i’ve had it in my head for a long time, that i would start to run regular “store spotlight” posts of what i deem to be underappreciated businesses in the greater portland area. a little over a year ago, i wrote a little article about one of my favorite exchange street boutiques, toko indo. and then… NOTHING. oops. this certainly wouldn’t be the first incidence of me dropping the ball, but i think it’s due time i made an effort to pick this one back up. for my re-inaugural post, i’ll be taking you to a mystical little international market nestled at the bottom of munjoy hill.
because she’s kind of amazing, and because for some reason she makes a lot of southeast asian food, i invited my friend pam (aka @timorousme, she’s kind of twitter famous) to give me the grand tour. you can find the full photo documentary over here at my flickr, but here are some highlights:
1. i have no idea how to pronounce the name. and despite shopping there frequently, pam doesn’t know how to pronounce it either (i found this comforting). in fact, it’s spelled differently on their business cards than it is on their sign. anyone?
2. it takes a minute to get used to the smell. it’s not hannaford or shaws (or even save-a-lot). there are all sorts of unusual meats and fruits and vegetables making smells that you’ve never smelled before. don’t be deterred! amazingness awaits inside.
3. there’s a lot of food that is exactly like some american favorites, but with the addition of a an exotic flavor. for example, these swiss cake rolls. even after reading this, i’m still not entirely sure what pandan is… but these are fucking delicious. i was however less enthusiastic about fanta green (pictured above). maybe melon…and…maybe not.
4. the produce is miraculous. think of the “exotic fruits section” in your standard grocery store, and tell it to fuck off. the produce at mittapheap is beautiful, fresh, and super inexpensive. i bought 5 cloves of really beautiful garlic for $1.49, and 4 perfect roma tomatoes for $1.99. pam swears by their herbs (huge bags of cilantro for $1.00!), but it’s also a great place to get exotic fare like japanese eggplant and daikon radishes at low low prices.
5. noodles! other than the produce, my 2nd favorite best buy is noodles. from rice noodles, to bean thread, to soba and somen… i’ve paid upwards of $5 for this shit at the “shop the world” section of my local groceria… screw that. mittapheap has infinitely better selection, and fantastically low prices.
6. they make their own food. every day, there’s a steam tray full of exciting home made fare. pam swears by the deep fried salmon heads, but i’ve also seen empanadas, tamales, steamed buns, and lobster curry…
7. sometimes international food packaging is hilarious. this sexy lady tea made my day.
8. there’s also an attached wig & weave store. i have absolutely no expertise in this arena, so i can not comment as to whether or not the prices were good. that said, it was pretty amazing. they also had some random housewares and the most incredible batik fabric that i’ve ever seen.
that’s pretty much the grand tour. not everything i bought was a home run (sadly, vegetarian lobster chips were so not delicious), but it really woke me up to the utter rip-offness of the “shop the world” section. if you’re cooking up some international cuisine, whether you need a 10 gallon drum or sriracha or 15 packets of cock soup… you’re always going to get a better deal and better choices at an international market.
i chose mittapheap because it’s in my hood (the east end), and it really does have a great international cross section. but you’ve got a multitude of choices with asian specialty foods intown and west end, a few hispanic markets, and middle eastern and african markets popping up all over the peninsula. you can save some cash, and take yourself on an international taste adventure. go for it!
what’s your favorite international food find?
*on the subject of going for it, i still haven’t worked up the courage to try the “grass jelly”. my friend michelle insists it is amazing with syrup. any words of encouragement?