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Jan 28, 2007 12:21 AM

Why no Gigantic Asian Supermarkets in NY?

I have to post this question since it seems metro NY(not including NJ) is the only major Asian area without a gigantic Asian supermarket. And also no Asian malls either. Why is that? Is it the rent or the lack of space? I don't think there's a lack of interest, enough Asian people with the right demographics live in the suburbs to support such a store.

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  1. i'm not sure why you choose to exclude nj from the metro ny area, since northern and central nj constitute half of the suburban area, population-wise. but to answer your question:

    there's a chinese mall in flushing called, appropriately, "flushing mall". it's at 133-31 39th ave between college point blvd & prince st, 1 1/2 blocks west of all the madness on main street. lots of food and non-food vendors; the food court is highly recommended for cheap but good chinese/taiwanese comfort chow.

    check out this link for a little more info on the place:

    there's also a japanese mall of sorts in edgewater, nj called mitsuwa. it's at 595 river rd near archer st, a couple of miles south of the gw bridge. again, lots of food and non-food vendors, including a bookstore and clothing/makeup stalls. great ramen, donkatsu, and oobanyaki are some of the highlights of the food court. the plaza also includes a japanese supermarket with a fantastic sake selection.

    and there are numerous korean plazas in fort lee and palisades park, nj as well as flushing, queens - the two big korean population centers in the greater nyc region. most of these plazas have a mix of restaurants, clothing & makeup boutiques, bakeries, coffeehouses, and beauty parlors/spas. some of the more notable ones include rodeo plaza on broad ave in pal park and this one place on northern blvd in flushing (i forget the name, but it might be called seoul plaza).

    there isn't a huge korean "mall" per se in the metro area, though - nothing on the level of koreatown plaza in LA's k-town. not sure why this is, but i do know that a few years ago a huge korean conglomerate called haitai was looking to open up a mitsuwa-type place in hasbrouck heights, nj (bergen county), but had to abandon the plan due to larger financial issues within the company. in any event, the ridgefield han ah reum that opened up shortly thereafter (more on that below) essentially serves this purpose, as the building it's housed in has a number of non-food vendors (beauty, clothing, music, and golf shops) in the hallways outside of the supermarket as well as a food court within the market itself.

    re: asian supermarkets,
    the korean supermarket chain, han ah reum (a.k.a. H Mart), has a number of locations scattered throughout the tri-state area, with branches in nj, manhattan, queens, and long island. the best and biggest of these is on broad ave (rt. 1-9 south) at shaler blvd in ridgefield, nj, just southwest of the gw bridge. great selection of korean goods and produce, and they give out free samples of various korean foods. this place is absolutely enormous (it used to be a rickel's hardware store - for those not from nj, rickel's was a home depot-type place that, ironically, went out of business due to competition from home depot). for what it's worth, the other nj han ah reum locations are in little ferry, englewood, and edison; the little ferry branch is pretty big as well, as the building it's in once housed a shop-rite.

    another korean supermarket chain in the area is han yang, which has outposts in nj (bergenfield) and queens (woodside and flushing); the nj branch is the largest of the three, though it's not as big as the ridgefield han ah reum.

    the chinese equivalent of han ah reum is called gold city supermarket, located on kissena blvd in flushing. william grimes gives a nice description of this place in his recent article about flushing ethnic eats:

    there are numerous other chinese supermarkets scattered throughout chinese neighborhoods in the city, including more in flushing itself (on northern blvd, next to the larger flushing han ah reum) as well as in elmhurst (off of broadway), but you get the idea. and there's a huge chinese supermarket in edison, nj called asian food center (1723 lincoln hwy/rt. 27 south), which is the largest of several chinese markets in the middlesex county area. there isn't really a significant chinese population in bergen county, which is korean-dominated, but morris county (parsippany in particular) has a fast-growing chinese and indian populations and the restaurants and markets are following.

    as for indian/south asian options, there's the patel brothers market, which has outlets in indian neighborhoods throughout the city. but the biggest south asian epicenter is centered along oak tree rd in edison twp and the iselin section of woodbridge twp in central nj. look for posts on this board by brian yarvin, as he's one of the most knowledgable central nj/edison-area indian food hounds.

    2 Replies
    1. re: surly

      What a comprehensive post! TY for the time and effort! Very good!

      1. re: surly

        great list surly!
        I love Han Yang in Flushing . . . and shop all the time at Hong Kong Market in Sunset Park.
        For a costco-like Korean mega store (with an upstairs mall, specializing in tailors, furniture and granite beds) Assi Plaza in Flushing. Aren't they an LA store?

        here's a link with addresses of many of the superstores . . .

      2. Staten Island did have a huge KM Foods store in the former Waldbaums at Forest and Union Avenues. Unfortunately it lasted less than a year. It was great and saved me a trip to 8th Ave. in Brooklyn. Asian Food Center has opened at West Shore Plaza at South Avenue and Rte 440 but it has not impressed me.

        1. Hempstead New York V&T a supermarket and small food court with sushi and a bakery ,a large fish was once a Waldbaums

          1. it is the lack of interest, in a way. I spoke with the owner of Kam Sen in White Plains recently, who said the kind of customer he needs in his store to keep it viable are the kind that do their weekly shopping and spend $100 or more to do so, not the occasional "gee I need some frozen shuimai" type who spends considerably less. Apparently, a tall order in these parts. And in Westchester, you have the high cost of real estate, and in White Plains, you have the high cost of construction due to all the city's red tape.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Dim Sum Diva


              Did the owner mention anything about lack of business or possibility of closing/moving? Kam Sen is my primary source for groceries so you can see why after reading your post I became a bit paranoid!

              1. re: Dim Sum Diva

                You make an interesting point about the need for these places to be more than just spcecialty stores.

                The original post initially made me think of a few places - like the Asian grocery store on Central Ave down there in Yonkers/Scarsdale area (what's the name again?), as well as Kam Sen there in White Plains. While not huge mega marts, but they certainly very large and would, I think, have 99.9% of what people need. Certainly better than the postage stamp asian markets everywhere else.

                But, there is a difference to these and, say, Ranch 99 in California. Ranch 99 draws a sizeable non Asian clientele too, due to many factors (not least of these their superior seafood options compared to most supermarkets). Kam Sen and the Central Ave places are very good, but I haven't seen many non Asians there. So, unless there is a HUGE population of Asians (which Westchester doesn't have) I just don't see the economics of a true Asian supermarket. I think out here they'd need to draw a larger non asian population to make the economics work.

                But to the original poster... is there anything in particular that you are having trouble finding in these places?

                1. re: adamclyde

                  A few notes...

                  Kam Sen does have a decent lunchbox crowd. Their clientel includes sizable number of Hispanics hence the large section of jalapeno, tomatillos and yuca roots which the average Chinese would have no idea what to do with.

              2. No, he wasn't talking like that, although I am guessing when his lease is up, whenever that is, he may reconsider. You sound like one of his "preferred" customers!

                16 Replies
                1. re: Dim Sum Diva

                  I am one of Kam Sen preferred customers. I'm Chinese. I live in Westchester. And I've placed special orders at the store. Kam Sen is large by pretty much any standard. It's about as large as a single grocery gets regardless of ethnicity. It's true there are no ethnic malls like Eden City in NOVA (Vietnamese) or Pacific Mall in Toronot (Chinese) in Westchester. I think it's a combination of small customer base and the fact Flushing/CTown isn't THAT far away. If you look at a city like DC, there are tons of small suburban Asian groceries but none them are gigantic (with the exception of a few Han Ah Reum). I think we are very lucky to have Kam Sen and that-one-on-Central-Ave-I-can-never-remember-the-name-of.

                  1. re: pabboy

                    yeah, as I mentioned earlier, I really don't know any Asian products that I could want that I couldn't find at Kam Sen or the Central Ave place, outside of produce, probably. Not that there certainly aren't any, but for me it's got way more than I could hope for.

                    When I compare the places here with, as I mentioned above, the Ranch 99 chain in California, a lot of the difference is volume and the aesthetics of the store. At Ranch, and I suppose other true Asian supermarkets, they look like American grocery stores. Same size as a Super Stop & Shop out here. They have wide aisles, large pharmacy sections, deli like sections, and, also, a fair amount of American products. But my guess is that 99% of the Asian products you find in those places you'd still be able to find at Kam Sen, outside of produce and meats (the fish section at Ranch 99, for example, puts every other supermarket I've EVER been to to shame).

                    It's a similar dynamic to the Gigante stores in CA. They are huge, beautiful latin (mexican, mostly) grocery stores. You'll find nearly all the items you'd find at an american grocery story, but also with every possible latin branded product as well. And the produce section... fresh banana leaves, nopales everywhere, etc. But the difference about these places over, say the large, but not as huge, local latin grocery, is that my mom - the most unadventurous person on the planet - would have no problem shopping at Gigante, though she wouldn't set foot into the smaller local place. Bit of a tangent...

                    a little closer back to the subject... pabboy - I enjoy the lunches at Kam Sen, though I've been only a few times. Any lunch items you particularly like or recommend?

                    Also, their scallion pancakes... by the time lunch comes around, they've been sitting under a heat lamp for too long and are greasy, but they look like they once had potential. Have you had them fresh? Worth it? I miss the great scallion pancakes you can get in some of the better Chinatown places. (when they are having an on night, my favorites are at New Green Bo). Man, I would love to find good ones out here.

                    1. re: adamclyde

                      I don't have any particular favorites at the Kam Sen lunch counter. It's usually what I feel like that day but they do have a few interesting items like pig ears, beef tendons, pork belly with preserved veggies and seaweed. I find most of their items to way too salty.

                      I think the best scallion pancake in Westchester is the one at Pagoda. In fact I've posted elsewhere that Pagoda is the most authentic Chinese restaurant in all of Westchester. They have a separate menu written in Chinese that I highly recommend. Also on weekends they serve Northern Chinese style dimsum which I've been a regular at for a while. Oh and my wife and I love their beef noodle! Speaking of New Green Bo... oy.... I avoid that place like a plague...

                      Whoa... I'm going way off topic here. NGB is for another thread on another board.

                      Anyways, everytime I visit my parents in MD (outside of DC) I would hit the local Chinese groceries with them. They have 4 within 10 minute drive but none are as large as Kam Sen. Their produce are not as fresh either. They remind me of the one Central Ave. When I used to visit relatives in the Suffern area, we had to drive 20 minutes to a tiny Vietnamese market to get any Asian groceries. So I feel very lucky to have Kam Sen. Yes there are still times I will hit Ctown for dried scallops and oysters or home-style kimchi in Flushing but that's pretty rare.

                      1. re: pabboy

                        I love beef tendon. Great to hear Kam Sen does a good one.

                        yeah, NGB has its flaws, but I sure love their scallion pancakes.

                        OK, for someone who doesn't speak or read any chinese whatsoever, what would you recommend from the chinese side of the menu, as I'd have no clue what to look for or ask for?

                        By the way, where is Pagoda? Not sure why I haven't seen your posts on it... must have slipped. Sounds great. How would you compare their dim sum to Aberdeen?

                        1. re: adamclyde

                          Pagoda is on Central Ave next to A&P and Cafe Meze, across from the Fire house.

                          We ususally get simple items like shrimp with tofu, salt baked porkchops, satay beef over watercress, beef with hot pepper, then ask for the freshest veggies they have and have it stir fried with garlic, then check out the fish tanks for something that's not floating on its side and have it steamed or red roasted. We usually ask them to recommend some specials which can be a bit tricky since they want to push the most expensive items like lobsters or crabs. Once in a while we indulge but we go for the cheaper specials like oyster mushroom with zucchini or spare ribs over spinach. One of my favorites at Pagoda is the Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce. If the head chef is around it's probably the best I've ever had.

                          In terms of dimsum, comparing Pagoda to Aberdeen is like apples to oranges. Aberdeen offers Catonese style dimsum you'll find at the majority of Chinese restaurants. Pagoda has Northern Chinese style which is made to order, no push-carts. The food items are very different as well. The main items are youtiao (imagine a long zeppole with a much lighter dough and almost all air), shaobing (thin sessame crusted bread), hot soy milk (sweet or salty), soup dumplings, 5 spice beef and congee. The Chinese store on Central Ave actually sells these items pre-made on weekends. But nothing beats fresh, made to order ones.

                          As for Aberdeen once again I'd say we are very lucky to have such high quality dimsum considering they have no competition!! My only gripes are the lack of vaiety and long wait times.

                          1. re: pabboy

                            Oops... Pagoda is next to A&P. In the same stripmall as Casa Maya! Not Cafe Meze....Sorry for the confusion.

                    2. re: pabboy

                      Golden Village, Central Ave, Scarsdale

                      1. re: JMF

                        Thanks! Actually I was just there yesterday and forgot to look at the signs. I noticed that Golden Village seems to cater to a greater variety of clients than Kam Sen. The store is much smaller but they have a dedicated isles for Japanese, SE Asia (Thai,Viet, Malay, Indo, Filip) and Chinese. On top of that the blaring music was Mexican pop!

                        1. re: pabboy

                          I actually go to Kam Sen more. I have been buying a lot of meats there recently for braises, and the turnover on goods seems better as well.

                          For mostly Japanese I sometimes go to Meiji-ya (sp) on Central Ave at four corners/Hartsdale Ave in Hartsdale. (Next to Cafe Meze)

                          And just a few stores down, just past the sushi shop and Japanese Patisserie is Shugo Sake store.

                          1. re: JMF

                            Yes absolutely! I noticed the bottles of samba sauce at Golden Village has gone from bright red to a shade of brown. Most of their canned and jarred items look like they expired a while ago. Some of the frozen items have freezer burns.

                            I love the Eastchester/Scarsdale/Hartsdale area since there are so many Japanese stores catering to the expats.

                            There is even a small Korean grocery on the corner of Central Ave and Mt Joy.

                            1. re: pabboy

                              Have you been to the Japanese deli on Rt 22/Post Rd in Scarsdale? I think it's at the intersection of Harney Rd. I keep driving past but never when I have time to stop by.

                              1. re: JMF

                                Are you referring to Fuji Mart? I've been there a few times. I've also been to the ramen place diagonal across the street as well. While I love to browse Japanese (and other ethnic) markets, I have a hard time finding things to buy. A lot of their items are pre-cooked, ready to eat. I'm more into discovering/learning about new ingredients. Also being Chinese, I love fresh veggies which pratically don't exist in Japanese markets. But Fuji Mart and the like are great for sauces and snacks.

                                1. re: pabboy

                                  Yep, that's the place.

                                  So how's the ramen place across the street? I never noticed it and I drive past there several times a month.

                                  1. re: JMF

                                    I'm hardly an expert on ramen even though I've had it at most of the well known ramen joints in the city. I would say the ramen at the Scarsdale place is decent. I wouldn't go out of my way for it, but then again, where else can I get ramen in Westchester?

                              2. re: pabboy

                                I wouldn't advise going to that small Korean grocery, the aisles and bottles are covered in dust and it just doesn't seem well kept.

                                Daido on Mamaroneck and Bloomingdale (next to Sushi Nanase) is an excellent Japanese supermarket and bigger than Meiji-ya.