This article is the first in a four-part series on international foods and the hard-to-find ingredients that are used to make them.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Like the rest of America, West Virginia too is a cultural and ethnic melting pot, with citizens from a number of other nations who now call the Mountain State home -- and bring with them their own unique flavors and foods.
The foods, of course, are reflected in the many ethnic restaurants here. But the flavors -- the spices and ingredients that are needed to re-create the dishes at home -- can be harder to find.
What many home chefs may not realize is that the determined foodie can find many of these items on grocery store shelves in and around the Charleston area.
The days may be gone when spice traders were legendary adventurers, but spices continue to be an important part of our diet. Over history, herbs and spices have been used as medicine, and many modern-day medicines are patterned after the healing properties of plants, herbs and spices. Plus, spices add wonderful flavor with minimal effort. With a few shakes or a teaspoon full, a meal can be transformed from bland to fabulous.
Here are five stores that offer a wide selection of international and ethnic ingredients.
International Groceries and Spices Inc.
The grocery and spice store offers foods from, broadly, Africa and the Middle East, and, specifically, India, Pakistan, Korea, China, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, South Africa, United Kingdom, Lebanon, Jamaica and -- amazingly -- many other countries.
It sells rice from Pakistan, India, Korea, Japan, Italy and Thailand. Exotic fresh fruit and vegetables and a large variety of beans and lentils are sold, as well as healthy snack foods, spices, teas, juices, beans, lentils, dried fruits, nuts, breads, noodles, pastas, seaweeds and frozen dinners.
The colorful merchandise and spicy aromas invite hours of inspection. It is not a shop to go to when you are in a hurry. There is simply too much to see for a quick visit.
"We order from more than 150 suppliers. We have some special suppliers, and I go to New York City and Washington, D.C. We seek a higher quality so people see that we not only have better prices but better quality," said Harish Anada, who owns the store along with his wife, Meena.
Harish recommends that customers come on Friday mornings to get the latest shipments, which arrive on Thursday evenings. "People telling their friends is how we have grown. That's the best way to grow," he said with a smile.
Harish and Meena Anada also own and operate the Little India restaurant on the East End. Harish, a chemical engineer, came to the United States from India in 1972. Meena followed in 1974.
They began their grocery store in Morgantown in 1987 and opened the second store in Charleston in 1996. For a while, they tried to operate both but decided to concentrate their efforts in Charleston.
"Everyone is trying to eat healthier and so many spices have health benefits. Turmeric powder has been shown to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Coriander lowers blood sugar and acts as an antioxidant. Garlic is good for your heart and ginger improves circulation. Cinnamon powder is known to help diabetics," Meena said.
"As people learn how to cook with different spices, they learn that it is better to use the powdered spices in cooking [than to use supplements]. It adds flavor without calories or fats and it is a good way to cut back on sodium.
"We carry many spices and have very economical prices. We also have a very large section of gluten-free foods. We sell rice flour, lentil flour and many easy-to-use mixes. It's always fresh at our store because we have a large ethnic clientele that buy from us regularly," she added.
International Groceries and Spices Inc., 5304 MacCorkle Ave. SE., is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For additional information, call 304-926-6101 or visit the store's Facebook page.
The Asian Supermarket is located on what is known as "Ethic Food Row" next to the mound in South Charleston. The shop's focus is on Asian foods from Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and China. The crates of fresh vegetables, fruit and seafood bring a big-city feel to the lively store.
Wednesday and Friday mornings are good times to visit to be the first to purchase new shipments of fish, fruit and vegetables, employee Alex Wang recommended. When we visited, the shop had bluefish, white sea bass, black sea bass, thunder crabs, doctor fish, codfish, porgy and ribbonfish on ice.
Min Ming Wang, an employee, moved to Charleston six years ago from China. Many visitors to the market are seeking to duplicate the Asian cooking they have tasted at restaurants in their own kitchens, she said, adding that their large variety of sauces as well as boxed and canned goods are popular.
The store carries an immense variety of exotic fresh fruits and vegetables including jackfruit, Asian pears, coconuts, Japanese pumpkins, pomegranates, papayas, grapes, cabbage, sweet potatoes, chilies, aloe, bananas, ginger, taro, malaga grapes and litchi.