Editor’s Note: We’ve asked Adam Sudmann, creator of the My Lucky Tummy pop-up food court, to write guest articles for us on a monthly basis. All of his posts are organized under the “My Lucky Tummy” Category. You can learn about his effort at myluckytummy.com.
Are you bored with your cupboard? Me too. So let’s go to the Northside.
We’ve got our twice yearly popup this Saturday. That means I’m in extreme grocery shopping mode: 100 pounds of yellow pumpkin, 60 stalks of lemongrass, 300 swatches of banana leaf… (And that’s just from one store!)
Luckily, we’ve got some crazy great options in this neighborhood, all within 3-5 minutes of one another. And lucky for me, my crazy kiddo just started daycare so I can shop in peace and maybe even pick out a few things to liven up our cooking at home. My attention is undivided. Nobody’s trying to eat a raw green chili or pluck a sleepy eel out of a cooler. (I told you: my kiddo’s crazy.)
Between today & tomorrow I’ll shop at 11 stores. Here are four that are especially stellar:
Altanoor, 1832 Grant Blvd. Sabah is a stickler for quality. He only stocks the best brands from Iraq & the region, be that red lentils or broad beans or date syrup. Trust him. Oh, and he has my favorite spice selection in town – they pack them up in house – & they bake hollow samoon bread on the weekends.
Juba Somali, 1601 N Salina. Rajab’s shop is an oasis, tucked in among the strip clubs & dollar stores. Confused? He’ll talk you through a dish – or call somebody who knows. Last week I accidentally stumbled over a clerk who was taking a moment in the back, praying on a mat behind the rice aisle. He responded to the interruption in stride, popping up, patting me on the back & offering up his opinion on different varieties of Basmati.
Laos Market, 317 Butternut. Fresh herbs don’t have to be so murderously expensive. Kitty & Suki keep a nondescript plastic shelving unit in the fridge in back, on your left. Nondescript, that is, until you pull open the drawers & breathe in. Vietnamese coriander. Purple basil. Lime leaf. Mint varietals I don’t even know the name of. Grab a handful of something aromatic, something you’ve never seen before (but are game to experiment with), then go pay up & gasp (happily, wondrously) at the bill & know why all the Thai & Italian places in town go here on Wednesdays to stock up for the weekend.
Aphone, 826 Butternut. Kaui drives down to Maspeth & Queens most Mondays so try & hit this place – across from the KFC – on Tuesdays. They’ve got a ton of horizontal freezers full of cool stuff – fish that you’ve never even imagined, frogs, silkworms, etc. (I asked Paw if she knew how to fry up the grubs, but she hadn’t a clue; luckily a Cambodian couple shopping there walked me through the process. When in doubt, ask the other shoppers.) Their produce is awesome, their kids are super cute & sometimes they’ll have treats (shaggy seaweed, freshly pickled tea leaves) brought in straight from Burma.
Of course, for purposes of pithiness I’m skipping over the ever-solid Afro-Caribbean (740 N Salina), the well-stocked gem that is Than Lwin (826 N Townsend), a quartet of Bhutanese shops & so much more.
Oh, and because this particular party is vegetarian I’m ignoring Pyramid Halal (1700 Lodi) altogether, which is a small crime. Hani & Tatiana sell excellent meats for a song. They’re also gifted conversationalists. Sometimes their shop has an almost 50’s-throwback, why don’t you stay & chat a spell, kind of vibe. Who’d have thunk it? An Egyptian-Russian couple that makes you feel like you’re in Norman Rockwell-esque America.
This pace, this kind of exchange is why neighborhoods matter. And this is why the Northside hood has such greatness – & great sweetness – at its heart.