Exciting food and ingredient finds in unexpected places...
- buttertart Dec 9, 2012 08:59 AM
Most likely like you, I am never happier (well, almost) than when I'm in a food market, and the more the market is geared toward a food culture other than my own North American one, the happier I am.
I go through a lot of chocolate while baking, and two places I find it to be of top quality and comparatively cheap are stores catering to Brazilians and to Eastern Europeans.
The Pantagruel brand (from Portugal), the Nestlé chocolates, and Garoto brand (particularly the white chocolate) are all very good.
The E. Wedel brand from Poland is excellent, and there are many Russian chocolates that are as good (шоколад is chocolate in Cyrillic, which I don't read, unfortunately, but 72% as in cacao content is easily read, and the packages are lavishly illustrated).
Cacao grows in Brazil and in Africa, with which both Portugal and Russia have trade ties of long standing -- not always for the best possible reasons --, so this makes perfect sense.
What have you found where and enjoyed that you wouldn't necessarily have expected to have come across?
Well, not an ingredient for a particular cuisine.... but imagine my happiness discovering king trumpet mushrooms at the local Asian grocer for about a 10th of the price you pay for them in Germany, and about half of what you'd pay at Wegmans.
I know, it's not a big secret that one can find great bargains at Asian grocers, but this is wonderful as those shrooms are some of my favorite shrooms of them all.
Living in the burbs as I do, and rarely getting into Manhattan for more interesting shopping, I am actually thrilled when I find something unusual in one of my usual markets!
I can do some decent shopping for Southeast Asian cooking at my local Mexican market, which is totally unexpected. They have a very helpful selection of fresh herbs, an array of dried shrimp and chilies that can lead to reasonably successful Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
My Indo-Pak grocer also carries a decent selection of English products and cocktail bitters for a much better price than local grocery stores, though I suppose given the historical connection between the two regions, this is not too surprising. Just somewhat unexpected that I can buy garlic pickle, Marmite and Angostura bitters all in one place.
In general I'm also always pleasantly surprised when my local supermarket carries products that I would normally not expect. Shirataki noodles, good brands of tofu, kimchi, ajvar. I didn't realize my neighbors were such eclectic eaters. Also the habit for down-rent markets to sell German candy and not just Kinder eggs either, but packaged candies with all the text written in German. I normally don't have patience for children who beg for candy in the check out lines, but I would be quite entertained if they were begging their mothers for Haribo Goldbärchen.