San Francisco is full of some top-notch ethnic markets and we often visit them with our children. Visiting an ethnic grocery store with your kiddos can be sold as “a vacation to another country” (clever marketing always works with children). Our little ones manage to find at each store things (read: sweet treats) that they find appealing and start begging for. Kids somehow very quickly figure out what they want no matter how unique the store.
Here are some of our (and our kiddos’) favorites in San Francisco. Thanks to our recent summer camp at 18 Reasons, we dragged our children to most of them several times. We love exploring these markets (and countries) and have spent a good amount of time roaming the aisles, learning about new foods.
If you are looking for Middle Eastern ingredients and goodies, this market in the Outer Sunset is a favorite of ours. They carry a wide array of Mediterranean ingredients and their produce is inexpensive and fresh. They have unique breads, Middle Eastern cheeses, thick Greek yoghurt, unique canned vegetables and lots of spices, beans, lentils and nuts. You can spend a good amount of time exploring and coming up with new dishes to try. A stop at Sunrise Deli for some crispy, freshly fried falafel (our favorite) and mezes should be part of the shopping experience.
There are tons of Asian supermarkets/grocery stores on Clement Street and Chinatown, but our favorite is the behemoth and slightly intimidating New May Wah. A couple of things before you venture here: don’t expect service or questions to be answered and don’t be intimidated by the row upon row of Asian ingredients. And try not to trip over boxes they have lying around because you will get yelled at, like your mother yelled at you, except in Cantonese. Stacie gets a lot of love at this store not because of her lovely personality but because of her adorable baby. She makes sure she takes him with her on every visit. Cheater!
You will find pretty much everything you need to make most Asian cuisines at New May Wah. The produce is hit or miss, but if you show up on the right day (when they are restocking and you trip over boxes), you will get the good stuff. It’s definitely not organic or produce that compares in quality to Bi-Rite Markets. However, many of the ingredients they have are not available anywhere else. If you are attempting Asian cooking, New May Wah is essential and a pretty “interesting” cultural experience.
The opposite of New May Wah – small, compact and run by possibly the sweetest proprietors ever. They ply your little ones with free biscuits and candy and lovingly show you where things are located and also point out new and popular products. We love this little store and are often here restocking on essentials. For inexpensive and fresh spices, this place is not to be missed.
A recent discovery of ours and one we need to frequent more as we explore Russian and Eastern European cuisines. This market is full of unique items and delectable bakery items waiting to be sampled. We need to head back soon to complete our exploration of this very cool spot. Below is a photo of our loot from this store.
We discovered Nijiya on a Japantown food adventure and have been hooked since. We love their pre-marinated meats for an easy dinner and also their prepared foods are pretty good for days you are feeling lazy. Tons of familiar and novelty items and all the ingredients you will need to make sushi at home with the kids. A fun market to visit with the kids after a romp at the Japantown malls. We are also addicted to their freshly made pickled ginger and Nishiki premium sushi rice which has almost replaced basmati rice at our house.
Casa Lucas Market recommended by my friend Luisa who taught be how to make Tortilla Soup and Taquitos a while back carries all things you could possibly need for a Mexican fiesta. Their produce is fresh and well-priced but their fresh Mexican cheese counter is what gets our attention. And the little ones will love the Mexican popsicles and pinatas. The hot sauces get my attention and over the years I have bought many of them and decided which are my favorites. Another great thing about Casa Lucas is that Dynamo Donuts is right round the corner.