Food & Drink

Best Bites: Ethnic groceries bring the flavors of the world to Whatcom County

You're cooking Chinese, Tunisian, Mexican and Indian this week. Where do you find ingredients such as preserved lemons, dark soy sauce or tamarind? And what is alloo bhujia? Here are five local stores that go beyond the specialty departments in supermarkets.

Asia Oriental Market

There's barely elbow room for two people in the aisles at this tiny grocery in the historic Fountain District. But it's chock-full of sauces and other items for recipes from Thai to Japanese to Chinese. Many of the containers are labeled in their native languages, but the staff is happy to translate and explain how items are used.

You'll also find frozen fish and meats, and such diverse ingredients as dried shrimp and everything you need to make authentic fish balls or ramen noodles. There's also a small selection of seasonal Asian vegetables, plus Asian treats and snack food such as Pocky.

2408 Meridian St.


Old World Deli

This deli and grocery just up the street from the YMCA is a time warp to Little Italy, with its cases of traditional cured meats such as cappacola, mortadella di Bologna and speck – plus all the fixings for your next anti pasto.

You'll find items from Spain, Italy and Germany and the southern Mediterranean too – including Tunisian harrissa and an assortment of specialty vinegars. Miss that squid ink taglionini from the old country? It's here.

There's also a fine selection of fresh olives, plus wine, pasta, fresh sausages and cheeses.

1228 N. State St.


Mediterranean Specialties

Three sisters opened this grocery and cafe as dozen years ago, offering such Middle Eastern dishes as falafel and kibbe, plus a delightful Lebanese-style coffee with cardamom.

That ground coffee is also sold there, along with a special pot for boiling it – plus teas from the region and a selection of fresh soups to take home.

Aisles are stocked with such items as wine, crackers, fig jam, olives, capers, several varieties of anchovies and, -- oh yes – those preserved lemons.

Want to learn more? Browse the cookbooks or register for cooking classes.

505 32nd St. No. 108, near the Valero gas station behind Sehome Village


La Gloria Mexican restaurant and market

It's like stepping south of the border at La Gloria, a shop that's ground zero for the fan of serious Mexican cuisine.

Many markets have produce such as avocados, peppers and tomatillas, but where else can you get tamarind soda and fresh prickly pear cactus paddles? One wall of the store is packed with spices as diverse as ancho chili, dried lavender and dried avocado leaves.

A carnicera offers specialty meats such as tripe for fresh menudo and the traditional thinly sliced skirt steak called rez. Fish include the Caribbean cichlid called cabezon and majarro (tilapia).

4140 Meridian St.(corner of Prince Avenue, behind a car wash)


Europa Foods

This store items mostly from Eastern Europe and the Balkans and specializes in cured meats and sausages including kabanosy, a traditional dry Polish sausage that's long and thin with a smoky flavor.

You'll also find regional cheeses, beer and wine – along with chocolate, canned goods including caviar, baked items and newspapers.

3908 Meridian Street No. 112, just north of Telegraph Road on the east side of the street.


Spice India & Sweets

Traditional Indian sauces and condiments and staples such as ghee and rice fill the aisles at this new grocery. There's a refrigerated section for alloo tikki and paneer pakoda -- plus packed goat meat.

There's also a bakery case features bite-sized pastries.

424 W. Bakerview Road, No.10 in the Bakerview Square shopping center