One of the many joys of living in a diverse community like Los Angeles is the access we get to the wonderful cuisines of the world. Once-exotic foods like Jicama, lemongrass, bok choy and cherimoya are all common items in our chain supermarkets, and my shopping cart often includes curry paste from India, dried kelp from Japan, and Korean candies.
But if you enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes, you will surely come across an ingredient that’s not easily found at Vons or Ralphs. That’s when you might want to venture out to some of the many ethnic delis and grocers found all over town. Here are some of the best in the San Fernando Valley:
Locations throughout the valley
This successful supermarket chain (27 stores in six California counties) was founded 25 years ago in a 1,000 square foot space in Van Nuys. Today, the Valley has more Vallarta markets than any other region. It is still owned and operated by the Gonzalez family, who has not forgotten their beginnings as a small start-up serving the area’s vast Latino community.
Walk down the aisles and you’ll see all the US products and brands you’re already familiar with, side-by-side with products imported from the South (Ariel detergent, Goya brand canned goods, etc.) But the cookware section includes tools like tortilla presses and molcajetes. And if you look up at the ceiling, you’ll find a collection of colorful piñatas for sale…and that’s when you know you’re not at Albertson’s any more.
Along the walls are the different departments: the produce section, with five kinds of bananas and one-pound bags of tomatillos and jalapenos at $1 each, full-service poultry, meat and fish departments with actual butchers and fishmongers who will cut your choice to your liking. (If you prefer shrink wrapped, frozen meat and fish, you can find that, too.)
In a hurry? Pick up some carne asada all ready to cook… or head to Vallarta’s “Mexican Kitchen,” where you’ll find it hot and ready to go. You can also purchase tacos, burritos, soups, chile rellenos, carne asada, chicharrones, pork carnitas, refried beans to eat there or take home to your family.
10201 Reseda Blvd.
Northridge, CA 91324
If the term “Korean Market” brings up an image of a little mom and pop shop on the corner you might need to brace yourself before entering the Galleria – one of four Korean megastores in Los Angeles. The Northridge grocery is on a site that once housed a very large Ralphs and then a Vons.
This is almost a mini-mall, as there are smaller shops and booths selling videos, herbs, shipping services, healthcare items and an actual food court.
Shopping here is an adventure. Sure, you can pick up all the Western products you already know – but it’s more fun to sample the exotic looking items labeled in Korean.
And it won’t take you long to discover the bargains: good, fresh produce at budget prices, terrific sushi and sashimi, marinated Korean steak and chicken that will allow you to create your own Korean barbecue meal at home. Just make sure you accompany it with some choices from the dazzling array of refrigerated kimchi.
Q Market and Produce
17259 Vanowen St
Van Nuys, CA 91406
You will find a number of Halal and Kosher butchers throughout the Valley – but at Q, you can buy offerings from both, under one roof (although in separate departments). This old-fashioned grocery store stocks food from all over the Middle East.
Got goat? You can buy the meat here. Have a hankering for hummus? They’ve got several varieties, as well as all the ingredients you need to make your own.
This is the place to go for exotic items include yogurt sodas, saffron ice cream (they carry Mashti Malone), authentic Greek style yogurt, Syrian cheese, and Kosher wine. I also found several spice blends featuring fenugreek, hookah tobacco, halva (including sugar-free varieties for those on a diet!), pomegranate molasses, rosewater, and even more exotic water infusions like licorice and dill. And don’t get me started on the vast selection of cooking oils. Best of all: prices are very reasonable.
Enter the market from the small parking lot in the back of the store. Don’t worry if the lot is full; there is usually plenty of parking on the street.
Super Sal Market
17630 Ventura Blvd
Encino, CA 91316
Somehow, this place is always very busy when I visit. But that’s my own fault, as I tend to always hit this Israeli supermarket just before a Jewish holiday. At any rate, even though they’ve got a good sized parking lot, I usually end up using one of the meters across the street.
Once inside Super Sal, it’s easy to imagine you’re actually in Israel. It feels that way, with all the imported products (Osem brand soups and snacks, Elite chocolates, etc.) There’s a nice little produce department, bakery goods and Kosher meats, chicken and fish and what must be the Valley’s largest selection of Israeli wine and beer.
Arrive at lunchtime and dine al fresco on the excellent shawarma… that is, if you can handle the long lines.
India Sweets and Spices
18110 Parthenia St
Northridge, CA 91328
22011 Sherman Way
Canoga Park, CA 91304
One could spend an entire week visiting Indian groceries in the San Fernando Valley: There are nine in Northridge alone.
India Sweets and Spices has a small section of fresh fruits and vegetables, a bakery with fresh sweets, plus a lunch counter with hot food and Indian ice cream. You’ll find an amazing variety of flours, teas, spices and snacks.
And who knew that Pillsbury made a full line of frozen roti and paratha? There were other, more authentic looking brands offering the same tandoori breads, but I was tickled at the idea of the Pillsbury doughboy chattering in Hindi, so I grabbeda bag of plain frozen naan from that section. It’s not quite the same as fresh naan from my favorite Tandoori restaurant – but it’s nice to be able to heat some up at home when I have the craving.
Friar Tuck Shoppe
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
13638 Burbank Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91401
In a land where families with small children all belly up to the sushi bar, dishes like pork pie and Bangers and Mash might be considered exotic. You can get your fill of these in the Valley’s best British pub, the Robin Hood – or you can pick them up here, to heat at home.
You won’t find any fresh produce or meats here, but the clientele all know they can get those items elsewhere. Friar Tuck is where a British ex-pat can satisfy a yen for Ribena (a fruit flavored drink) or Marmite (a yeast extract commonly spread on bread). You’ll also find all the other stalwarts of the British pantry: Oxo, Bisto, Heinz baked beans and salad cream, Bird’s custard, Bakewell tarts, and more. Best of all, they’ve got real English sweets, like Cadbury Flakes. It’s worth the drive just to pick up one of those (I know. I do it all the time).
Donna Schwartz Mills publishes the blog SoCal Mom.