Food is an essential part of culture and heritage. From sharing a table with family to bringing a dish to a friend, our own individual food memories are deeply tied with love, caring, comfort, and belonging. Every community has specific dishes and ingredients that are deeply cherished, and unfortunately, can sometimes be difficult to find in America.
We’re taking a look at how to find an international market and exploring how you can easily find access to the ingredients to make the foods that mean so much.
Why do American grocery stores still have an ethnic aisle?
The “international aisle grocery store” question is a good one. Why do so many American grocery stores take a small sample of ingredients from a wide range of cultures and jam them all into one small section? Why does it still exist? There’s unfortunately not really an easy answer to this. One article from the New York Times explores this question in depth. In short, there are several reasons that go into why many American grocery stores cling to the ethnic aisle, from “that’s the way we’ve always done it” to a legacy of colonialism to the way that suppliers work to even something as basic as not wanting to change things and confuse shoppers.
One thing that is clear is that one small aisle is not sufficient to cover the beautifully diverse food communities that we have in our country. Representation matters. Culture matters. Having access to the foods that bring a delicious piece of your culture into your home is important.
How to Find an International Market
Are you finding yourself googling “international market near me” and not coming up with much luck? While there may be Yelp lists or a few listings on a map, there’s a reason why cultural grocery stores can be difficult to find. Many of these stores are true mom-and-pop businesses, often run by immigrants who can’t compete with the big advertising budgets and customer apps of big-box stores. Here are a few tips for how to find grocery stores with those hard-to-find ingredients to help you create the traditional foods that connect you to your heritage.
- Refine your online searches: Instead of using generic search terms, you may have better luck looking for a specific community. For example, searching for “Asian grocery store” may give you more results than “international market.” Another tip is to not use too many words. Including lots of words can actually limit your search results.
For example: Don’t use: Where can I find a Hispanic grocery store that carries achiote seed
Instead try: Hispanic grocery store nearby
Or: Achiote seeds near me.
- Ask your friends and family: One of the best ways to find authentic ingredients is to ask the people who are in the community where they source their groceries from. These conversations may also lead to greater connection and sharing, especially if you invite them over to taste the amazing food you’re planning on making!
- Explore your city! You never know what hidden gems you’ll stumble across. Here in Chicago, there are many neighborhoods with amazing cultural grocery stores, like La Fruteria, located in the South Works neighborhood. La Fruteria is a full service African and Caribbean market founded in 1998 by Mr. Antonio Macias. You can find imported foods from Africa, Jamaica, Haiti, México & Caribbean Islands. Just a little ways away in South Shore, you’ll find Manny’s Grocery store, founded by Cameroonian-American Manny Tandong in 2016. Manny’s mission is “To bring a varied selection of high-quality Afro-Caribbean grocery products to the members of our community and beyond.” Once you start exploring, you’ll be surprised at how many treasures you’ll come across.
- Try OjaExpress: If only there were a way to have an international grocery store online that could deliver straight to your door… well, there is now! OjaExpress makes it fast and convenient to have fresh, hard-to-find ethnic groceries from your favourite markets delivered right to your home. You can shop local and eat global, all without leaving your home. We bring the world to your taste buds with our international food delivery service. You don’t have to struggle to find the ingredients for your favorite cultural dish or for the new international food recipes you’re dying to try. The cultures that our stores cover include:
- African & Caribbean
- Middle Eastern
Chicago’s Only Ethnic Grocery Delivery Service
Finding authentic ingredients for the recipes you grew up with can be an enormous challenge. One aisle isn’t sufficient, and the time and effort needed to find a grocery store that carries what you need can be exhausting. That’s where OjaExpress comes in, filling the gap to deliver cultural groceries from family-owned grocery stores straight to your doorstep.
Our team is built by immigrants, for immigrants. We support the overlooked grocers that are indispensable resources for many thnic communities, giving them an opportunity to reach new customers and providing customers with a way to support their stores.
Right now, we currently serve the Chicago area, with plans to expand into more cities. If you are in the Chicago area, explore our stores online now. If you are interested in having OjaExpress come to your city, please fill out an interest form.