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Buying from ethnic stores is a great tip that you pick up when traveling, and it works even better in the US. Many neighborhoods have at least one ethnic food store, and many places have several of them. But the customers of these stores always seem to be mainly people from that ethnic group, even though these stores can be a real treasure trove of great food at great prices.
Even if you are buying something as simple as fresh ginger, the cost at an ethnic food store can be a small fraction of what you pay. Supermarkets tend to sell a little of everything, so you can always find what you are looking for when you shop. But this little bit of everything approach leads to higher prices, especially on the product with lower demand.
But ethnic food stores specialize in individual products, and they buy them in bulk. Buying in bulk means much lower prices for their customers. You will not find everything you need, but you are bound to find a few items that you regularly use, particularly herbs, spices, rice, pulses, nuts, and unusual fruits and vegetables. Some products might be more expensive, but you can skip those items.
When you visit ethnic food stores, it is also a good idea to ask many questions about the product, especially if it is unfamiliar to you. There is a saying that variety is the spice of life, and it is certainly true that buying your food from ethnic food stores will increase the range of what you eat. By asking questions and chatting with the staff, you will discover new products and cook them. You will likely find dishes that you would never even consider if you stuck to your usual big box store.
Shopping at ethnic food stores also has the added advantage of meeting people that you may not usually socialize with regularly. Visiting ethnic food stores also helps break down barriers in the community, and helps people see that others are much like themselves in many ways. We have shopped at many ethnic food stores in the US and am often amazed at how most people in the neighborhood will walk right passed the store without even giving it a second glance. They do not realize what potential savings they are missing.
We buy all dried herbs, spices, nuts, legumes, rice, and many other dry items at ethnic food stores, as the quality and prices are always first class. We also buy some fresh produce at the stores if we fancy something different, but generally buy fresh produce from local farmers’ markets. We shop at the big box stores, but what we get there is usually limited to what we cannot get elsewhere.
Do not be afraid to check out the ethnic food stores in your area and ask around if you are unsure where they are. Often, they are clustered in one area of town that you may not usually visit. Well, here is your chance to explore a new location in your town. Sticking to places you are familiar with and food you are familiar with can be very comforting, but sometimes we need to get out of our comfort zone and explore a little further afield.
It would help if you looked out for the following types of ethnic food stores in your area – Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese), West European (Italian, French), Middle Eastern, Russian/East European, Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi. We find that these all offer a great choice of food, but you may discover other types of stores in your area that are not listed. It is your job to get out there and find them.
Here is our top tip for raw food enthusiasts who are really into goji berries: get them from a Chinese store, not from a US store. We have seen goji berries for sale in Chinese supermarkets for less than 10% of the price they sell for on some raw food websites. Many raw foods and healthy eating enthusiasts believe Goji berries are a superfood, but they are just another berry in China. You do not need to pay extra for these just because they have a superfood label. You can also often pay less for other foods that you will see for sale on raw food websites, but there is a chapter on this topic further on.