Why You Should Shop at Ethnic Grocery Stores

I’m here to convince you to shop at your local ethnic grocery stores.

I live in Philadelphia. The map above of where people of different ethnicities live in Philadelphia has red dots for whites, blue dots for blacks, and yellow dots for Hispanics. In the middle of the map, there’s a place in North Philadelphia where the north-south swath of Hispanic neighborhoods tapers down to a point and mixes with the black and white neighborhoods to the west and east. And right there, there’s a locally-owned grocery store called Cousin’s. Not surprisingly, it’s a fantastic place to shop for food.

It’s made even better by the fact that there’s a fairly strong Muslim community in North Philadelphia. So: Take a full service American supermarket, add two big aisles of Mexican/Spanish produce, meats and groceries (including all manner of hot peppers, salsas, queso fresco, chorizos, octopus, salt cod, all of those different kinds of beans and cornmeal, etc.), and then add a halal meat counter, Lebanese yogurt, and a whole aisle of Middle Eastern specialties (halva, tahini, sardines in spicy oil, etc.). It’s a dream to shop there. The prices are rock bottom, the selection is amazing, and the food quality is equal to or higher than any other major, regular-priced supermarket I’ve tried.

It’s become my favorite place to grocery shop, but I’ve had a tough time convincing any of my friends to give it a shot.

There are tremendous benefits to shopping at your local ethnic grocery store, even if only occasionally. You’ll definitely save money. A lot of money! The difference is really dramatic. At Cousin’s, most everything feels like it’s priced at 20 to 50 percent less than mass-market competitors. Five pounds of fresh chicken legs for $3; 18 large eggs for $2; a pound of unsalted butter for $2. And the prices are similarly low at my local Chinese market, where I sometimes shop for greens, pork, fish and Asian goods like sushi rice and coconut milk. Make no mistake: Shopping at an ethnic grocery will make a big difference in your monthly budget, enough so that it’s worth trying just for the savings.

You’ll also discover new foods, and new combinations of foods (the combination of Sriracha sauce with, well, just about everything is a good example). Those foods will typically be high quality and not over-processed (so, generally healthier!), because that’s what immigrant populations demand and expect. As economist Tyler Cowen noted in his article on shopping exclusively at his local Chinese grocery for a month:

When it comes to ethnic markets, most of the shoppers are well informed. They come from cultures where food preparation receives more attention than in the United States. They’re also largely immigrants or children of immigrants. Either they hail from cultures where most food prices are lower than they are here or the immigrants have lower incomes themselves, or both.

You’ll get outside of your usual loop and meet different people. And you’ll actually be shopping locally, with the money staying in your neighborhood or city, which probably isn’t the case with Trader Joe’s, headquartered in California (and owned by Germans), or Whole Foods, based in Texas.

So, why don’t people like me and my friends usually shop at ethnic groceries? The reasons I often hear are crime, selection, presentation and feeling like an outsider, whether due to language or ethnicity.

Crime? Well, if people are getting carjacked in the parking lot of your local ethnic grocery, don’t go there. But typically, grocery stores are built in fairly stable neighborhoods near large residential populations. I was surprised to find that there’s actually the same amount or maybe even more crime in my mostly white neighborhood as there is near Cousin’s. If this is a real concern for you, just go on the Internet and look up the statistics—you might be surprised.

In terms of selection, well, it’s true—your local ethnic grocery won’t have everything you’re used to, and that’s part of the point. As Cowen points outs:

The Safeway or Wegmans or corner market supplies a lot of convenient food… but that very convenience can make the local supermarket a rut. The deadening hand of routine takes over our shopping lives: We know what we want, where to find it, when to get it, and what to do with it. These habits can be the biggest obstacles to discovering new regions of the food universe.

The foods you miss from your American supermarket probably weren’t that good for you anyway, and being exposed to the new options at your ethnic grocery is bound to enhance your cooking and dining.

Presentation is one of the key differences between American and ethnic groceries. The wide aisles, gentle Muzak and carefully crafted shopping experiences at conventional supermarkets may make you feel comfortable, but you’re paying for it in the higher costs of your food, and in many cases those store design elements are pushing you towards more expensive, less healthy foods. At the very least, keeping you comfortable may well be keeping you in your routine, so you’ll keep shopping wherever you’re shopping. As with selection, breaking out of your rut and shopping in a place where it’s not immediately clear where to find your favorite foods can have great benefits on the variety of foods you cook and eat.

Addressing people’s discomfort at being in store where the main language isn’t English, or where almost everyone is of a different ethnicity, is complicated. But let me just say: Try not to let your comfort zones get in the way of your dinner, or the health of your pocketbook. Race relations in America are obviously complex, but being willing to stand in line at the supermarket with people who don’t look like you is a good start for everyone involved. And you can be sure that the owners of the supermarkets are glad to have more people shopping in their stores. Back when “urban food deserts” were a hot topic, a local TV station showed up at Cousin’s when I was shopping there to see just what scarce morsels of food might be found in the barren expanses of North Philadelphia. The store managers, who are of Middle Eastern descent, were dashing around the store in front of the cameras waving pineapples, fresh-baked pita, poblano peppers and giant avocados.

There are such great benefits to shopping at ethnic groceries, and the downsides almost entirely evaporate upon closer inspection. I’m not suggesting that you follow Tyler Cowen and shop exclusively at an ethnic grocery—just try to incorporate it into your routine occasionally. After all, for almost anyone who’s interested in both good food and not spending too much on groceries, it’s impossible to get everything you need at one store. Shopping at an ethnic grocery once a week, or even once a month, is bound to benefit your wallet, your taste buds, and maybe even your city and the people who live in it.

 

Stefan Zajic lives in Philadelphia and thinks about science all day. Map Credit: Eric Fischer

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67 Comments / Post A Comment

Emma Peel (#317)

Cousin’s sounds awesome. DC people (I know a lot of us hang out here), do you have favorite ethnic markets in/near the city? I feel like they’re all in the ‘burbs (<3 u Eden Center), and even though I have a car, that’s not something I’ll realistically do more than a couple of times.

@Emma Peel Snider’s Super Foods in Silver Spring is great, though neither cheap nor ethnic (well, it’s Jewish I guess?).

@stuffisthings I do want to try what I believe is a Latin American supermarket (think it’s called Best?) near where I do my laundry in Mt. Pleasant, though.

@stuffisthings Bestworld! I pop over there whenever I run out of something crucial (black beans, salt, almond milk, Gatorade when I’m hung over). I’ve been meaning to branch out and try some of their specialty stuff, though– maybe I’ll do my next weekly shop there, instead of the Safeway in Adams Morgan.

ladybug (#2,583)

@Emma Peel Bestway is near the W. Hyattsville metro and the produce prices are rockbottom and the quality is good…H&A in Hyattsville has a crazy selection, but isn’t metro accessible.

littleoaks (#1,801)

@cuminafterall Love Bestworld for its amazing tortillas and affordable produce. Have any of you been to the Japanese market near Dupont? I’ve been meaning to check it out for awhile now.

@Emma Peel I’ve been meaning to go to Hana Japanese Market on U Street for a while. That’s more of a specialty food store than an ethnic grocery store, though.

When I lived on Capitol Hill I loved going to the different shops in the Florida Avenue Market– they had an Afro-Caribbean greengrocer, an entire shop just for Chinese tofu (heaven!), and of course A. Litteri, the best Italian shop in DC. With opening of bougie Union Market, I don’t know how many places are still around(except A. Litteri– pretty sure I’d have heard if they closed).

@littleoaks My coworker says that place is not great — probably as @cuminafterall describes, it’s more of a specialty shop.

KatNotCat (#766)

@cuminafterall Many shops in that area are still open and operating. I did hear there were some risk of them being shut down when Union Market was bought (I think the land is now under entirely new ownership) but I cannot remember enough details for that to be much more than rumor. My boyfriend and I shop there frequently. Carribean Crescent is my favorite.

@EmmaPeel The Florida Ave Market is where the new Union Market is. The entire area to the left of it is restaurant supply stores, wholesale and ethnic markets. It’s pretty much the best area *ever* to buy spices. It should be noted that a lot of the shops are only open to the public during certain earlier hours on the weekends since they cater to restaurants. It’s indoor/outdoor–wear comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting the occasional mystery liquid on.

Also, touching on something that was in the article: I do feel uncomfortable shopping at the Florida Market area on my own sometimes due to a really high frequency and intensity of leering. I would not say that it is unsafe at all, only occasionally socially uncomfortable. Just a forewarning.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@cuminafterall I was just coming to recommend Hana’s! It’s one of those teeny-tiny stores that somehow manages to have absolutely everything you’re looking for. It defies the laws of physics.

eraserface (#1,628)

@KatNotCat Can you tell us when the good restaurant supply places on FL Ave are open to the public on weekends? I could use some bulk spices…

KatNotCat (#766)

@eraserface It varies by store, but we’ve usually gone between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m and most of the stores that will sell to the public are doing it then. By 4 p.m., anyone that closes to the public has done so it seems.
I still haven’t figured out A. Litteri’s hours.

ifwecantaloupe (#2,654)

HMM! I’ve never actually been to Cousin’s – when I was in college, before they opened a gigundo chain supermarket nearby, it was the only grocery store anywhere near campus and it was the place that everyone would trek out to buy house party supplies and dorm room food. That association stuck – but I’ll definitely check it out now!

The mini-supermarket near my house is Korean-owned but not particularly “ethnic” and also outrageously expensive. Like it’s almost comedy performance art. “Can we charge $5 for a box of cornstarch? Sure why not!” Weirdly, for many items Whole Foods is actually cheaper than Giant.

szajic (#1,811)

@stuffisthings It’s shocking, but sometimes WF is actually the cheapest place for certain staples. Their 365 all-purpose unbleached and whole wheat flours are a good deal at $3/5 lbs, as is their yogurt at $2.50/quart (though I usually don’t buy it there, because they’re out of it constantly and the alternatives are pricy). Pastas and the bulk section can be fairly price, too.

Faintly Macabre (#1,043)

@szajic I got most of my staple things there in college–365-brand hummus, yogurt, juice, and bulk oats/dried fruit. Meanwhile, the Shaw’s near campus charged almost twice as much for a lot of things, but more of my classmates shopped there because they assumed it was cheaper. Supermarket economics are weird!

LolaLaBalc (#707)

@szajic oh my god, that’s so cheap. SO CHEAP. Seriously, $3 for 5lbs of flour?? Whole Foods is now in London too, but in almost every aspect, they live up to the expectation of being insanely expensive.

Now that I live in England, I miss cheap pantry staples and the two big Mexican and Armenian supermarkets in my old LA neighborhood like crazy. I got so used to buying 4 avocados for a dollar, bulk beans and grains, or 3 lbs of tangerines for $2 that I forgot what it was like to pay through the nose for fresh produce at more mainstream chains. I’ve found a few good middle eastern and European markets here (like Aldi, which owns Trader Joe’s) that are reasonably cheaper than the big supermarket chains here. In a lot of ways, the European markets, like Aldi or Lidl have more of a stigma attached than the ‘ethnic’ Asian markets, which is more of a class issue than a race thing.

BornSecular (#2,245)

This is relevant to my interests, and probably just the push I needed. My house is near a few ethnic grocery stores, but I definitely felt too awkward to visit them. There’s a Manila Grocery down the street, and African Market, and others. There’s even a “Quality Meat Market” that I am curious about. I need to just go in now, and this article may have given me the courage to do so!

I love me some ethnic grocery stores, but the majority are NOT cheap. Smaller stores mean less bulk buys, which leads to higher prices. There are some serious deals to be had (what up, feta?), but in the long run, I think it probably evens out.

szajic (#1,811)

@Jake Reinhardt This is a fair point. Cousin’s and the Chinese markets I go to are bigger stores, so they can move enough volume to make it cheaper. Neighborhood bodegas can’t compete on price.

theotherginger (#1,304)

in Toronto, what I call cash only produce stores are waaaaay cheaper than grocery stores for the same items. Chinatown is cheaper, but also the food is more likely to spoil quickly, as it is sold to be cooked almost immediately. I also heart my middle eastern grocery store and tortilla store. I think if you go to a store run by someone who isn’t white, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be cheaper. It means that if it is a store for a particular community (ie Korean grocery store run by koreans) that sells that food it will be.

Amanda T (#1,842)

In Atlanta we have TONS of ethnic grocery stores – Korean (H-Mart), Latin American and Russian (Buford Hwy Farmers Market), Chinese (Chinese supermarket in Duluth), Japanese (Tomato in Smyrna) – some are good, some are cheap, and all are super interesting. For me the major downside is variable produce quality and suspicion of meat sourcing – if I could follow the supply chain on the meats I would probably be more comfortable buying them there. At the moment I live within walking distance of Whole Foods, plus we get a discount, so it just makes more sense to shop there. I wish we had an H-Mart nearby though, I miss eating there and buying vast quantities of no-MSG super-spicy ramyun. (mouth watering at the thought!)

yrouttasight (#2,967)

There was a Hispanic grocery store in my neighborhood in Boston that had been in business for 50 years. It was bought out my Whole Foods. Sad trombone :(

yrouttasight (#2,967)

@yrouttasight bought out BY Whole Foods. Darn it.

The bright side to this was that the community strongly protested its opening- so much so that Whole Foods eventually had to promise to only hire local workers (most of them employees that were let go by the afformentioned Hispanic market), and to provide a livable wage and full benefits to all their employees.

I live in south-west Ohio (obviously an ethnic melting pot) and we have the mother of all ethnic stores – like, seriously every single enthinc market you could ever think of crammed together into one gigantic international market. Y’all should be jealous.

I can’t do a fancy link, but seriously – it’s like food heaven. http://www.junglejims.com/

Megano! (#124)

I looooove ethnic grocery stores! There are like two near my new place, so if I ever want to make really excellent Indian food, I am set. I also used to go to the Korean grocery store near my old place all the time. Soooo good.
I forget where I read it, but there was a piece about how it’s so much different going to ethnic groceries in the States vs. Canada, like they felt more welcome in the Canadian ones?

elizabeast (#629)

As a (recently) former Philadelphian, this piece is kind of killing me. The Cousin’s markets are in actually bad neighborhoods. After eight years of living in Philly, in great neighborhoods and terrifying neighborhoods, I absolutely wouldn’t go out of my way to visit Cousin’s.

There are a ton of Asian markets that I would take advantage of, but their produce was all pretty terrible. Yes it was cheap, but it was also old–even the ones in Chinatown! I would often buy a week’s worth of produce only to see half of it go moldy on the second day. The meat was inexpensive, but I and my friends had good and bad experiences (stay away from the fish at Spring Garden Market) (also, when you buy meat, they just hand you the bag with all of the raw meat juices on it). I did appreciate having easy access to the “specialty” ingredients I need to make my favorite recipes, which is something I have yet to find in Portland.

szajic (#1,811)

@elizabeast The Cousin’s I wrote about is the one at 5th and Berks. The crime rate in that neighborhood (19122) is a little *lower* than Fishtown (19125, where I live) and Old City (19106), and a little higher than Northern Liberties (19123) and University City (19104). Now, granted, the crime rate in all of these Philadelphia neighborhoods is higher than the state and national average, but 19122 isn’t “actually bad” in comparison to other decent neighborhoods in the city, when you look at the numbers.

Cousin’s has two other stores. One’s in Camden, I’ve never been there and probably won’t ever go, because the crime rate there is astronomical, Camden’s scary. The other is farther up in North Philly, near Hunting Park. The crime rate there, in 19140, is still lower than Fishtown’s.

One potential source of confusion is that there are also a number of other grocery stores called “Cousin’s Food Markets” or “Cousin’s Fresh Markets” that are unaffiliated with the Cousin’s I wrote about. I don’t know anything about those, but it looks like some are in rougher neighborhoods.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@szajic Wow I was all set to commend you on talking up Kensington but then you went and called Camden “scary”. You shouldn’t do that while defending another supposedly “scary” neighborhood.
I live in South Philly and go to the Italian Market on weekends with $20 cash and come home with groceries for the week. It’s the best.

szajic (#1,811)

@josefinastrummer I wish it wasn’t so, but the crime rate in Camden really is extremely high. On the other hand, people think Kensington is worse than other neighborhoods in Philly, but it’s not.

I like shopping at the Italian Market, too (nice cheap produce), it’s just too far away from me to get to very often, and parking is a pain.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@szajic Have you been to Camden? There are parts of Camden that are not dangerous. Half of my family and friends went to Rutgers Camden and have never had a problem. People live in Camden every day and don’t have any problems. I’m not saying I want to move to Camden but to tell people to not go to the supermarket or the aquarium or Walt Whitman’s house or the fantastic Planned Parenthood because they are in scary, dangerous Camden is just wrong and frustrating. Just like when people say you shouldn’t go to Kensington or Point Breeze ever.

And parking at the Italian Market?! Take the bus or the subway!

szajic (#1,811)

@josefinastrummer Yes, I’ve been to Camden, and I know it’s not one homogenous crime-ridden whole, fair point. But the crime statistics of the zip code where the Camden Cousin’s is, which is how I got on the topic, are really pretty bad, much worse than anywhere in Philly. And my own experiences in Camden haven’t helped much; for example, I’ve picked up take-out food from a restaurant that kept their doors locked at all times and looked through a crack in the door before they let you in, out of fear of crime. But you’re right, there are some good reasons to go.

As for getting to the Italian Market, yes, I know, but I just go to Cousin’s or Iovine’s at Reading Terminal, they’re easier for me.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@szajic Ahhhhhhh excellent point that the actual Cousin’s in Camden isn’t in a safe place. Somehow I forgot this was about Cousin’s and not all of Camden. Thanks!
I am glad we have our local places to go, whether it’s Iovine’s or Cousin’s or the Italian Market or Supreme Shop n Bag in West Philly.

Faintly Macabre (#1,043)

@szajic I wouldn’t judge where to go in Philly based on the crime rates for area codes. Things change a lot block-by-block in a lot of areas. There are parts of Philly where I’m comfortable walking alone at night but would hesitate to walk down a street two blocks from there during the day.

“On the other hand, people think Kensington is worse than other neighborhoods in Philly, but it’s not.”

What do you mean by worse? And which neighborhoods? I never call neighborhoods “bad,” but I absolutely would not recommend people going to Kensington on their own if they aren’t already familiar with it. Driving to the Cousins in North Philly/Kensington during the day? Okay, if you know where you’re going. Parts of Fishtown are a little iffy, but the presence of hipsters makes it a bit different for exploring.

I don’t mean this to sound patronizing/combatitive. I love ethnic grocery stores, too–well, all grocery stores, practically. But as much as I’m for destigmatizing poorer neighborhoods (and have spent a good amount of time in parts of Kensington and like them a lot), some of those neighborhoods are actually dangerous, especially if you don’t know the lay of the land.

emmabee (#2,008)

I live in the excellent & diverse food city of Queens, but I do feel the need to point out that “ethnic” is not the same as “nonwhite.” We have many wonderful Irish, Romanian, Czech, and Greek markets, Italian and Colombian bakeries, etc. I imagine lots of their owners and customers would identify as white, too. We also have some bad “ethnic” markets that are expensive, don’t have much turnover or selection, etc. Also, Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s aren’t the default/neutral choice — they’re also marked by class/ethnicity/nationality.

ghechr (#596)

@emmabee Yes to your point about local marketing of chains! My local Lowe’s grocery store (I believe it’s a nationwide chain similar to Safeway) has a huge variety of Mexican foods that are not commonly carried. The prices are usually lower for equivalent products at Albertson’s, although sometimes the lower price is due to receipt of a smaller amount of product. For example, I was psyched to see that whole roast chickens at Lowe’s were something like $4 compared to Albertson’s $7, but the Lowe’s chickens were teeny tiny.

hellonheels (#1,407)

This is really good advice. I virtually never buy produce at Safeway – it’s expensive and the quality for non-organic items is usually not great. My neighborhood cash-only produce shop, though not technically an ethnic grocery (well, the owner is Irish and most of the employees are Chinese, if that counts) is MUCH cheaper and almost always fresher.

This is also not technically an ethnic market, but when I lived in Boston I would always shop at the Somerville Market Basket, and it was amazing (though anytime I went on a Sunday, it drove me to drink afterward). They catered to a number of ethnic populations, had a crazy produce section, and were the cheapest ever.

Faintly Macabre (#1,043)

@hellonheels I am obsessed with Market Basket. Despite the five million shopping carts and their insistence on giving you a plastic bag for every item (maybe it’s some weird Somerville mob arrangement). An Indian grocery store opened right next door a few years ago–I’m not sure if it’s still there, but they had a big selection of interesting stuff.

9heuredumatin (#2,946)

I’m an “ethnic person” who didn’t grow up in north America and feels at home in Chinese grocery stores and would shop there exclusively if I could (i.e. if I own a car). I often wonder if White people who told me they feel really awkward in ethnic stores (“I never know what to buy?”) are just like me when I go to fancy specialty food stores that sell gourmet cheese and pickles? *I* never know what to get in those places, and the prices alone are intimidating enough.

selenana (#673)

@9heuredumatin Yeah, the word “ethnic” is kind of weird to me, as it so often seems to mean “not like me”. Ethnic clothes! Ethnic food! Seems like a more updated way of saying exotic.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

Ethnic grocery stores are the best. The spices and prepared foods at the subcontinent places, the cheese and sweets and dried fruits at the middle eastern ones, produce at the Asian markets, and delicious eggplants, etc in oil at the European ones. I don’t find myself being efficient, because wandering is often required to find what I am looking for, but price, selection and surprise make me very happy.

Sadly, the best ethnic markets in my city (Ottawa) rqeuire a car. Like the place with fresh medjouli cheese and the best dried apricots I have ever eaten.

Morbo (#1,236)

No discussion on if these shops are unionized or not?
How much are the employees making?

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Morbo Since they are most likely hiring family or friends, do you think they will need a union?
Do you ask your local Whole Foods employee how much he or she is making? I bet people who work at ethnic grocery stores would most likely answer “enough” if you were so bold to ask how much they made.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@josefinastrummer I’m quite concerned about Whole Foods’ labor practices. Are we not allowed to ask about the working conditions of the places we shop, now? Or just not allowed to ask about those at “ethnic” markets?

deepomega (#22)

@WaityKatie You can ask, sure! Not sure why “try out an ethnic grocery store” should be forced to answer whether ethnic grocery stores are unionized. How would you even answer Morbo’s question?

If you’re concerned, then look into the stores near you.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@WaityKatie Ask away! What do you think a Whole Foods employee is going to tell you while she’s at work? Nothing if she wants to keep her job.

You can ask at ethnic markets as well but again, I think the overwhelming majority of people working at an ethnic market are going to say that they make enough money. But that’s just how I feel about the markets I go to. They are usually owned by immigrants or children of immigrants and they take care of each other. They might also help out with housing and healthcare. They are probably the last group of people who need unions. But go ahead and ask and report back. I’d like to hear what you find in NYC compared to Philly.

Morbo (#1,236)

@All
Here is the point – this store offers variety at low prices, according to the article. The author sees this as positives, not to mention the aesthetic appeal to his self worth.

However, if Cousins is non-union, it is taking sales away from the unionized stores run by Giant Eagle and others out there in Philly. If they are getting these savings by paying below union wages and not offering health care and other benefits, is the person that shops there any better than the demonized Wal-Mart customer?

And, for the record, I support our local fruteria in Chicago.

deepomega (#22)

@Morbo Maybe the problem is assuming that low prices can only come at the cost to employers. First, it assumes that paying more for something is more ethical (boo!), which secondly implicates low-income produce-buyers in economic oppression.

Let’s put this another way: Do you give people shit for shopping at Trader Joe’s, which has low prices and is DEFINITELY non-union?

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Morbo Wow, comparing shopping at a locally owned business to Wal-Mart is just wrong. I will shop at a small business before I shop in a corporate owned chain, unionized or not, any day because they are the people keeping the money in the community.

Unions have their place but do you know anything about the unions in Philadelphia? Seeing that you live in Chicago and mentioned Giant Eagle, which we don’t have, maybe not? It used to be that unions helped people and you chose to join but now a lot of them are bullies that demonize anyone who doesn’t want to/can’t afford to join or in the trade unions, isn’t white.

Morbo (#1,236)

@deepomega
I give people crap for shopping at Trader Joe’s for a lot of reasons.
I think we agree on the notion of low prices not being an automatic byproduct of evil.
It is just more a reaction against people who talk about the evils of Wal-Mart and Target, but don’t consider the effects of their own shopping habits, once it is their turn to save a dime. My biggest irk is Amazon shoppers, because it often robs communities and states of sales tax revenue.

Morbo (#1,236)

@josefinastrummer
My fault. I mix up Philly and Pittsburgh all the time.
I don’t hold a romanticized view of the mom and pop store. I know a lot of them mistreat workers just as bad as the chain stores do. Maybe Cousin’s is better, but it is something to be aware of.

faustbanana (#2,376)

Big ups to this piece! The price is usually better at these places – in my experience, not dramatically better, but noticeable – but the real benefit in my mind is having my curiosity piqued by items I don’t see at the big groceries. I live in Albany Park in Chicago, a veritable treasure trove of “ethnic” groceries, some better than others.

My only word of warning is to check expiration dates. I tried to buy olive oil at a Middle Eastern market last weekend – olive oil, the staple of all staples! – and every bottle I checked had a “best by” date from 2011!

YESS! We have a TON of Asian shops near me and I love em all. I also need to branch out and visit the Indian and Muslim ones (we live in a pretty multicultural neighbourhood in a fairly multicultural city overall.

BananaPeel (#1,555)

Ahhh I was just thinking about trying to make mattar paneer at home and looking for places in St. Louis to buy paneer. There’s not even a Schnucks in my neighborhood, really, but I’m going to look harder for an ethnic/international place.

aspirin_kid (#2,463)

Holy shit… represent Cousin’s! I went to Temple and used to live at 6th and Girard. Cousin’s was the only spot to get groceries within a solid three mile radius. Now with Super Fresh on 2nd and Girard and the Temple Fresh Grocer things have become a bit different but Cousin’s still make them look like a joke.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@aspirin_kid Hey there has always been that supermarket on Aramingo, just below Lehigh. The Port Richmond Shopping Village. Was Cousin’s closer?

aspirin_kid (#2,463)

@josefinastrummer Way closer. Probably halfway between campus and Port Richmond, maybe a third of the way.

deepomega (#22)

I am lucky enough to live walking distance from a glorious persian grocery store, where produce is regularly 50% the price of what it’d be at the big chain store nearby. It’s also fresher, and lasts longer. And the yogurt is BASICALLY free, that’s how cheap it is.

readyornot (#816)

ohmygod, @deepomega, we live in the same neighborhood. elat – BEST.

I live in a weird limnal zone between the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg (gentrified) and Bushwick (gentrifying). The only real options for food shopping are superclean 24-hour “health food” markets which are crazy expensive, or soulless deadened chain supermarket outposts like Associated or C-Town which are less expensive but somehow also very terrible and sad. So I’ve been buying all of my vegetables in Chinatown for some time now. It’s way cheaper, fresher, and less industrially farmed even that what I typically find at Whole Foods. For bulk dry goods like rice and lentils (and spices), the Indian markets on Lexington in the 30s simply can’t be beat. New Yorkers with useable kitchens simply can’t afford NOT to take advantage of ethnic groceries!

Ha, “ethnic” – my mother’s favourite code word for non-white. As in “I don’t like…ethnic food, can we go to Burger Joint again?”

@Hiroine Protagonist

Burger joint, it should be noted, is named “White Spot”.

BadUncle (#449)

As a Brooklyner, I kind of bristle at the call to shop at “ethnic” grocery stores, which seems like some kind of a fragile species existing outside the normal ecosystem. My portion of South Brooklyn is largely composed of, well, everyone. So that means the three groceries at the end of my block are a Korean natural foods store, an Italian butcher and grocery, and a Mexican fancy food boutique. Which of those three certifies as “most ethnic?” Because there is nothing else to patronize (with an emphasis on “Patron.”) The most famous butchers and groceries in my nabe are run by Italians, Germans, Syrians and Lebanese. Should I patronize these – relatively speaking – big box stores?

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@BadUncle Not everyone lives in such a diverse neighborhood. Yeah I live around Italians and Algerians and Indonesians and lots of other people but I also live equal distance from Acme and Shop Rite, two big chains in our area. I think this article is mostly telling people to not be afraid to go somewhere different and/or to not be a snob.

cmeggles (#2,983)

Thanks for this article! I live in Philly and I actually use the ATM at the credit union right by Cousin’s all the time, yet have never shopped there. I’ll check it out next time! I love shopping at Trader Joe’s, but good point about keeping money in the community.

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