Thursday, February 14, 2008

Food Markets in LA: Ethnic and...Trader Joe's?

Happy Valentine's Day!
So, what do ethnic markets and Trader Joe's have in common you may ask? A lot! Both offer unique food items that taste great and are also affordable. It's that simple.

You should know that before coming to LA, an excursion to Trader Joe's was like a trip to Disneyland for me. I had to travel far to find one, and when I finally got there the lines were very long! It only got worse when Manhattan's 1st Trader Joe's opened in Union Square a few years ago. The line ran down 1.5 city blocks, you know, those long vertical blocks, outside, in the cold and snow?! Damn city living. And the line inside was so long it snaked around the entire circumference of the store. I bought my food in 10 minutes and waited 45 minutes to pay -- add another 45 minutes on 2 subways home and my frozen items were no longer frozen. I stopped shopping at TJ's at that time, and then I moved here (ok so the impetus to move is not entirely related).

These days, in the land of Trader Joe's freedom, I not only have many TJ's to choose from, BUT once you find one there are pretty short lines. And because this is LA--the land of fantastic, authentic ethnic food--there are also a handful of ethnic markets that have so far beguilingly tempted me to visit. Therefore, a handful of ethnic markets I like, and one farmer's market too, are listed below. Below that, my favorite items from Trader Joe's in case you didn't know...

1. SOME ETHNIC MARKETS IN LA (and what I like about them)
a) Grand Central Market - dried chiles, best selection of fresh made moles I've ever seen + many Latin American food stalls
b) Liberio Markets (best location Pico & Alvarado) - fresh Mexican cheeses, fresh & dried peppers, beans, corn meals, sodas
c) Papa Cristos - all things Greek + a restaurant next door
d) Simpang Asia - Indonesian & Malaysian sauce mixes (ie. to make green curry chicken or beef rendang), candies, snacks, spices + a café next door
e) Koreatown Galleria Supermarket (in the basement) - great produce dept with exotic fruits & veg, Korean sauces & spices, seafood, hot prepared foods, cookies, enough kimchi to feed a small city + Koreatown fried chicken café
f) Mitsuwa Marketplace (Centinela & Venice) - great selection of Japanese food items, candies, large Pocky assortment + food stallsg) Santa Monica Farmer's Market - a great outdoor farmer's market with a view of the Pacific, it runs several days a week

  • Grilled Chicken Salad with Orange Vinaigrette*
  • Spicy Thai Style Peanut Salad with Chicken*
    (*please note, before TJ's I was eating Lean Cuisines daily for lunch and for the discovery of TJ entrée salads at $3.50 a pop I am forever grateful)
  • Unique Beer Selection - ie. Full Sail LTD batch 01 limited edition lager... in fact this listing is a bit of a tease, 'cause they already ran out
  • Charles Shaw Wine - you know, "2 Buck Chuck," not to be confused with lame Dane Cook/Jessica Alba film "Good Luck Chuck"
  • Wisconsin Cheese Curds - including instructions on how to get them to squeak (I'm not kidding)
  • Applewood Bacon - the fancy stuff served in restaurants!
  • Tarte d'Alsace Pizza (in the green box) - I'm telling you it's as good as I had in Alsace
  • Double Creme Brie Cheese - there are about 3 kinds they sell, and one of them is perfection, it's a blue/red label I think? Sorry, I wish they sold only one kind
  • Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips - addictive!!
  • Cilantro Roasted Pecan Dip - great paired with the above
  • The new-to-me-and-haunting Artichoke and Parmesan Dip - also fab when paired with the above
  • Salsa Kit - sold in the produce section
  • The new "Tortilla Chips with an Identity Crisis" - made with corn, brown rice and potatoes, odd at first taste but now loving it
  • Spanokopita Triangles
  • Blister Peanuts (salted)
  • Peanut Butter Zbar - a Clif Bar for kids, yes I already wrote to Clif to say they should be made a tad larger and sold for adults because it's not as sweet as other bars and has a nice, soft texture
  • and much much more that I don't know about yet!
Of course there are gripes for Mr. T. Joe's too, like they don't carry good tonic, have limited toiletry items, no maple-flavored yogurt for sale or baking ingredients or roasted chickens in a bag for $5 like at Ralph's, plus their Chinese Chicken Salad that is sold in two varieties (the noodles are different in each?) leaves a lot to be desired. BUT, isn't the Gripe List not what this blog entry is about? Isn't today's entry about food loving? You know, because it's Valentine's Day, and food is love and all that? Yes, it is, so please forget you ever read this paragraph, or just read it tomorrow :)

So, if you know of any other great LA ethnic markets or feel I've lost out on more Trader Joe's food love because I don't know about one particular item or another, please let me know via comment!

Until we eat again,

1 comment:

  1. You mentioned the Brie at Trader Joe's --- it's the only kind I buy for two reasons: It is creamy and mild and it costs $4.49 per pound as opposed to $9.99 per pound in the supermarket. The Trader Joe's label is pink and blue, but the price per pound will verify your choice. You won't be sorry.

    I also just l-o-o-o-v-e Trader Joe's Marinara Sauce in the can. The label is dark green with a blue/red picture, and the price is $1.69 per can. It has a "margharita" taste to it -- fresh and sweet. I don't use any other. If I want to give it a stronger flavor, I cook it for a half hour with sausage in it or meatballs. It's the best! I have a friend who is very Italian and she usually makes her own sauce with canned tomatoes. I gave her a can to try, and she now uses that instead as a base. That's a testimonial!

    Trader Joe's "Reduced Guilt" potato chips are great. They come in flavors (regular, cheddar cheese, etc.) and they are crispy with no trace of grease. Compared to "light" or "baked" potato chips in the supermarket, they have a stronger potato taste. The bag costs only $1.79 -- another benefit.

    xoxo Mom