Around the world in Brooklyn’s specialty food markets

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Food shopping is more fun when you explore a market outside your traditional one. Here, fortune cats appear on bottles of soybean oil in Chinese market Chang Fa in Sheepshead Bay. Photo: Regina Bresler

Here we are in the final stretch of 2018, just over the election hurdle, swiftly careening into the holiday season. A time ripe with celebration and sharing, along with the looming possibilities of awkward familial discussions concerning the current political climate, and perhaps what it means to have settled in this land. Being that we live in America’s melting pot, many of us Brooklynites are children of immigrants and refugees, or exist within families of blended cultures, making this the perfect time to celebrate and reflect on the unique traditions that flavor our individual experiences and roots in this country. Compiled here is but a short list of local ethnic specialty markets to celebrate the diversity of our heritages and palates, and perhaps to save the designated shoppers and chefs in your home from getting frustrated at Whole Foods when they can’t find the calamansi they need for their secret sauce.

Sahadi’s is a great place to stock up on dried fruits, nuts, grains and other staples for Thanksgiving. Photo: Regina Bresler

Sahadi’s

Founded by a Lebanese family in Manhattan back in 1898, Sahadi’s has blessed Brooklyn since 1948 with its expansive middle eastern offerings, catering, and variety of dry goods by the barrel. You enter through the bulk goods section, past chickpea flour, rice of every grain and color, and multitude of dried fruits and grains you’ll have to take a number for. Worth the wait, because who wants to pay by the pound for chocolate covered almonds that the entire neighborhood has touched. An impressive fromagerie sits at one end of the store, along with a variety of international treats, meats, and a spice section that will bring you to tears. Freshly packaged in store, and exhaustively organized, they can satisfy the needs of any fusion you can dream up.

Sahadi’s, 187 Atlantic Avenue, Cobble Hill, (718) 624-4550

The frozen dumplings and pre-packaged noodle soups at JMart are worth the trip alone to this Asian market in Bensonhurst. Photo: Regina Bresler

JMart

Open since June 2017, this 30,500-square-feet Asian market entices with a massive selection of products and produce from all over Asia. (Its selection is far larger than that of the much-anticipated Japan Village in Industry City, which will be more food hall than market.) The fresh fish and butcher section provide the perfect base for any meal, while the produce section will have you Googling uses for an astounding selection of herbs, mushrooms, and greens that are hard to come by at your average grocer. Entire aisles dedicated to vinegars, fish and soy sauces will make you reevaluate your previous ideas of marinade, but for those of us whose idea of cooking is boiling water, the frozen dumplings and pre-packaged noodle soups are worth the trip alone. Added bonus: Graphic design fans will love perusing the aisles for the brilliant packaging and #FoodDoodz adorning many of the snacks and sauces.

JMart, 8121 New Utrecht Ave, Bensonhurst, (718) 758-5973

Rough-crusted breads, aisles of smoked meat, and counters full of caviar: NetCost is your one-stop hors d’oeuvres market. Photo: Regina Bresler

NetCost

This chain of markets stocked with Russian and European products, ranging from fresh produce, to teas, jams, and pantry staples, has served Brooklyn for nearly two decades. Equipped with an impressive selection of Baltic charcuterie, smoked fish and caviars, and salad bar with an abundance of rich sides and pickled…everything, you’ll have no trouble creating an hors d’oeuvres menu without ever having to julienne a single carrot. Visit the freezer section and try some pelmeni or pierogis, many of which are made by one of NetCost’s in-house brands, and sell by the pound, as well as the bakery stocked with rough-crusted black breads that bite back.

NetCost, Multiple locations throughout Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island

Once you stock up on Mexican spices like dried epazote, treat yourself to a housemade tamale at Mexican Grocery & Deli in Kensington. Photo: Regina Bresler

Mexican Grocery & Deli Corp.

The smallest of the markets on this list, this hidden gem right off of Church Avenue has been around for over twenty years, but is currently the pride of its 27-year-old shopkeep. A generous portion of the shop is dedicated to the spices and herbs specific to Mexico, along with snacks, pozole, Oaxacan cheese by the pound, and a variety of fresh chilis and sauces. The real draw is the house cured cesina, a thin sliced sheet of salted and oiled beef or pork, as well as their fresh made chorizo. If you get there early enough on the weekends, treat yourself to tamales that come in three varieties: pollo verde, mole, and jalapeno cheese.  Really feeling festive? They take orders for custom designed pinatas, leaving it up to you to decide whose image you’d like to smash. 

Mexican Grocery & Deli Corp., 326 E. 2nd St, Kensington, (917) 652-4337

The butcher station at Caribbean Supermarket in East Flatbush is not for the faint of heart, stocked with whole goat heads and the biggest turkey wings and necks you’ve ever seen (perfect for turkey stock). Photo: Regina Bresler

Caribbean Supermarket

Stocked with the provisions needed to satisfy the tastes of the twenty-six nations that make up the Caribbean, you’ll find what you need for any variety of curry or cookup you desire. Canned callaloo, curry mutton, dried sorrel, and brilliant hues of bubbly kola fill the shelves, along with a dozen varieties of jerk seasoning, peri peri, Pickapeppa, and fresh-made sofrito; because mom said she wouldn’t give you her recipe until you settle down. The butcher station is not for the faint of heart, stocked with whole goat heads, chicken feet, and the biggest turkey wings and necks you’ve ever seen. If you impulse-buy some coconut fudge at the register, I promise you won’t regret it.

Caribbean Supermarket, 741 Utica Ave, East Flatbush, (929) 234-3111

From cricket bats to ready-to-serve korma, you’ll find products from the entire Indian subcontinent at Zaitoon in West Midwood. Photo: Regina Bresler

Zaitoon Halal Meat & Grocery

Halal grocers aren’t hard to come by in Brooklyn, but this full-service shop stays open 24hrs, making it clutch when you realize you’ve run out of amchur and fresh-butchered goat shank, but also don’t even own a stove-top pressure cooker and need to remedy that immediately. Pakistani owned, and carrying products from the entire Indian subcontinent, pounds of savory spices are par for the course, along with ready to serve kormas, masala blends, and chili varieties. Bags of crunchy chaat, and pani puri live amongst the daal, frozen okra, and collection of frozen parathas and naan breads, while at the other end of the store you’ll find a library of religious texts, and the holiest of holy: cricket bats.

Zaitoon Halal Meat & Grocery, 1082 Coney Island Ave, West Midwood, (718) 434-3450

The fish counter at Chang Fa in Sheepshead Bay has a dizzying array of fresh prawns, buckets of crab, fresh caught tuna and salmon. Photo: Regina Bresler

Chang Fa

Those familiar with this particular stretch of Sheepshead Bay know that Avenue U is lined with Asian markets and grocers, but even amongst so much tasty competition Chang Fa stands out as something special. This Chinese market carries products from all over Asia, boasting aisles full of dehydrated herbs, loads of noodles, and canned fruit. But more importantly, their fish counter entices with a dizzying variety of fresh prawns, some the size of your phone, along with buckets of bright blue crab, squid, and fresh caught tuna and salmon. You’ll find no lack of kelp, melons, ube, or fresh produce, as well as parts that you didn’t even realize ducks had.

Chang Fa, 1418 Avenue U, Sheepshead Bay, (718) 787-9899

 

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