By Robin Garr
If you’re an adventurous “foodie” who loves to cook and gets as much of a kick out of touring the world on your dinner table as I do, then your grocery list probably looks something like mine: A weird blend of the familiar (chicken, milk, peanut butter) and the unusual (Gai lan, Daikon and Chayote).
Did he say Gai lan, Daikon and Chayote?
If you’re working from a cookbook that features ingredients as exotic as these (a broccoli-like Chinese dish, a giant white Japanese radish and a mild, squash-like veggie from Mexico), you’ll be as happy as I am that Louisville has come a long way since those not-so-long-ago days when food lovers would drive to Chicago or New York City to load the car with rare comestibles from Little Italy, Greek Village and Chinatown. Not to mention such onetime rarities as real bagels and croissants.
We’ve come a long way, foodies. Thanks in some measure to increasing interest in ethnic cookery, and in large measure to the blooming of diverse immigrant and refugee communities over a generation, Louisville’s interpretation of “ethnic” has grown up. Where pizza and perhaps chow mein used to mark the outer limits of our culinary daring, we now reach out to every quarter of the globe in pursuit of dining adventure. Dozens of authentic eateries help satiate this hunger for the exotic; and for the many of us who love to try it at home, we enjoy a growing cadre of food shops of a dozen ethnic flavors.
Louisville’s ethnic food shops range in size from tiny storefronts to virtual supermarkets, and they span the map from Mexico and the Caribbean through Europe to Africa and on around the globe. Drop in on just about any of them, and you’ll find the whirl of unfamiliar languages, scents and sounds as exciting as a brief visit to a foreign country.
To serve as your quick guide, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of ethnic markets in the region. Along with brief descriptions of each, we’ll offer tastes of a few unusual but delicious ingredients you’ll find there … ingredients you may have never tried, ingredients that you’re not likely to find at Kroger’s; new-to-you items with exciting flavors that we think you’ll enjoy.
AM PM Mart
1231 Gilmore Lane, 962-9092
If your food-shopping map shows only the East End, you’ll need to get a larger map to take full advantage of the best ethnic options the city has to offer. Many of our recent immigrants have settled in Southern and Southeastern Louisville, and quite a few of the best ethnic-food shops have followed. AM PM Mart may look like a small convenience market, but its tightly packed quarters offer a remarkable diversity of ethnic items that start in the Middle East but reach out to Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.
609 E. Main Street, 587-9012
Once the private preserve of restaurateurs, Creation Gardens now opens its doors to any consumer who’s seeking fine, restaurant-quality produce and other gourmet-style ingredients including many rare and difficult-to-source items. Tiny, perfect baby vegetables? Pomegranate puree? Green peppercorns by the oversize jar? Exotic cheeses? A remarkable array of fresh spices? You want ’em, chances are they’ve got ’em. For the truly decadent, if not so politically correct, repast, Creation Gardens is probably the only place in town where you’ll find whole lobes of fresh foie gras.
3717 Lexington Road, 896-6361
There’s a golden shopping cart with my name on it at this St. Matthews landmark, honoring all the bucks I’ve spent here since it opened in its original Highlands location in 1982. It retains its smiling Italian-accented name although it has long since expanded to incorporate a whole world of speciality items, canned goods, cheeses and deli meats and more. Whether you’re seeking a jar of Bosnian hot-pepper avjar spread or genuine bucatini pasta from Abruzzo to make your pasta all’Amatriciana authentic, you’ll find it here … not to mention a muffuletta sandwich as good as you’ll get in New Orleans.
5301 Mitscher Ave., 361-9285
(Also Mid-City Mall and Hurstbourne).
This small but growing local market chain hasn’t grown so large that it has forgotten the merits of personal, neighborly customer service. Management at each of its three locations is particularly attentive to the needs and wishes of its neighborhood clientele, and that’s a good thing whether you’re in Hurstbourne or in the Highlands. The South End branch, though, scores high with fanciers of world foods, because it serves this neighborhood’s remarkably diverse ethnic community with what has to be the city’s most comprehensive selection of exotic produce and international canned goods and specialty items. Many of its products are made on the premises, including Italian-style breads, sausages and fresh mozzarella cheese.
2202 Buechel Ave., 671-8382
From Northern Africa though the Sahara to the Serengeti and the south, you’ll find the full range of Africa’s diverse cuisines represented at this small, intriguing shop just off Old Bardstown Road near the southern end of the Buechel Bypass. Don’t be shy about asking for help with unfamiliar ingredients … or an Afro-Pop CD.
ARABIAN, MIDDLE EASTERN
Al Watan Bakery
3711 Klondike Lane, 458-6000
Many foodies know Al Watan primarily as a small, friendly and delicious Palestinian restaurant just off Hikes Lane; but next time you’re out for a falafel or some hummus, take a moment to browse the larger space devoted to freshly baked Arabian breads and pastries (as well as a small selection of canned goods and other regional necessities) that fill the larger space next door. I’ve never been entirely clear on the names of many of the baked goods, which aren’t labeled in English; but I’ve never been disappointed in anything I’ve pointed out and taken away, from tender oversize pita-like flatbreads to a golden, ring-shaped loaf the size of a Frisbee.
Sumer Food Mart
3027 S. Fourth St., 636-3366
Another of those ethnic markets that mysteriously look tiny but find a way to fit a lot into a small space, Sumer provides a strong selection of Middle Eastern ingredients from flatbreads, herbs and spices to beans, grains and frozen halal meats.
CHINESE AND OTHER ASIAN.
Choi’s Asian Market
607 Lyndon Lane, 426-4441
Location, location, location makes Choi’s a particular favorite with East End foodies, as its good-size quarters in Lyndon spell convenience. Most of the city’s other Asian markets cluster from Buechel to the South End. But that’s not all: Choi’s is modern, convenient and friendly, and its spacious shelves carry a wide selection of foods from all over Asia as well as the basics from Mexico.
7100 Preston Highway, 964-4447
Billed as the region’s Asian super market, Da Hua covers as much space and appears as fully stocked as all but the most mega of American-style mega-marts. Like most of the larger Asian shops, it doesn’t limit its wares to China but covers the entire Far East, with a good range of meats and vegetables and live seafood and fish as well as a bewildering array of rice, noodles and canned goods.
1211 Gilmore Lane, 966-0400
Another of my Asian favorites, this store at the corner of Preston Highway and Gilmore Lane doesn’t look overly large on the outside, but when you step through the doors, it magically seems much bigger within. Here, too, groaning shelves bear a heavy load of ingredients from all over Asia including canned goods, produce, frozen food, meats, poultry and fish.
Several smaller stores also provide Asian options:
426 Kopp Lane, Clarksville, Ind., (812) 282-4186
Filipino ingredients are the specialty, with good representation from other Asian countries.
3900 Bardstown Road, 473-1922
A good selection of Chinese, Korean and Japanese ingredients. I’ve occasionally encountered a language barrier that can make it difficult to ask detailed questions, but point and smile and you’ll get by.
Lanceta Trading Company
3435 Breckenridge Lane, 495-0255
Asian with a distinct accent from the Philippines.
4210 Bishop Lane, 479-9830
Southeast Asia meets China in this small grocery that appears to be associated with the adjacent Oriental Star restaurant just off Newburg Road.
11324 Maple Brook Drive, 327-5001
Modern and bright, this small store off Westport Road in the East End should provide any ingredient you’re likely to find in a good Indian cookbook.
Patel Brothers International Groceries
1834 S. Hurstbourne Parkway, 499-9791
Formerly known as Shalimar and situated just a few doors from the Indian restaurant of that name in a large shopping center just off I-64, this appears to be Louisville’s largest and best-stocked source of Indian ingredients, ranging from bulk rice and spices to frozen packaged convenience Indian foods and fresh produce and herbs.
4746 Bardstown Road, 499-6776
A broad selection of Indian groceries and spices makes this another go-to place if you’ve got curry in mind. If you’ve got Bollywood in mind, Sabji Mandi also offers a large selection of Indian movies for your rental pleasure.
Louisville’s growing Latino community supports a similarly fast-growing cadre of taquerias, panaderias and tiny grocery stores, and I’ve found them all interesting, friendly and welcoming to Anglos even if we don’t speak Spanish very well.
5215 Preston Highway, 964-5957
The consensus pick among local “foodies” for selection and size, La Tropicana is a reliable choice for everything from fresh tortillas to homemade chorizo sausages to wrap in them.
All the following smaller shops, some of them associated with restaurants, are also recommended. Listed alphabetically:
Los Compadres, 616 Highway 131, Clarksville, Ind., 948-9785
La Favorita, 6201 Preston Highway, 964-2639.
La Preferida Tienda, 4756 Bardstown Road, 671-0009.
Santa Fe, 3000 S. Third St., 634-3722.
La Sierra Tarasca, 6501 Shepherdsville Road, 964-1430.
La Tapatia, 8106 Preston Highway, 961-9153.
La Villa Supermarket, 5211 Preston Highway, 964-7567.
RUSSIAN AND MORE
Golden Key International Food Market
3821 Bardstown Road, 485-9009
Run by Russian immigrants, Golden Key stocks a surprising selection of specialty and gourmet items from Russia and much of Eastern Europe, along with a few international surprises. Staff is very helpful and fluent in English.
International Star Super-market
9715 Taylorsville Road, 261-0707
Just as friendly and just as fluent, the proprietors here preside over a selection of specialty fare that’s just as international as the name suggests, but the focus is on Europe, with emphasis on Russia and the Slavic lands.
Louisville’s Vietnamese community is heavily concentrated in the South End neighborhoods near Iroquois Park, and so, naturally, are the markets that serve them. All three of the following are recommended; Dong Phuong is particularly popular for its fresh fish, which usually come in on Fridays.
Binh Phuoc, 5301 S. Third St., 366-7002.
Dong Phuong, 6705 Strawberry Lane, 363-0208.
Vietnam, 5019 S. Third St., 361-7846.