Spicy Thai curry paste, warming masala, or Burmese sweet curry? Thanks to Philadelphia’s diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, you can make dishes with all three. Go beyond the international aisle at ACME and you’ll find much more variety, reasonable prices, and maybe even inspiration from fellow shoppers’ carts.
Find expansive seafood options and specialty cuts at the butcher shop — and accompanying spices — to make braised tripe dim sum-style or congee with pork blood. While American consumers have started to embrace meat alternatives in the last two decades, these products have long been staples in AAPI cuisines, and Asian markets carry mind-blowing varieties including silky soft-to-firm tofu, canned fried gluten, and alternative meats shaped like their animal counterparts. Expand your culinary skills and palate with the naturally gluten-free rice, cassava, and gram flours, to name a few. These stores tend to also carry foods popular in other immigrant cuisines such as frozen yuca, tamales, and Goya products. Make a day of it and get to know nearby Asian-owned shops and restaurants — larger grocery stores are often anchor tenants in immigrant business districts. This gives you a great excuse to try popular restaurants in the same shopping plaza — or if you’re lucky, a Cantonese barbecue stall inside the grocery store.
International Foods & Spices
4203 Walnut Street, West Philly
Sonia Parikh, sister of Mina’s World co-owner Sonam Parikh, goes here for the mother spices of every Indian dish — cumin, bay leaves, cinnamon bark, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, mustard seeds, fennel, and chile peppers — as well as dry boxed masalas, DIY Indian dessert-making kits, and “crunchy favorites like tomato chile KurKure or Haldiram’s Khatta Meetha mix, which translates to ‘sweet n’ salty chips’!” The samosas you love from Mina’s World come from this South Asian specialty grocery store, which also carries many Middle Eastern products. Hazami Sayed, founder and former executive director of Al-Bustan Seeds Of Culture, buys Lebanese olive oil and olives here — “look for the El Koura brand,” she says. Home cooks can marinate their olives like Sayed: “Drain the olives and put in a bowl under running water for an hour or so, especially black olives which are more salty, then marinate in a glass jar with half olive and half canola oil, add the juice of one lemon, and a few cut-up pieces of lemon, and a bit of fresh oregano or thyme.”
2330 S. Seventh Street, South Philly
Over 20 years ago, this small grocery store started off selling Indian and American groceries but slowly expanded their offerings to serve the Southeast Asian and Central American immigrant communities in South Philly. Aslam Market is a treasure trove of staples such as mixes to make momo, or Nepalese dumplings, Indian sweets, Burmese sweet curry, and Indonesian instant noodles. Fun fact: Gyro cart vendors go to Aslam to get their special spice blends.
320 W. Oregon Avenue, East Oregon
Laos In The House founder Catzie Vilayphonh goes to this market to stock her pantry with Lao/Thai ingredients such as Pantai fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste, Por Kwan chile pastes and curry gravy, Mama Noodles in the iconic silver wrapping, and T.O. Nam cured sausages and pork rinds, as well as multiple brands of padaek, or unrefined fish sauce. This market also carries produce that may be hard to find elsewhere, such as makrut lime leaves, Piper betel, (a heart-shaped leaf used for wrapping handheld foods such as Miang kham), Thai eggplants, and tropical fruits including durian, jackfruit, and green papaya. Vilayphonh also visits Oregon Market to purchase “indoor-outdoor plastic rugs and the mortar pestle we use for making papaya salad and other sauces.”
Mt Laurel Wine & Spirits
3747 Church Road, Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey
No ordinary liquor store, this hidden gem has possibly the biggest Korean alcohol selection on the East Coast. The shop carries “several brands of soju and makgeolli, as well as the more celebrated varieties like beopju and baekseju,” raves Shinjoo Cho, chair of the Statue of Peace Plaza Committee, who says she was emotionally stricken the first time she encountered such bounty. “They’re mostly rice-based wine,” she explains. “Some Korean meals, especially barbecue, just aren’t the same without some of these drinks and I don’t have to travel far now.” There is also quite a selection of sake.
1st Oriental Supermarket
1111 S. Sixth Street, Mayfair
This is the place for tropical fruits like lychee, dragon fruit, coconuts, and Vietnamese soursop — look for festive soursop candy, wrapped in cellophane during Tet. 1st Oriental has an expansive butcher and seafood section with harder to find cuts and offal including pork blood, bone-in pork belly, duck heads, spareribs for stew, pigs’ feet, beef tripe, and pinapaitan, or beef bile, a staple of Philippine cooking. Get all the ingredients to make canh chua ca, the Vietnamese sweet-and-sour catfish soup with pineapple, tamarind, palm sugar, taro stem, okra, bean sprouts, tomato, and fish sauce. If you’re feeling peckish while you shop, there is a convenient Cantonese barbecue takeout spot housed within the market, with racks of glistening roast ducks, salted chicken, and a handsome slab of roast pork with thick fried skin — cooked in its own fat and juices, of course — that shatters satisfyingly when you crunch.
1122 Washington Avenue, Passyunk Square
Hung Vuong is Poi Dog chef-owner Kiki Aranita’s go-to market, and this Southeast Asian food wonderland has an impressive seafood selection with colorful crabs, different varieties of head-on shrimp and prawns, and crawfish (for all your Viet-Cajun cuisine needs). There are also staples like Three Ladies rice paper for summer rolls, dried shrimps and fried shallots, pho spices and bullions, fruit-based Vietnamese jerky for snacking and salad-topping, curry pastes, and crucial cooking tools. There is also a really lovely section of ready-made Vietnamese meals, Vietnamese pork rolls, sweet or savory sticky rice tightly wrapped in banana leaves, fresh and properly oily rice rolls, and baked goods from local purveyors. Eat and then plant like a chef: Aranita never leaves Hung Vuong without egg tofu and taro leaves. “I’ve long had a problem finding fresh taro leaves on the mainland,” she says. “This year I got a bunch of taro (the giant roots) in Hung Vuong’s produce aisle and planted those in my backyard.” The Asian American Journalists Association Philadelphia’s Juliana Reyes goes to Hung Vuong for Philippine staples like banana leaves for bibingka and cooking fish, longganisa, and siopao, or pork buns, in the freezer section.
Heng Fa Food Market
130 N. 10th Street, Chinatown
This tiny market packs in as much as possible with two floors and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that spill out onto the sidewalk, enticing passersby. Here you will find a colorful selection of staple Chinese vegetables including sweet snow pea leaves, pretty and slender Chinese eggplants, and irresistible garlic chives with delicate buds at the tips. You’ll get all the necessary cuts — including pork belly and chicken feet — at the butcher and seafood department, though they may run out of more popular items by late afternoon. The downstairs is dedicated to packaged foods, teas, dried and canned goods, and snacks and candies. Asian Fresh Food Market, down the street in the footprint of the gone-but-not-forgotten Imperial Inn, which was once considered to be the oldest restaurant in Chinatown, also offers a lot in a small space.
Hung Vuong Food Market
6410-42 Frankford Avenue #22, Mayfair/Tacony, inside the Mayfair Shopping Center
Much larger than its Philadelphia Chinatown counterpart, Heng Fa, and with much more parking, this sibling to the Hung Vuong in South Philly is part of a growing regional empire and a welcome addition for Mayfair/Tacony’s growing Fujianese and Vietnamese community, as well as its non-Asian residents. Here you will find all the bok choy, Shanghai tips, bitter melon, and assorted cabbages for easy stir fries; colorful tropical fruits; and necessary spices and herbs including goji berries, snow fungus, lotus seeds, long pepper (popular in Indian and Chinese cuisine), and white cardamom pods. The seafood selection is gorgeous; the mollusks alone — Oysters! Conches! Scallops! Snails! So many sizes of clams! — is breathtaking. “They have really awesome produce and they also clean fresh fish for you. The market is a great uniter for the diverse communities in Northeast Philadelphia,” says Alex Balloon, the executive director of the Tacony Community Development Corporation.
571 Adams Avenue, Lawncrest, inside the Rising Sun Plaza Shopping Center
While South Philly is recognized as a Southeast Asian hub, “Northeast Philadelphia was (and still is) home to many Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants who settled in the area in the 1980s,” explains Jingyao Yu, senior editorial associate at Resolve Philly. “Farmer’s Best Supermarket (formerly Hong Kong Supermarket) was one of the first large grocery stores to serve Southeast Asian communities in the neighborhood.” Come here for Chinese and Vietnamese essentials, including an expansive — live and on ice — seafood counter; 25-pound bags of rice, kitchen supplies, and frozen dumplings; plus baked goods and sweets from local and regional bakeries. (Fun fact: Some of the shops in Chinatown have their flagship stores, where the baking happens, in the Northeast.) The prices are hard to beat, but pay close attention to the discount produce table — there, you will feast like royalty. These days, says Yu, who sits on the steering committee of the Asian Mosaic Fund, “the area is now seeing an influx of Fujianese Chinese residents, many of whom are coming from the New York area, establishing homes and new businesses, contributing to the ever-changing, vibrant landscape of Northeast Philly.” Make sure to visit the Cantonese barbecue station, which offers your pick of succulent meats, including whole roasted pig, Peking duck, and lovely Cantonese-style orange-hued squid.
Between Walnut and Sansom on South 44th Street, West Philly
Located between Walnut and Sansom on 44th Street across from Supremo Food Market, this is an awesome produce truck that overflows with two produce stands. “This place has the freshest veggies,” declares Mina’s World’s Sonia Parikh, who comes here to stock the People’s Fridge with produce. “Malik, the person who runs this produce truck, curates each fruit and veggie very carefully by asking customers what they’d like to see more or less of.”
7925 Bustleton Ave, Rhawnhurst
As Philadelphians rejoice over the hotly anticipated Jollibee, a chain as ubiquitous as McDonald’s in the Philippines that’s opening on Bustleton and Cottman avenues, get to know the Filipino pantry by shopping at Pinoy Groseri. Kusina Philly’s Cesar Gonzales, who also shops at the Washington Avenue markets in South Philly, stocks his kitchen with UFC banana ketchup, Datu Puti vinegar and soy sauce, Mama Sita’s tamarind soup powder, and Magnolia ice cream. Get all the fixings for a halo-halo party here. There are so many ube and pandan options, one could cry. Bonus: Pinoy Groseri ships through their website.
7320 Old York Rd, Elkins Park, inside the More Shopping Center
6201 North Front Street, Olney
7050 Terminal Square, Upper Darby
H Mart, the North American Korean grocery giant, is no ordinary Asian market. It’s not even a superstore — it’s an experience. In addition to the expansive market, H Marts are linked with fabulous food courts and smaller, locally owned shops that sell Korean skincare and beauty products, appliances, and home goods. Regardless of location — there are three in Philly — you can count on H Mart to knock your socks off with sheer quantity and variety of Asian foods and produce, including several varieties of dragon fruit, eggplants of all shapes and sizes, all kinds of kimchi and fish cakes, at least one aisle dedicated to frozen dumplings, and an extravagant seafood counter with octopus, catfish, squid, and more.
In addition to Korean everything, H Mart also carries many items for Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Filipino, and Central American cuisine. The refrigerated banchan selection is unparalleled — soy-braised soybeans, lotus root, radish kimchi, and spicy fish cake, to name a few — and you can also get fresh sushi for a night in. Get all the fixings for hot pot at home, like thinly sliced rib-eye and pork belly, fish balls with popping roe, chewy rice cake rounds, and Little Sheep Hot Pot Soup Base with peanut dipping sauce and chile crisp. Stock your pantry with an unbearably delicious selection of milk tea and milky coffee powders, instant noodles (you can’t go wrong with Shin Ramyun, Chapagetti noodle, and the camping-friendly Haidilao self-heating hot pot), and Haitai-brand honey-butter chips.
Upstairs at the Upper Darby location, you can have a full-fledged proper Korean meal with sizzling kimchi jjigae and dolsot bibimbap, or go light with some sushi or bubble tea. Probably best to take some Korean fried chicken home. While you wait for your food court order, peruse the small shops, including a higher-end appliance store and a functional and cute kitchen tools and cookware shop. This location also carries many Ecuadorian products.
The new H Mart on Front Street in Olney includes a cool kitchen section with a full range of Zojirushi rice cookers, pricey kimchi refrigerators, teapots and dishware, and French glass cookware. Shoppers can stock up on Korean liquors and baked goods from the attached Paris Baguette.
The original Elkins Park location, which Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner brought to national fame with her memoir Crying in H Mart, also has an excellent upstairs food court, with Korean fried chicken, Japanese katsu and sushi, steamed buns and dumplings, and of course, full-on Korean feasts with no shortage of banchan and sizzling clay pots. Bonus: H Mart delivers through Instacart.