Eat global, shop local: The best ethnic supermarkets, and how to shop them

It's a supermarket sweep!

It’s a supermarket sweep!

I like supermarkets. I really do. They often make their way into my dating life, and I’ve been asked more than once, “For our next few dates, can we go someplace that isn’t a supermarket?” It’s not like I want to go to every Key Foods or Met Food in the borough. And It’s not like I’m trying to map out every humdrum faux-organic-natural-food market full of overpriced kale and coconut smoothie supplements. I just really like going to supermarkets.

And I especially like going to ethnic ones. Often, I’ll try and find a restaurant nearby so that I can eat some ethnic food and then hunt down ingredients from that dish. I’ll get a little culture. I’ll ask some questions. Maybe I’ll find something questionable, like the place that sells pig uterus. Or the spot that has almost-expired dairy products for 50 percent off.

Either way, I’ve been to a lot of spots, and racked up a repertoire of gems that I’m ready to share with the world. So, here they are: the best ethnic supermarkets worth the train ride, and then some.

Balady is a bulk-lover's paradise. Photo by Will Widmaier

Balady is a bulk-lover’s paradise. Photo by Will Widmaier

Balady
7128 5th Ave, Bay Ridge
R train to Bay Ridge Av
Middle Eastern / Egyptian

This store is one of my favorites. There’s a huge selection of Middle Eastern goods like really fantastic spices, pickles, tea, dips/spreads, candies, dates and nuts. I like the olive oils here; instead of Italian or Californian, you’ll see oils from Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, each with their own distinct flavors. Bulk spices and dried beans are really cheap and fresh too, as they rotate through that stock often. One of the best things they sell here, IMO, is a house-made fresh sausage. They’re made with beef or a mix of beef and lamb. There’s a version with sumac and red pepper flakes and another with za’atar and cilantro. They’re flavorful, thin, and they cook up quick. All the meat is halal, in case you’re curious.

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These prices make it easy to eat your broccoli. Photo by Will Widmaier

These prices make it easy to eat your broccoli. Will Widmaier / Brokelyn

Fei Long Market
6301 8th Ave, Sunset Park
N train to 8th Av (they also have a parking lot)
Chinese/Asian

Fei Long Market is a big Chinese supermarket with a food court and tiny mall attached. The produce here is exceptionally cheap, and if you’re in the mood to cook a lot of greens or make a fruit salad, this is your spot. I never leave here without several varieties of mushrooms, some daikon radishes, and bulk bean sprouts. I’ve brought plenty of friends here, and they always stock up on snacks. I highly recommend a brand of Thai seaweed snack called Tao Kae Noi. This is also a great place to get pantry staples like mirin, tamari, sesame oil and specialty spices like Sichuan peppercorns or star anise. They’ve also got an impressive selection of frozen dumplings, which end up being way cheaper than take out.

Oh and this is where you can buy pig uterus, if you’re into that.

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D Coluccio Pasta aisle

Pasta point of no returns. Photo by Will Widmaier

D. Coluccio & Sons
1214 60th Street, Bensonhurst
D train to 62nd st.
Italian

Ah, D. Coluccio, an old-school Italian market. I used to go here as a kid and drink a San Pellegrino while my parents shopped for dried salami and olive oil. They would let me pick out a small scamorza to take home (it’s like a mozzarella that somebody hung up to dry), and the deli guys would give me samples of cheese or olives or whatever they had just cut. They have their own brand, they’re an importer and a wholesale distributor, so they’ve got good deals. I suggest getting a loaf of fresh olive or sausage bread, maybe some deli items, and stocking up on all manner of pantry and Italian staples. Definitely go for the dried, whole oregano. It makes an enormous difference when you’re cooking pasta sauce. If you’re lucky, they’ll have anchovy stuffed pickled hot peppers at the deli counter. These are made in-house, and they’re phenomenal. My sister swears by their gluten-free pasta, and they’ve got the authentic Italian pastas too.

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Sssssssssmokin'. via website

Sssssssssmokin’.

Net Cost
Several locations in South Brooklyn
Q train to Neck Rd, or Q/F to W 8th st.
Russian/Eastern European

I love Net Cost for their expansive selections of smoked meats and inexpensive dairy. Much in the same way that leafy greens are cheap at Fei Long, Net Cost is lush with root vegetables, hardy dark greens, and the long-lasting vegetables that are common in Eastern European foods. Russian culture is keen on mushrooms, and you’ll find an impressive selection here, especially during springtime. Apples, pears, berries and stone fruits are also very popular, but I’m a sucker for canned fish, and there always seems to be a few cans of Riga Gold sprats in my cart by the time I get to checkout. They’re cheaper here than almost any other market, and of exceptional quality. For those that don’t know what sprats are, they’re similar to sardines, but softer and smokier — excellent on rye bread with butter and horseradish, or mashed on top of some avocado toast with a sprinkle of red chile flakes (no, really).

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It's not beef, and it's not all Western.

It’s not beef, and it’s not all Western.

Western Beef
44 Empire Blvd, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens
Q train to Prospect Park
Caribbean

Western Beef is a chain supermarket hilariously described as “warehouse-style.” While they carry all major product brands you’ll find that each one of their stores has also been tailored to fit the culture of the surrounding community. That means that on the corner of Empire Boulevard and Franklin Ave, you’ll find a host of Caribbean items along with classic supermarket fare. For instance, there’s canned ackee next to canned peas, down the aisle from the hottest Trinidadian hot sauce around — Matouk’s — right next to Texas Pete. The classic produce is cheap too, with dollar heads of iceberg lettuce and thirty nine cent per pound yams making a regular appearance. You can sometimes get cantaloupes two for $5, or you could even score a 10 lb. of chicken leg quarters for 59 cents a pound. That’s ten pounds of chicken for just under six dollars.

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The author in the aisles.

Author in the aisles. Photo by Becki Kozel

Eastern Fruits and Vegetables
1234 Coney Island Avenue, Midwood
Q train to Ave. H
Indian/Pakistani/South Asian

There’s all sorts of stuff going here, but I mostly come for the variety of cheap spices. I recommend skipping the meat section. I often buy fruits and vegetables here if they look good. When mangoes are in season, I’ll buy a whole box. Again, I really go here for hard-to-find Indian items, spices, and pantry staples. So if you’re trying to master a new recipes and you can’t find asafoetida, or maybe you’re looking for the most cardamom for the least money, this is a great spot to go to. In addition, their selection of Basmati rice is impressive. I can’t help but get local flatbread and smoky eggplant dip either.

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It's a real circus in there... of savings!

It’s a real circus in there… of savings!

Circus Fruits
5916 Ft.Hamilton Pkwy, Borough Park
N train to Ft. Hamilton Pkwy
Melting Pot

I go to this 24 hour powerhouse of fruits and vegetables once a week. They’ve got the best prices on produce, with lots of seasonal items and probably things you’ve never seen before. The cheapest things here are the fruits or vegetables that are local and in season. They get a lot of produce from New York state and New Jersey, which means less money spent on shipping. They also have imported things out of season (blueberries in February, anyone?) There’s no main focus at Circus besides having good looking produce and quality dry goods for cheap. The dry goods and pantry items range from Italian, Middle Eastern, Jewish, Brooklynite and many more. I always hit this place up before parties, or any event that requires lots of food on a tight budget.

So maybe go on a supermarket date. Maybe next time you’re about to shell out $15 for a movie ticket, save it for a grocery store and impress somebody with your secret ethnic market knowledge. Window shopping is always free, and you’ll likely get some samples/snacks out of the deal. You might even be inspired to cook something besides eggs or weird curries or avocado toast.

Follow Will on Twitter for more supermarket sweeps at @EatTheInternet

4 Comment

  • Western Beef might have low prices, but be prepared to wait in line for 20-30 minutes. They are always understaffed on cashiers, and whatever wage they pay the existing cashiers isn’t high enough to incentivize them to work at any reasonable speed.

    • Depends on what time you go. I’ve been in and out in ten minutes before, and I’ve waiting in line for 20. It’s still a really cheap spot to stock up on stuff.

  • I am a huge fan of sahadis on Atlantic, great selection of dried fruits, nuts, spices, beans and the hands down best hummus in the western hemisphere. You also have damascus right next door where you can get a bag of pita for under $1 and there’s a good chance they will still be warm…

    • I love Sahadi’s too! They have great stuff, hard to find items etc. I really like their selection of dates. The reason why it’s not in this line up us because it’s right on Court and Atlantic – it’s not a hidden gem. It’s just a gem!