Washingtonian Online ETHNIC MARKETS

Best of All Worlds–A Guide to Ethnic Markets
(from The Washingtonian's October 1997 issue)

By Jim Lawson

Jump to African Chinese German Indian Iranian Italian Japanese Korean Latin American Middle Eastern Philippine Portuguese/Brazilian Russian Thai Vietnamese West Indian

Washington’s status as an international city is reflected in the variety of the area’s several hundred ethnic markets. For those who haven’t explored new foods and cuisines–and for those who want to expand their choices–here is a selection of the excellent ethnic markets found all over the area, plus tips on shopping in them.

Large stores, small stores. You won’t get much personal attention in the large stores, other than someone pointing out where to find a product. In smaller stores, you may be able to confer with the owner about how to cook something, but the selection of items is more limited. If possible, take a cookbook with pictures or the recipe titles printed in the store’s language. I also have found other customers very responsive when I ask for information; people appreciate a stranger’s interest in their food.

Shopping tips. Visiting a Latin American market is worthwhile if for no other reason than to restock your spice cabinet. The herbs and spices are essentially the same as those used in the United States–but less expensive. Two ounces of Jamaican curry powder cost about $1.15, while one ounce of a well-known brand normally costs $3.79 or so. Parboiled rice costs $2.60 for five pounds; that well-known brand goes for twice that amount. Fresh vegetables and fruits are often less expensive in Korean and other markets.

Cookbooks. For each ethnic group I have given the name of a favorite cookbook, but you can’t go wrong with the Foods of the World cookbooks from Time-Life Books. Published almost 30 years ago, the series has volumes on Africa, the Pacific and Southeast Asia, India, the Caribbean islands, China, Latin America, and Italy, among others. Check out a secondhand bookstore; these cookbooks are still excellent references and are worth adding to your culinary library.

Wrap it up. Tired of the flour tortillas and pita bread you’re using to wrap things up? Indian markets offer several wrapping breads, as do Middle Eastern, Iranian, and West Indian markets. In Vietnamese markets you’ll find rice-paper wrappers that are ideal for enclosing foods.

Ice cream. In Indian, Iranian, and West Indian markets, check out the ice cream. India likes to enhance with saffron, cashews, raisins, and pistachios. Iranians relish saffron and mint. Another interesting ice-cream-like Persian creation is falloudeh, thin rice noodles in a rose-water-and-lemon syrup. West Indians flavor their ice cream with wonderful tropical fruits.

Food to go. Don’t feel like cooking ethnic yourself? Many ethnic markets sell prepared foods both for immediate eating or packaged for serving later.

Weekend shopping. Ethnic markets usually have their best foot forward on weekends–the produce is often fresher and dishes are prepared for the weekend trade. But don’t expect much personal service then–they’ll be busy.


From West Africa comes Eko Food Market, where you’ll see many dried fish. West African coastal waters are rich in fish and other seafood, so sun-dried and smoked seafood plays a large role in regional cooking. Other central ingredients include palm oil, rice, yams of many sizes, green and ripe plantains, coconuts, and groundnuts (peanuts). And there are all the herbs and spices unique to this cuisine. Dried-bean enthusiasts should try the cow peas; cook them as you would American beans or black-eyed peas.

Expect to find goat meat (with and without skin), oxtail, gigantic cow’s feet, pig’s feet, feet-on fowl, beef neck bones, chicken feet, and cow cod. Remember the vast variety of imported soda pops when it comes time for kids’ birthday parties. For nibbling, there are small bags of chin-chin, a crispy fried-dough snack. Imported cosmetics and hand soap, too.

Eko Food Market,
6507 Annapolis Rd. in Landover Hills, in the strip mall across from Capital Plaza Mall near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway; 301-341-5050. Monday to Saturday 9 to 9, Sunday 9 to 6.

Weyone Market is a good place to buy goat meat, an “earthy” meat similar to lamb, unfortunately not much appreciated in the United States. (As a youth in Tennessee I remember roasting kid, or baby goat, over hickory-laden fire pits on the Fourth of July.) At Weyone you’ll find smoked goat, which lends an interesting flavor to stews and curries. At the meat counter is a variety of African cuts of beef, pork, fowl, and goat.

Two types of legumes I haven’t seen before are African red beans and “yellow-eyed” peas, both of which seem similar to black-eyed peas. There are several unfamiliar herbs and thickening agents–egusi, or ground melon seeds, and ground okra are used to thicken stews. Boxed black-eyed-pea flour, plantain flour, and coco yam flour are used to make fufu, an indispensable dumpling-like accompaniment to stews. For another kind of flavoring, smoked tilapia, catfish, and herring are good bets. Polenta-like kenkey is merely cornmeal, water, and salt formed into a cylinder for easy slicing.

If you see a container of large nuts sitting by the cash register, they’re probably fresh kola nuts, a key ingredient of cola drinks. Mouth-puckeringly astringent, the nuts are said to be breath fresheners and are reputed to have aphrodisiac properties.

Weyone Market, 510-D S. Van Dorn St. at Edsall Rd. in the Van Dorn Station shopping center; 703-212-7347. Monday to Saturday 9:30 to 9, Sunday to 6. Parking.

From the other side of the continent we have Addisu Gebeya and Merkato Market, Ethiopian markets a block apart in the Adams Morgan section of DC. The herbs, spices, and bread needed for the unique dishes of the horn of Africa are here, conveniently described in English.

Other interesting products include green coffee beans for custom roasting, injera and ambaasha breads, utensils, crafts, and English-language magazines about Ethiopia. There’s usually a baklava-like sweet or a turnover filled with a spicy lentil mixture available for takeout.

Injera is made from a fermented mixture of teff (millet flour), water, and yeast. Moist, covered with tiny air holes, and spongy, this pancake-like bread is used to scoop up meats and vegetables by hand. Leftovers end up as “chips.” Teff also can be purchased if you want to create this bread on your own; I understand it can also be used in a porridge.

Ambaasha, usually round and about an inch thick, is more like what Westerners are used to in wheat-based breads, but with a hint of Ethiopian spices.

Merkato has a more varied selection of grocery items than its neighbor, including Indian chutneys and pastes and some Middle Eastern products.

African Cooking (Time-Life Books, 1970) remains the best African cookbook. It is, unfortunately, out of print. Jessica Harris explains how to use smoked fish in thiebou dienne, the national dish of Senegal, in Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons (Ballantine, 1991), an interesting description of Africa’s influence on New World cooking.

Merkato Market, 2116 18th St., NW. 202-483-9499. Monday to Saturday 10 to 9, Sunday 11 to 9.

Addisu Gebeya, 2202 18th St., NW; 202-986-6013. Daily 9 am to 10 pm. On-street parking.


The two large Maxim supermarkets in suburban Maryland carry just about everything you need to cook the Chinese way, including an array of utensils–particularly woks and wok stands, lids, spatulas, racks, and bamboo brushes.

The produce section is one of the best in the area and includes cabbages and leafy greens of many sorts, sprouts, bitter melon, long squash, water chestnuts, and chive blossoms. Tired of pea pods? Try the pea vines (or pea tops); stir-fry them as you would their pod offspring.

Soy sauce, sesame oil, pine nuts, vinegar, condiments, bean curd, and frozen products are prominently displayed. The bakery department stocks the standard Chinese sweets, stuffed buns, and rice balls. Take home a precooked “barbecued” duck or piece of pork and you have an instant entrée.

I buy frozen dumplings, also called pot stickers, by the bagful. When the urge strikes, I plop three or four into boiling water or sauté them and enjoy them with a little dipping sauce. You can make your own, of course–better yet, make a party of it. Ken Hom’s The Taste of China (Simon & Schuster, 1990) has all the preparation details, but don’t bother making the dough; it’s much easier to buy it at Maxim already cut to size and frozen.

Maxim, 460 Hungerford Dr., Rockville, 301-279-0110; 640 University Blvd. E., Silver Spring, 301-439-0110. Monday to Saturday 9:30 to 8, Sunday to 7. Parking.

We’ve had a flowering of chinese bakeries in recent years, for which David Seen’s longtime enterprise, China Bakery, helped pave the way. Seen says his biggest seller is his fresh birthday cake. Light on sugar, the yellow sponge cakes are layered with a fruit, such as kiwi, honeydew, or peach, and frosted with a whipped mixture of cream and milk. Besides several varieties of cookies, my two favorite items are a yeasted bun stuffed with roasted pork and a plain bun topped with ham and green onion.

China Bakery, 11266 Georgia Ave. at University Blvd. in downtown Wheaton; 301-933-6677. Wednesday to Monday 9:30 to 7. On-street parking; walking distance from Wheaton Metro station.


German Gourmet in Falls Church, now under the ownership of brothers Michael and Cliff Haene, is a sophisticated enterprise with one of the most comprehensive selections of German products in the area. Look for German-style cured meats, bread, and canned goods, 30 or so German beers, including the popular Bitburger and Spaten brands, and some 40 German wines.

There are wursts galore, including bratwurst (ideal grilled over charcoal), landjaeger, touristen, and blut, rounded out with Westphalian, bauern, and Black Forest hams and German salami. Hearty breads include holzofen, vollkorn, pumpernickel, and bauern sauer.

During the Christmas season German Gourmet has imported stollen and cookies and various handicrafts. Beer-glass collectors will revel in the selection scheduled to be delivered this fall.

Conveniently, several cookbooks are for sale, including Authentic German Homestyle Recipes (Youngkrantz, 1994), the picture-laden Dr. Oetker’s German Cooking Today (Rudolf August Oetker KG, 1987), and a Dr. Oetker series on how to cook selected categories of German dishes. You’ll also notice several provisions under the Dr. Oetker label, a popular German brand for cake, pudding, and glaze mixes.

The Haene brothers benefit from a knowledgeable bilingual staff, which is happy to explain the store’s products and ways to cook them.

German Gourmet, 7185 Lee Hwy. (S. Washington St.) in Falls Church; 703-534-1908. Monday 9 to 6, Tuesday to Friday 9 to 7, Saturday 9 to 6. Parking.

In the Woodbridge area, check out Elsie’s German Deli, 14531 Jefferson Davis Highway, 703-494-6919.


While India commemorates its 50th year of independence, Indian Spices in Arlington celebrates 26 years as a topnotch market for herbs and spices and the many other unique ingredients required in Indian cooking.

Many of these herbs and spices are used to flavor myriad dishes based on dals (beans, lentils, and peas), which are plentiful here. Basmati rice is a good value compared with supermarket prices. Fine teas from the Indian state of Assam and other tea regions round out the basics.

If you’re a novice at Indian cooking or are just running short of time, here’s all the help you need–frozen dinners, jar after jar of pickles and chutneys, packaged mixes and seasonings, a refrigerator case full of flat breads, and a good selection of ice creams and other traditional sweets.

The frozen dinners allow you to plan a menu around such dishes as chicken moghlai (in a rich gravy with cashew nuts), aloo matar (potato and green-pea stew), lamb curry, and palak paneer (cheese cubes in spicy spinach). For a condiment you can select one of the refrigerated fresh chutneys based on coriander, coconut, dates, or tamarind–a refreshing change from the cooked mango chutneys. Popular pickles feature mango, lime, garlic, or amla berries.

Used to soak up the gravy from curries, idlis are steamed bread rounds formed from semolina and lentil or rice flour and an amalgam of herbs and spices. You can make them from scratch or buy an idli mix. You’ll need an idli stand, which you can buy here, to cook these properly; it resembles an egg poacher, and when filled with idlis is placed in a covered pot for steaming. There’s also a frozen version.

Flat breads–versions of puri, nan, roti, pita, and others–intrigue me, and I particularly like the onion nan, which also contains cumin, nigella seeds, and several other spices to liven up the leavening.

Perhaps the easiest and fastest Indian food to cook is the papad. Consisting of rice, dal, or potato flour flavored with assertive Indian spices, papads can be thin, saucer-size sheets, pinwheels, squares, or sticks, and are known as rice sev, papad, far far, or potato rackets. Drop them into hot oil for a few seconds, drain on a towel, and you have crispy, delicious hors d’oeuvres.

Indian Spices and Gifts, 3901 Wilson Blvd. (at Pollard St.) in Arlington, 703-522-0149. Monday to Saturday 11 to 8:30, Sunday to 7:30. Walking distance from Ballston or Virginia Square Metro stations. Parking.

In addition to a full range of Indian products, Rockville’s Dana Bazar has fresh vegetables and fruits. 1701-K Rockville Pike, across Halpine Rd. from Congressional Plaza shopping center near Magruder’s; 301-231-7546. Walking distance from the Twinbrook Metro station. Parking.

My favorite Indian cookbook is The Complete Indian Cookbook edited by Meera Budhwar (Wellfleet Press, 1992). For the vegetarian cuisine of southern India, try Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan (Thorsons, 1994), or for information about south Indian food at a suburban Maryland restaurant, take a look at www.udupipalace.com.


Visit Mama Lavash in falls church for two kinds of Iranian bread: paper-thin lavash and oblong half-inch-thick sesame- or nigella-seed-topped barbari, both of which are yeasted and contain no fat.

Lavash is an excellent, more flavorful alternative to flour tortillas. You can also heat until crisp in a 350-degree oven and have bread chips. Barbari can be eaten as any bread or used as a crust for a quick pizza.

You can buy Mama Lavash products in many Iranian and Middle Eastern stores, but it’s more fun to go right to the source. Both breads freeze well, so stock up. Arrive between 9 and 11 in the morning to get warm loaves fresh from the oven.

By the way, you may have seen the black seeds known as nigella (also known as kalonji) incorrectly referred to as black caraway or onion seeds. They lend a unique, pleasant flavor to the dishes–particularly breads–of Iran, Ethiopia, India, and the eastern Mediterranean.

Mama Lavash, 2190-A Pimmit Dr. in the strip mall behind Idylwood Plaza Shopping Center at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Pimmit Dr. in Falls Church; 703-827-7788. Monday to Friday 9 to 7, Saturday 10 to 4. Parking.

Yekta Market also sells bread from Mama Lavash as well as Lebanese-style pita, taftoon (thicker than lavash but thinner than barbari), and a sweet egg bread. With your bread try some pickled cucumbers, eggplants, sunchokes, hot peppers, or garlic, or a bit of jam based on carrots, quinces, figs, or orange blossoms. Wash it down with cardamom-scented coffee or any of the several brands of tea.

For Persian dishes you’ll note a full complement of herbs and spices, including such blends as sabzi aash (parsley, leeks, and spinach), sabsi dolmeh (savory, parsley, dill, and leeks), dried rose and borage petals, large bags of dried dill, and sour grape powder. Check out the dozen or so types of bulk olives, the collection of rice, and the ice cream flavored with saffron, rose water, and mint.

Persian cuisine is best explained in Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij (Mage, 1986), who lives in Washington. Try her recipe for carrot preserves, a personal favorite, spiked with cardamom and orange peel; I spread it over sourdough bread. Her most recent book is Persian Cooking for a Healthy Kitchen (1996).

Yekta Market, 1488-A Rockville Pike across from Congressional Plaza North in Rockville; 301-984-1190. Monday to Saturday 10 to 10, Sunday 11 to 7. Walking distance from Twinbrook Metro station. In the same strip mall as European Gourmet, a Russian market. Parking.


A. Litteri Inc.–Litteri’s, as it’s better known–has been around since the 1920s. It may look forlorn on the outside, but inside it’s an immaculate Little Italy, and though you won’t hear many of the staff speaking with Italian accents, many of the customers will. You’ll find shelves of olive oils, vinegars (many balsamicos), tomato sauces, dry pasta, anchovies, olive pastes, and a comprehensive selection of herbs and spices. You’ll pass freezer cases packed with pasta dishes (manicotti, ravioli, tortellini, stuffed shells, rigatoni). During the Christmas holidays there’ll be lots of traditional sweets, such as pannetone, panforte, baci, and torrone.

What you really want to do is make your way to the salumeria in the back–to the cheese, sausage, salami, prosciutto, pepperoni, pancetta, sopressata, and the like. (Want to save a little money? Substitute Asiago cheese for Parmigiano-Reggiano.)

A. Litteri Inc., 517 Morse St., NE (in the Capitol City Market area), between New York and Florida avenues; 202-544-0183. Tuesday and Wednesday 8 to 4, Thursday and Friday to 5, Saturday to 3. On-street parking.

Nick’s Supermarket in Clinton is noted for its meat market and some ten kinds of sausage. It also has a good selection of olive oil, pasta, tinned fish, and other Italian products. In addition to sweet and hot Italian sausages, you’ll find German bratwurst, Polish-style kielbasa, longaniza said to be concocted in the Polynesian manner, Mexican-style chorizo, Cajun andouille, plus a couple of “designer” sausages made with trendy ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes. Proscuitto, soppresatta, capriccola, and Genoa salami highlight the deli case. Call the store’s hotline (301-868-7100) for information about weekly specials; when Italian sausage is on sale (in mid-August it was going for $1.79 a pound), it’s time to fill your freezer. Don’t be put off by the “supermarket” in the name; it’s a largish store, but intimate enough to give it that genuine ethnic feeling.

Nick’s Supermarket, 7601 Old Branch Ave. (Md. Route 5) near Kirby Rd. in Clinton, about 15 miles from downtown DC; 301-868-7101. Monday to Friday 10 to 7, Saturday 9 to 7, Sunday 9 to 5. Parking.

Three Brothers Italian Market features a market, cafe, bakery, and small salumeria at 4521 Kenilworth Ave. in Bladensburg, about half a mile north of Annapolis Rd. (Md. Route 450); 301-864-1570.

A good cookbook is Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking by Giuliano Bugialli (Simon & Schuster, 1982).


A standout shop, Daruma stocks the gamut of Japanese products, all attractively packaged, as the Japanese are so adept at doing. You’ll discover Japan in the fresh produce and fish, salad dressings, snack foods, dried noodles, baked goods, and frozen foods.

The owner’s wife, Fumiko Yokoyama, says the shop’s No. 1 seller is the Japanese-style mayonnaise made under the Kewpie label. It’s creamier and more tart than American brands and is made from yolks, not whole eggs. Next in popularity comes yaki soba, frozen noodles with a sauce packet; add some vegetables and pork and you have your dinner. From a Japanese-owned farm in New Jersey come outstanding eggs laid by chickens on a special diet.

Mrs. Yokoyama recommends natto–fermented soybeans flavored with mustard or bonito–which she says is “good for you.” Handsomely bottled salad dressings come in such flavors as perilla leaves, sesame and lime, and plum and bonito. For something more substantial, consider the paper-thin slices of beef or pork for shabu shabu, a hot-pot dish in which you cook the beef by swishing it around in boiling broth with your chopsticks.

The produce bins will contain, depending on the season, imported Japanese peaches of delicate taste and texture; burdock; long, slim eggplants and cucumbers; thin-fleshed bell peppers; tomatoes selected for the Japanese taste; and kabocha squash.

Of course, there is lots of shoyu (soy sauce); thick wheat noodles (udon), a thin version (somen), and transparent noodles (harusame); dried laver, seaweed, and kelp; rice vinegar; and azuki (red) beans. Americans returning from Japan often seek out the chocolate-covered crackers under the Pocky label.

At the back of the store someone usually is putting together makizushi, those colorful rice, vegetable, and “crab” tubes rolled in dark green nori (sea lettuce) with the aid of a bamboo mat and a deft wrist. Nearby are several fresh and brined fish, including tuna and salmon from New York, and packages of pickled cabbage and cucumbers. Still further along are a dozen or so tidbits based on sweetened bean paste; a delicious single-serving “pound cake” (mushi pan) is more like a combination cheesecake and sponge cake–a wonderful taste and texture.

Want to learn about Japanese cooking? Mrs. Yokoyama also organizes cooking classes.

Two cookbooks to consider: Step-By-Step Japanese Cooking by Lesley Downer and Minoru Yoneda (Barron’s, 1986), and Time-Life Books’ The Cooking of Japan (1969), which is outstanding.

Daruma, 1045 Rockville Pike in the Talbot Center strip mall in Rockville; 301-738-6468. Monday and Wednesday to Saturday 9:30 to 7:30, Sunday 10 to 6:30. Parking.


Lucky World is typical of the area’s large Korean markets, which attract me for their variety of foodstuffs unfamiliar to the typical Westerner. What does one do, for example, with dried zucchini, dropwort, sea squirts, burdock, and bracken shoots? Finding out is great fun.

The hallmarks of a good Korean market are fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish; kimchee (a fermented condiment based on cabbage, cucumbers, and other items); noodles and more noodles; bean pastes; ground red pepper; tofu, fishcakes (made from pulverized fish and flavorings); and a carryout section where various combinations are being mixed, battered, and fried.

Another feature is the self-service side-dish bar. Meant to be eaten along with more substantial dishes, these dishes can include marinated radish, cucumber, and pepper strips; tofu slices sautéed in sesame oil, peppers, and onions; and other items.
Also to be found are packages of precut vegetables and fish or meats that go into typical Korean hot pots and stews. The name of the dish is on the package; just look it up in a Korean cookbook for instructions. My favorite is Flavours of Korea by Marc and Kim Millon (Andre Deutsch, 1991).

Kim bap, a seaweed-covered cylinder of rice surrounding a center of colorful vegetables, meat, or fish, will be on display. When the cylinder is cut into one-inch sections, you have a beautiful dark-green exterior, a white rice layer, and a center the color of whatever its components are.

As an alternative to tea, brew some roasted barley, the traditional Korean hot drink.

Lucky World, 3109 Graham Rd. at Arlington Blvd., across the street from Loehmann’s Plaza, in Falls Church; 703-641-8585. Monday to Saturday 9:30 to 9:30, Sunday to 8:30. Parking.

Korean Bakery & Rice Cake (4217 John Marr Dr. in Annandale; 703-642-0404) is fascinating for both its name and its authentic Korean baked goods. Koreans like their sweets light-textured and gently sweetened, as in the handsomely decorated sponge cakes.


Americana Market, with five area stores, is the place to replenish your spice cabinet, as well as your supply of rice and Mexican dried chilies, including chipotles, cascabel, ancho, mulato, and, from Peru, panca and mirasol. Also from Peru are “yellow chili sauce” and a canned version of chuño, potatoes dried according to a process perfected by the Incas.

Frozen tropical-fruit pulp is excellent for puddings, ice cream, sauces, and glazes. Dream up your own recipes using mango, tamarind, papaya, pineapple, jocote (a Salvadoran fruit that looks something like a plum), mamey (red-fleshed, cloyingly sweet), or guanabana (soursop). Frozen grated coconut is a time-saver.

The butcher section has plenty of fresh beef, pork, fowl, dried fish, and sausages. Among the fresh produce are tubers, ripe and green plantains, and coconuts. The chorizos, or sausages, are styled according to each country’s culinary dictates. Mexican chorizos tend to be “dried” and firmer, while those of El Salvador will be juicier.

Fresh chayote, a light-green, pear-shaped vegetable that tastes somewhat like a yellow squash, can be cooked like it, too. Try cooking with chipotle peppers; you can find them here canned in a tomato-based sauce or dried. They give food a smoky, spicy flavor. Another favorite is the dried ancho pepper, a key element of chili powder.

The cookbook most representative of all the Latin American countries is Latin American Cooking by Time-Life Books, which is out of print.

Americana Market, 1813 Columbia Rd., NW, in Adams Morgan; 202-265-7455 (closing end of October). Monday to Thursday 8:30 to 7, Friday and Saturday to 8, Sunday to 5. Also, 4900 Annapolis Rd. in Bladensburg, 301-864-4870; 1500 University Blvd. East in Hyattsville, 301-434-8922; 8541 Piney Branch Rd. in Silver Spring, 301-495-0864; and 6128 Columbia Pike in Falls Church, 703-671-9625. On-street parking in DC, shopping-center parking at other locations.


Visit Mediterranean Bakery at lunch time when an ethnically diverse crowd of hungry customers orders sandwiches, hummus (a chickpea dip), baba ghanoush (an eggplant dip), shish kebab, or something from the Lebanese-style brick oven, such as the cheese-and-spinach pizza.

Opened in 1976 as a bakery, this store now is virtually a supermarket. The grocery section tends toward the upscale: many fancy olive oils, vinegars, hot-pepper sauces, pickles, preserves, olives, and cheeses–a sort of Middle Eastern Dean & DeLuca. If you are bewildered by the 20 or so green- and ripe-olive offerings from Greece, Egypt, Morocco, Italy, and France, just ask for help. There is, of course, much other interesting merchandise here.

The bakery is traditional Middle Eastern, as you will see from the stacks of pita and bread rings topped with sesame seeds. Take home a bag of the toasted pita pieces; they’re perfect for dipping or as an accompaniment to soup.

Expect to find buttery, syrup-soaked phyllo-based sweets of several shapes and sizes, some with pistachios, hazelnuts, or pine nuts; kataifi (phyllo cut into thin “noodles” and shaped into a nest, filled with toasted hazelnuts and drizzled with butter and a rose-water syrup); date-stuffed mamoul cookies; and namoura, a single-layer cake made from farina, milk, and sugar and soaked with an orange-flower-water syrup.

Among the delicious bread-based savories, look for zaatar, a cheeseless pizza topped with thyme, ground sumac, and sesame seeds; fatayer (turnovers) based on spinach, cheese, tomatoes, and meat; lahmajun, a piece of pita dough flattened to dinner-plate size, covered with a delicious meat mixture, and baked until the edges turn a golden brown; safetha, or ground beef, lebne (drained yogurt), onions, and spices baked in a little square nest of pita dough; and kishk, another pizzalike product topped with dried yogurt, hot paprika, olive oil, sesame seeds, and onions.

Mediterranean Bakery, 352 S. Pickett St., Alexandria, near Home Depot in the Trade Center Shopping Village; 703-751-1702. Monday to Saturday 8 to 8, Sunday 9 to 6. Parking.

If you’d like more atmosphere for your baklava diversion, visit Samadi Sweets Cafe in the Glen Forest shopping center in Baileys Crossroads. This charming cafe is reminiscent of an ice-cream parlor with its small tables and metal chairs, and there is no better setting for an afternoon sweet after a hectic afternoon at nearby malls.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the variety (a dozen or so) of Middle Eastern pastries–just read the description in front of each offering. Most are many layers of paper-thin sheets of house-made phyllo dough, each brushed with clarified butter. Into the middle go pistachios, cashews, walnuts, sweet cheese, or thick cream. A sugar syrup, sometimes flavored with rose water, is poured over the baked pastry. Look for such varieties as baklawa, kool washkour, ush al asfour, asabe’a, balooria, kenafa, shayebia, burma, basma, and usmalia.

Samadi Sweets, 5916 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 703-578-0606. Monday to Saturday 10:30 am to 11 pm, Sunday to 8. Parking.

Other Middle Eastern markets include Asadur (5536 Randolph Rd. in Rockville, 301-770-5558) and Thomas Market (2650 University Blvd. in Wheaton, 301-942-0839). These stores are under common ownership and have good selections of Arabic, Turkish, Greek, and Armenian products.

An excellent cookbook is Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean (HarperCollins, 1994). If you’re ever in Turkey, look for Turkish Cooking by Gülseren Ramazanoglu at the Istanbul Hilton gift shop.


Mabuhay Oriental Store is run by Sylvia Rodriguez with a firm, friendly hand. She’ll answer your questions even while tallying another customer’s groceries. And she doesn’t mind questions; she wants you to know about Philippine food.

I always leave with a bag of baked goods, a prepared dish, and something from the freezer case. Among my favorites are the rolls (pan de sal, de coco, de ube) and the ensaymadas (popovers, sort of) with various stuffings, such as macapuno (immature coconut meat) or cheese. Also good are taisan (a sponge loaf cake iced with sugar and butter) and suman sa ga taw, cigar-shaped sticky rice, coconut, and sugar steamed in a banana leaf. The bakery sells to several other ethnic markets in the Washington area.

Many products–preserves, ice cream, juices, vinegars, and mixes–are coconut-based. Philippine-style sausages and bacon are available frozen. On weekends you can buy ready-made sweets, meats, and stews.

Mabuhay Oriental Store and Bakery, 6615 Backlick Rd., Springfield; 703-451-8986. Monday to Saturday 10 to 8, Sunday to 7. Parking.

Relatives of Rodriguez’s run Salinas Oriental Store in Fort Washington (9205 Oxon Hill Rd., 301-567-2733) and Halina Oriental Store in Camp Springs (5846 Allentown Way, 301-449-5117).

Try The Philippine Cookbook by Reynaldo Alejandro (Coward-McCann, 1983).


European Market, equally devoted to Portuguese and Brazilian products, features fresh fish flown in from Portugal, presunto (cured hams), sausage, smoked bacon, cheese, breads, and pastries. The best time to shop is on Thursday mornings, when owner Manual Santos is back New York and all the fresh fish, meats, breads, and pastries are displayed.

Other Portuguese offerings include olive oil, coffee, tinned fish, and frozen fava beans; in bulk bins are green peas, rice, and beans. When you think of Brazilian feijoada, head here for such components as pork loins; smoked bacon; and salted pig’s feet, tails, and ribs. There are lots of Brazilian soda pops, pastas, palm hearts, and guava pastes.

For caldo verde, a typical Portuguese dish, you simmer potatoes and kale with thick slices of salpicão, a smoked-ham roll. Other Portuguese dishes are explained by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz in The Food of Spain and Portugal (Atheneum, 1989). Jessica Harris provides recipes and reminiscences in Tasting Brazil (Macmillan, 1992).

European Market, 17605 Redland Rd., Rockville; 301-417-0788. Monday noon to 8, Tuesday to Saturday 8 to 8, Sunday 10 to 3. Near the intersection of Redland and Muncaster Mill roads. Parking.

Another shop that sells Brazilian products is Brazilian Market at 11425 Grandview Ave. in Wheaton; 301-942-8412.


Discreetly positioned behind three pigs Barbecue in McLean’s Langley Shopping Center, Russian Gourmet exhibits an impressive spread of foodstuffs in the style of Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus. Owners Alexandra Costa and Zourab Tsiskaridze have selected key products.

From Brooklyn come the frozen dumplings pelmeni and vareniki. Stuffed with veal, lamb, turkey, potato and mushroom, farmer’s cheese, or sour cherries, these dumplings are boiled until they rise to the top of the water and are then served with a dollop of sour cream or butter.

The deli case is packed with Moscow-brand hot dogs, Polish sausage, Prague ham, garlic sausage, tea wurst, goose-liver wurst, tourist salami, Westphalian ham, and smoked veal tongue. Dried whitefish, chubbs, and smelts share space with brined herring, sliced sturgeon, smoked eel, and three kinds of caviar.

Dairy products include Russian-style baked yogurt, butter, sour cream, and farmer’s cheese. Bulk candy is big here, with some 30 kinds going by such names as plum and chocolate, Clumsy Bear, Bird’s Milk, and Queen of Spades. Strudels, cakes, gingerbread biscuits, toffee-nut wafers, and chocolate-nut logs constitute the desserts. Cakes, such as Prague torte and hazelnut torte, are from the National Bakery in New York.

Jams come from Russia, Bulgaria, Italy, Germany, Moldova, Croatia, Turkey, Greece, and Armenia. Hearty bread is from New York: Arnautkievski (rye), Borodinsky (rye), pumpernickel, and Orlovsky (rye).

Russian books, videos, and newspapers are also on sale. At my last visit the only cookbook in English was a collection of Armenian recipes. For a guide to Russian cooking, you might look at Anne Volokh’s The Art of Russian Cuisine (Macmillan, 1989).

Russian Gourmet, 1396 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean; 703-760-0680. Monday to Saturday 10 to 8, Sunday 12 to 6. Parking.

Among European Bazaar’s attractions are the deli case and its smoked fish, sausages, hams, salamis, pickled herring, caviar, and the like. To go with your ham, choose some Russian bread from New York, and mustard or horseradish. Milk products include kefir (a yogurt drink of Central Asian origin), yogurt, cream, and farmer’s cheese. The cabbage salad and pickled tomatoes will liven your appetite, and the candies, cakes, and poppyseed strudel will settle you down after dinner.

European Bazaar, 1488-I Rockville Pike in Rockville, across from Congressional Plaza North shopping center; 301-230-9371. Monday to Saturday 10 to 8, Sunday noon to 5. Parking. Walking distance from Twinbrook Metro station. In the same strip mall as Yekta, an Iranian market.


In business for almost a quarter of a century, Asian Foods in Wheaton is pretty much pan-Asian (products from Thailand, China, Japan, Korea, Philippines, and Indonesia), but its basic orientation is Thai, as is evidenced by the multitude of takeout Thai dishes displayed steam-table style. On a given day offerings might include pad Thai (the familiar noodle dish), sweet fried beef, hot spicy pork feet, mustard greens with pork stomach, spring rolls, stir-fried bean thread, curried chicken or beef, fried whole fish, and other dishes from the extensive repertoire.

The basic ingredients of Thai cooking are here: chilies, coconut, cilantro, fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir-lime leaves, holy basil, banana leaf, and numerous curry pastes. These herbs, spices, and condiments are used in meat, fowl, and fish dishes as well as in noodles and rice preparations. To learn more about Thai cuisine, try The Taste of Thailand by Vatcharin Bhumichitr (Atheneum, 1988).

This market is also one of the few places with a sizable assortment of Indonesian products: candlenuts, kencur (a root that tastes somewhat like camphor), krupuk (a snack cracker), palm sugar, pandan leaf (used to flavor desserts), salam leaf (cassia or cinnamon family), and many condiments and sauces. Try to locate The Food of Bali by Heinz von Holzen and Wendy Hutton (Periplus Editions, Singapore, 1994); the food photography is dazzling.

Asian Foods, 2301 University Blvd. E. (near Georgia Ave.) in downtown Wheaton; 301-933-6071. Daily 9 to 7:30. Parking. Walking distance from Wheaton Metro.

Don’t want to trek to Wheaton? Try Duangrat Oriental Food Mart, run by the same people who own Duangrat’s, a stellar Thai restaurant; 5888 Leesburg Pike in Baileys Crossroads, 703-578-0622.


A trip to Eden Center is roughly equivalent to a trip to Vietnam, and a lot cheaper. A commercial hub of Vietnamese life in the Washington area, Eden, especially on weekends, is abuzz with people window-shopping, listening to music from record-shop speakers, savoring hearty bowls of pho, and dining in restaurants. A number of people will be shopping at the venerable Eden Supermarket and the more recent Saigon Supermarket or buying a sweet at Huong Bihn Bakery.

Some products for sampling include the Vietnamese pâtés, known as cha, wrapped in foil and plastic in the refrigerated case. Cha is usually based on pulverized pork or chicken and spiked with nuoc mam (fish sauce), a bit of sugar, or maybe cinnamon.

You’ll usually find fresh spring rolls near the cash register. They come in packages of two: rice paper wrapped around a bundle of vegetables, herbs, and noodles, with sliced shrimp visible through the sheer paper. Included are a container of dipping sauce and maybe a tiny, fiery red pepper. You can make these rolls yourself with ingredients from the market.

From the frozen dishes you might choose the “Shrimp on Sugar Cane Sticks” (shrimp mashed with a mortar and pestle with sugar, rice powder, garlic, and egg whites, and molded onto sugar-cane pieces). After broiling, you remove the shrimp from the sugar cane and add it to moistened rice paper filled with vegetables and noodles. Sometimes this spring roll is wrapped in lettuce instead of rice paper. Between bites of this, you chew on the sugar cane.

Serving dishes and cooking utensils are available, as are fresh produce; dried, fresh, and frozen fish; and lots of pork parts. Freshly roasted duck and pork are also sold.

The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam by Bach Ngo and Gloria Zimmerman (NAL-Dutton, 1986) is helpful.

Eden Center is in the 6700 block of Wilson Boulevard in the Seven Corners area of Falls Church. Look for the colorful new arch at the parking-lot entrance.

Eden Supermarket (6763 Wilson Blvd.; 703-532-4950) is open Monday to Friday 10 to 8:30, Saturday 9:30 to 8:30, Sunday 9:30 to 8.

Saigon Supermarket (6795 Wilson Blvd.; 703-533-9430), 9 to 9 daily.

Huong Binh Bakery (6781 Wilson Blvd.; 703-237-9228), 8 am to 9 pm daily.


Some of the basics of West Indian cooking that you’ll find at Caribbean Market are allspice, arrowroot, breadfruit, callaloo (a leafy green vegetable), vinegar, cassareep (boiled-down juice of cassava), tubers galore, and okra. Breadfruit and callaloo are frequently available fresh on weekends. In the meat case: goat, fowl, and beef parts.

Hot-pepper enthusiasts, rejoice. Here is bottle after bottle, much of it based on the Scotch bonnet pepper, said to be the hottest in the world. Some products are of Indian derivation, including chutney, amchar (similar to chutney), channa (a fried dough snack), saffron, and curry powder. Fresh thyme is usually available. Breads in the style of Jamaica and Guyana include end bread, hardo, tennis rolls, and spice buns.

Carryout foods include poulouri, dal puri, rice pudding, fish cakes, Guyanese-style patties, tropical drinks (sorrel, Mauby), and cakes.

A good bet for a cooking guide is Sky Juice and Flying Fish by Jessica B. Harris (Simon & Schuster, 1991). Sky juice? Jamaican for snow cones.

Caribbean Market, 7505 New Hampshire Ave., Langley Park, 301-439-5288. Monday to Saturday 9 to 9, Sunday 9 to 5. Parking.

While in the neighborhood you might want to visit Red Apple Market, another West Indian market one block away at 7645 New Hampshire Ave.; 301-434-1819. For a cooling taste of the tropics (papaya, guava, soursop, passion fruit, and the like), visit York Castle Ice Cream at 9324 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring; 301-589-1616.

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