. It carries all the requisite non perishables, from
noodles, sauces and curry pastes to sticky rice, dried shrimp and black
mushrooms, and even seasoning mixes, soup pastes and other convenience
foods. It also ships fresh ingredients that are often not easy to find, such
as lemongrass, galangal (a root also known as aromatic ginger), Thai chilis
and eggplant, lemongrass, and Kaffir lime leaves. One whole section is
devoted to tools and techniques of the art of fruit carving.
ImportFood.com has much the same span of inventory (minus the fruit carving) and recipes, only with an extremely wide selection in each category. Besides having great prices, this store groups some of its products into kits. The produce section offers a fresh Thai produce kit, containing two pounds of lemongrass and eight ounces each of Thai chile and galangal. The site also has six Thai food starter kits, which range from $24.95 to $59.95 and include a rice and noodle sampler, a sauce and soup base set, and a chile paste and spices set. Don’t overlook the link on the bottom of the home page (it’s easy to miss) to a Japanese section, which houses a long page of products and recipes.
Thai food is also available from EthnicMarket.com, which is discussed under Multi-National above.
Copyright 2005 Kathy Biehl. All Rights Reserved.