Getting bored cooking the same old dinners week after week? It’s time to spice up your life with exotic food. These five ethnic grocery stores in Austin make it easy for you to try something new, no matter your background or cooking skill level. Nothing can transport you elsewhere quite like the smell of toasting exotic spices filling up your kitchen.
You can buy all the ingredients it takes to make your own curries, sushi, dumplings and mole from scratch at these grocery stores, or you can get products that are mostly already made to enjoy an easy weeknight meal.
MT Supermarket, located on North Lamar in Chinatown Center, is probably the largest ethnic grocery store in Austin. Whatever Asian dish you may want to prepare, you’re sure to find the ingredients here.
There are rows upon rows of freezers, shelves and stacks of products imported from Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asian countries. There are enough pickled vegetables and chili sauce for 10 lifetimes, plus any kind of noodle you can imagine, including pumpkin noodles, sweet potato noodles and oat noodles.
They have multiple freezers full of shrimp, pork, vegetable wontons, shumai and dumplings. All you have to do is take them home and steam or fry them, serving them up with a delicious chili-garlic-soy sauce.
You can also get fresh fish, seafood and meat at a low price. The fish is so fresh, it’s still swimming. You can also find squid, octopus and tons of fish balls readymade for you to prepare however you like–in a soup, fried or steamed. The meat selection here is also extensive, and includes goat meat, beef tongue, pork liver, pork kidneys and pork spleen. This is the perfect place to get any of those “strange meats” Americans dishes typically don’t call for, whether you’re cooking Asian food or not.
MT Supermarket also has a large selection of fruits and vegetables, including the gigantic jackfruit, which looks like an over-sized durian, Chinese broccoli, Chinese celery and other typical Asian fruits and vegetables.
Easy meal idea: Steamed dumplings served with Chinese broccoli blanched and topped with oyster sauce, garlic and chili oil.
10901 N Lamar Blvd – Website
The Fiesta Mart located off I-35 and 38 ½ Street is comparable in size to MT Supermarket and is probably the most international grocery store in Austin. This supermarket not only offers Mexican and other Latin American foods, but they also sell goods from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. The aisles are clearly marked for different types of cuisine, so you can easily find any special ingredients you might be looking for.
They have an extensive meat and seafood selection, as well as a bakery, tortilleria and deli. The dairy case contains crema (similar to sour cream) from Oaxaca, Puebla, Honduras and El Salvador, as well as a variety of Mexican-style cheeses. If you’re planning on setting a day aside to conquer a mole poblano sauce from scratch, this is the place you would go to find all 20 of the ingredients you need, plus your chicken and fresh tortillas.
Easy meal idea: Panela a la plancha (grilled panela cheese). Thickly slice this low-fat cheese, brown it on the grill or in a pan and serve with fresh tortillas, refried beans and salsa.
3909 N I- 35 Service Rd – Website
Although Asahi Imports on Burnet Road is a small store, there are still plenty of products to explore, and there are enough ingredients to make a complete meal. Most everything is imported from Japan. If you’re thinking about making sushi at home, but don’t have the ingredients and tools you need, this is the place to go.
In addition to rice vinegar, rolling mats, pickled ginger and nori, they sell frozen sashimi-grade tuna, salmon, hamachi and escolar. They also sell frozen cooked octopus, tamago, cuttlefish, unagi and different kinds of row. There is a small selection of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale, including shishito peppers, daikon radish, Japanese eggplant and taro root. Beverage enthusiasts will be happy to find shelves stocked with a variety of sake, beer and other Japanese beverages.
Little did I know, they also have a Japanese video rental section in the back of the store. The owner says they are all Japanese TV shows including game shows and kids’ programs. There are no subtitles, so if you’re missing Japanese TV or want to learn Japanese through full immersion, rent some of these videos for less than $2 and enjoy with your sushi dinner.
I left with an imported frozen mochi cake filled with red bean paste (daifuku). It was delicious, a bit reminiscent of poppy seed filling. I will be back for more.
Somewhat easy meal idea: Hand rolls with tuna or salmon.
6105 Burnet Rd – Website
Phoenicia Bakery & Deli
Don’t let the name throw you off; there’s much more to this place than a bakery and deli. You can buy all you need to make a meal here. There’s an olive bar comparable to the size of the one you find at Central Market, a huge selection of oils (including avocado oil and grapeseed oil) and just about any spice you can imagine.
In the dry goods section, you’ll find bulgur wheat, red lentils, green lentils and several other legumes, grains and rice. In the freezer section, I found a variety of sausages including Halal Soujouk and Albanian-style sausage. There’s also frozen fish, filo dough, dumpling wrappers, a large yogurt selection and Armenian-style braided cheese–something that resembles Oaxacan cheese that I’m intrigued to go back and try.
Phoenicia Bakery is only at the South Lamar location, but they deliver freshly baked breads and desserts to the Burnet location every morning. Though the majority of products here are Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, there are also items from Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Meal idea: Baked fish with dried crushed lemon, garlic, dried leeks, olive oil and a side of tabbouleh salad.
2912 S Lamar Blvd and 4701 Burnet Rd – Website
Ghandi Bazar is an Indian supermarket chain in Austin, currently with three locations. Indian cooking can be time-consuming with many ingredients, but it’s so worth the extra effort.
All the spices you need for Indian curries can be found here, both packaged separately or combined in a pack for specific meals. There are fresh fruits and vegetables like amaranth leaves (can be used for making saag), karvela, parval and okra.
Ghandi Bazar also has a large selection of prepared foods, snacks and tempting desserts made with cashews, pistachios and pudding.
Meal idea: Chana masala with yogurt and naan bread. Use canned garbanzo beans for a faster meal. Watching this guy is a great way to start learning how to cook Indian food.
2121 W Parmer Ln #108, 12809 N FM 620 #300 and 3421 W William Cannon Dr – Website
@natalien_n wants to know:
What are your favorite ethnic grocery stores in Austin?