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MSP - Ethnic Ingredient Availability

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I'm curious about the availability of authentic ethnic ingredients for the home cook in MSP.

I've been happy (and even impressed, in the last 10 years) with the array of produce, meat products, spices, sauces, etc. available at the likes of Shuang Hur, Holy Land, El Burrito Mercado, Dragon Star, United Noodles (and yes, even Ingebretsen's *wink*). I'd love to hear from some outside sources - ex-pats from another country/culture, or transplants to MN that previously lived in a more "Chowish by rep" locale - if the ingredient spectrum is really truncated in our cities. And if so, in what categories? What are we missing out on, specifically? Anyone with a super-secret place for getting an obscure component of an ethnic dish?

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  1. For the most part, I try not to dwell on what's not available or "as good" here and instead focus my energy on exploring what's best, freshest in, and unique to this region. This is why I have a constant curiosity about jucy lucys (never seen them outside of the Twin Cities), wild rice (most of what I’ve seen elsewhere was cultivated), lake trout, walleye (don’t see much of it outside of the Upper Midwest and Canada), monkey bread/pullaparts, pizza sliced into squares, caramel rolls, deep fried cheese curds, bars, rosettes, lutefisk, lefse, pickled herring, hotdish, everything crockpot, kringles, kolaches, morel mushrooms, booya, herring caviar, pasties, everything rhubarb, AYCE fish fry, honeycrisp apples, egg coffee, head cheese, hot German potato salad, Hmong food (the sticky rice is purple!), Somali food, state fair food, etc. It's not that these things are so extraordinary, necessarily, but they are new to me and, therefore, worth exploring.

    There were several threads hopping about on the General Topics boards a few months ago discussing the relative chowishness of various cities that might be of interest to you:

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/307602

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/306723

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/326356

    I think the co-ops and farmers markets in the Twin Cities are terrific. I like (in my typically St. Paul-biased way) Midtown Global Market on Lake Street in Minneapolis (Jakeenos, United Noodle, Holy Land, Birchberry, Republic of Fish, the Mexican butcher whose name escapes me, the place with the jerk sauce, etc.); Mercado Central (and several of the little shops nearby it) on Lake Street in Minneapolis; the market adjoining Caspian Bistro in Minneapolis; Buon Giorno in Lilydale; Coastal Seafoods on Snelling in St. Paul; Kim's Oriental Foods and Gifts on Snelling Ave in St. Paul; lots of the hole-in-the wall South East Asian markets along University in St. Paul (including the ones you’ve mentioned); Surdyk’s in Minneapolis; and Penzey’s on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. For cooking equipment, Cooks of Crocus Hill on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. I haven’t gotten brave enough to do any serious marketing at the Hmong Market on Como (near Marion) in St. Paul, but I think that’s a treasure trove, too.

    Also, there’s this ethnic market listing that might be of interest, even though it’s a couple of years old now:

    http://www.isss.umn.edu/campuslinks/m...

    In the internet age, it's easy to get your hands on most dry or canned goods, especially if you know exactly what you're looking for. It's the availability of high-quality fresh produce and other perishables that's the greater limiting factor, I think. Also, I suppose when you have a limited selection of even dry/canned goods, you do lose some ability to experiment with various brands of products to see which you like best and which is the very finest as there is always some variation in these things. Plus, you probably lose some serendipity of just "running across" something that looks interesting to try when you don't have as much selection. But, c'est la vie. Or, more on point, Vive le Difference!

    ~TDQ

    1. I like all the ethnic grocery stores in Minneapolis for their good selection, and most importantly convenience. Living near St Louis Park, it seems like nothing is more than 20 minutes away. Even Dong Yang groceries in Hilltop/Fridley is within that maximum.

      Unlike being in a bigger place like the NY metro area, it will take you at least 15 minutes to get to even a full grocery store, much less an ethnic specialist. Then you've got to go 20+ minutes to other specialists.

      However, you are rewarded by a vaster selection of things. My Chinese favorites are the vegetables (baby bok choy sprouts, for example) and fresh fish (whole fish in varieties other than tilapia and flounder).

      So I guess the convenience can outweigh the variety if it means you take advantage and go more often.

      1. One other thing I forgot which is not specifically ethnic is the prize that is Captain's Select Seafood. They'll cut your filet to order from their cold room, fresh from the whole fish! This is really great for sashimi, where I have found great deals on the premium varieties of tuna such as bigeye.

          1. re: djohnson22

            You're referring to Captain's Select Seafood, right?

            214 22nd Ave N.
            Minneapolis, MN 55411
            http://captainsselect.com/index.html

            Since we devoted a thread to Coastal Seafoods after they got FDA action on their warning letter in November, here's a link to the warning letter that Captain's Select received from the FDA last February.
            http://www.fda.gov/foi/warning_letter...

            1. re: KTFoley

              Yep, that was what I was asking about... my reply didn't post at the correct level. Interesting about the FDA warning letter... being the curious type I read through it, and pulled up the letter to Coastal... It seems Coastal was pretty much just being dinged for their handling procedures concerning smoked salmon (vacuum packed), while Captain's Select was being hit for their handling procedures concerning "Finfish including histamine producing fish, Molluscan, Shellfish, Oysters and refrigerated canned pasteurized crab meat and smoked fish"...

              1. re: djohnson22

                Yes, what jumped out at me were the specific notes that the temperature readings in the shellfish coolers are not reliable. I'm a picky, picky girl when it comes to seafood, so I will not be shopping there.

                I'm not so happy about Coastal's FDA inspection results, either -- especially the repeat violations. But that news is balanced against several years' worth of learning from the staff and getting good product, and Captain's Select has not proved itself with me.

                And it should be noted for all who are still reading along that the FDA publishes its warning letters but that's it. If a location does well on its inspection, there is no letter to that effect. The responses from the inspected location are not published either.

          2. Thank you all for your posts, great reads all. But my question remains: Does MSP have a surfeit or dearth of ethnic ingredients? I'm all for using the internet to get something I can't otherwise find (in super-Scandinavian Minnesota, I still needed the internet to get some Finnish clabbered milk culture), but are ex-pat/immigrant populations outta luck when shopping for ingredients here? I am thinking about a post on another thread that had to do with the lack of authenticity in these towns because ingredients were lacking. I'm curious to know how/in what categories they are lacking.

            Thoughts? Thanks.