A Pantry of Immigrants

A Brief Tour of Some of Omaha’s Ethnic Markets

And DishOmaha Team

The American palate is constantly evolving. Evidence of that evolution here in Omaha is the strength and number of established ethnic markets throughout the city. Mexico, Asia, India and the Mediterranean are all represented, reinforcing culture with shared shopping and supporting the dishes that have been made and served for generations.

Most of Omaha’s ethnic markets are true to their roots in their products, languages and staff. As community borders continue to broaden, ethnic markets are seeing a much wider customer base, searching for ways to become stronger by offering a greater variety of products as they adapt to our ever-changing city. The Japanese market Omaha Oriental Food & Gifts, once known as Aki’s, on 84th & F Streets has seen a marked increase for sushi products and equipment.

Each television show extolling some far off locale or unknown ingredient is a chance to inspire the home cook. Ethnic markets are a haven to explore and experiment. Stores are offering exotic and familiar products at prices that are less or comparable to a typical supermarket. Bulk curry sold at an ethnic market will be the same price as the supermarket’s five ounce jar. 

There is great ethnic food to consume and prepare yourself. In honor of America’s immigrant heritage, the DishOmaha team searched out five ethnic markets in Omaha to add to your shopping list. Here is their take: 

Indian Grocery and Video


by Tamsen Butler

Most people walking through the doors into Indian Grocery and Video are looking for one of two things: spices or fruits and vegetables. Sure, they offer a wide variety of prepackaged Indian foods and an impressive collection of DVDs spanning an entire wall, but the folks working in this store are quite accustomed to first-time customers asking “Where’s the turmeric?” or “Do you have any lychee?”

The lure of the spices here is the price and freshness. The fruit and vegetable selection depends largely on the season. Fresh okra, squash, and guava are big sellers. A quick glance at the bins of fruit and vegetables reveals a smorgasbord of items, some immediately recognizable and others a little perplexing for people not familiar with Indian cuisine.

The freezers are stocked with plenty of prepackaged meals. In particular, vegetarians should take notice of Indian Grocery and Video’s frozen section, as there are some great meatless options there. Don’t miss the cookies and pastries near the register.
Customers looking for unique Indian items may find what they need here. If you are looking for some new incense scents or a small statue of Ganesh, you can’t go wrong with this store. Henna paste and shiny bangles can also be found on the shelves.

Vegetables arrive at the store from Chicago every Wednesday, making this one of the busier days of the week as far as customer traffic goes, but all in all both locations are not so busy that you will encounter difficulty when trying to find a clerk to assist you. The location on 83rd Plaza was the first to open over twenty years ago, followed by the Arbor
Street store, which is conveniently located across from the Hindu Temple. Each store features similar items in stock and are under the same ownership.

Indian Grocery and Video is located at 13021 Arbor St.  And 3029 S. 83rd Plaza. Open Mon – Sat 10a.m. – 9p.m., Sun 11a.m.- 8p.m. for both locations. For more information you can visit www.indiangroceryandvideo.com 


Jacobo’s Grocery


by Rachel Grace

It’s the details that make something special, and Jacobo’s has that plain fact down. From the moment you enter the modestly sized store on 24th and L Streets, you get the sense that you’ve hit a food jackpot.

You will be drawn first to the specialty produce as you move through the entrance with items like fresh cactus, tomatillos, and the Mexican herb epazote. Turn around, and there’s a respectable salsa aisle where you might find some flavors and brands not available at the chains. The next aisle over is dedicated to tortillas presses, flan, and various treats. Each aisle has something unique. It can be pleasantly overwhelming on a first visit.

Jacobo’s also garners a real gem, located in the rear of the store, usually with a line of customers standing in front of it. It’s their deli, where you can find the best carnitas in town. There are tamales, enchiladas, and burritos, all made from scratch. You can’t miss the large pieces of chicharones – real deal pork rinds – and for a weekend treat, try a chili rellano. Refried beans, handmade corn tortillas, and a variety of excellent salsas are there to remind you that it’s the simple things, well done, that hold a great cuisine together. Most items range from $1 to $3.

On the weekend, the quickly moving deli line often stretches through the store and out the door. There are even reports of customers driving from out of town to get their hands on some of the fresh chips and salsa with cilantro. But the at the core of Jacobo’s clientele are their loyal neighborhood customers, the folks who know and understand that by being small, Jacobo’s offers the personal care of a family-owned market.

Manager Carlos Jacobo explained that the store’s popularity has steadily increased nearly every year in their 36-year history, mostly by word of mouth. Jacobo is honored to be a part of the community and the customers’ lives, with “packages of our tortillas on every table in the area.”

As the day winds down, they may run out of some prepared items, so go earlier for prime selection. There aren’t any tables to sit and eat, but that didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t hesitate to tear open the cornhusk of my tamale in the parking lot.

Jacobo’s Grocery is located at 4621 South 24th Street. Open Tues – Fri 8a.m. – 6:30p.m., Sat and Sun 8a.m. – 6p.m., closed Mon. Cash only, ATM available. Call 402.733.9009 or visit jacobos.com for more information.

 

Asian Market


by Krista O’Malley

Asian Market is quite an amazing place, packed with products and smelling the same as most Asian markets, like fresh trimmed fish. The abundance is the reason why on many days, its hopping. As you walk in, grab a cart; the first thing that catches the eye is rice -- pallets are stacked waist or shoulder high with 25 to 50 pound bags of rice.

On the south wall, running the length of the market, are noodles; rice noodles, soba noodles, cellophane noodles, ramen, vermicelli, in every length and size imaginable. Ask yourself how many different kinds of noodles can there be? Then go to the Asian market and starting counting. As you turn the corner to the noodle aisle, there are another stacked pallets of brown rice, basmati rice, rice flour (the type of flour that makes the yummy battered pork or chicken). The Asian Market can have a supermarket feel. 

Weaving the aisles, they are filled with a plethora of spices, herbs, seasonings of all sort, items pickled in jars; from lemons, ginger, bamboo and quail eggs to over a dozen different brands of fish sauce. In the back the fish and meat counter had familiar items such as blue crabs, tilapia and pork loins and some less-familiar items such as pork stomach, pork ears, and chicken feet.

At the other end of the store was the produce section. The biggest crowd was circled around the new shipment of bok choy, under a dollar a pound. The rest of the produce was specific to Asian cooking with such items as burro bananas, taro root, kabocha squash and Chinese eggplants. The mushroom section was fascinating and a king mushroom was a new discovery.

This market also carries dishes and gifts, carving knives and Asian soda pop. There was a large frozen food section with some ice cream treats and lots of frozen fish and frozen stewing chickens 3 for $10. The checkout is straight-forward with credit card machines and conveyer belts and a register tells you in English when to swipe your card and the total amount of your bill. Hair dye is behind the check out counter.

Asian Market is located at 321 North 76th Street. Open Mon – Sun 9a.m. – 8p.m., all major CC accepted. Call 402.391.2606 for more information.

 

Mediterranean and European Grocery

by Krista O’Malley

The Mediterranean and European Grocery is a small but mighty market. It looks like a house from the outside, has ample parking and is full of goodies once you are inside.
My shopping mates and I felt very welcome. When we left the very-friendly owner thanked and invited us back again.

The sidewall is lined with refrigerated cases full of pita breads and other unleavened breads, such as naan and lavosh. A variety of Greek cheeses includes a large assortment of feta and the only retail shop for the best Saganaki cheese. Set it on fire and shout of “Opah!”

A variety of spices, including ground sumac, sits on shelves with walnuts in bulk, various beans and boxed falafel mix. They stock 16 ounce jars of ghee from the brand Ziyad, a clarified butter used in sautés. A variety of mortars and pestles and candleholders complete your ability to set the Mediterranean mood. 

They were unloading and stocking fresh produce when I visited. We got to see some nice looking cactus fruit that day. They keep a small section in the front of the store for produce. One thing I can say is that the friendliness and engagement of the gentlemen owners will dispel any intimidation felt on the part of the shopper treading into the “Med” for the first time. 

Mediterranean and European Grocery is located at 8601 Blondo Street. Open Mon – Fri 9a.m. – 9p.m. and Sat – Sun 9a.m. – 8p.m., Call 402.391.2546 for more information.

 

Omaha Oriental Food and Gifts


by Krista O’Malley

Omaha Oriental Food and Gifts focuses on Japanese products and Asian gifts. Located off 84th and F Street Once called Aki’s and in the same location since 1984, today it is owned and operated by the Ashby’s, switching hands after Aki passed away.

It doesn’t have the fresh fish smell as you walk in the door and the shop is labeled in English. The owners answer any questions you may have, providing a recipe section with many familiar dishes. Pick a dish and shop with the recipe provided from the shelves within the market. Most of the items at Omaha Oriental Food and Gifts are found in Japanese cooking. There is a selection of frozen fish for making sushi as well as carving tools and sushi knives. 

With a large assortment of houseware items such as tea sets, statues, and furniture pieces, they also offer Japanese DVDs and books, as well as bamboo plants and bonsai trees.

Omaha Oriental Food and Gifts is located at 4425 84th Street. Open Mon 10a.m.- 6p.m., Tues. Closed, Wed- Sat 10a.m.- 6p.m., and Sun 11a.m. - 5p.m. All major credit cards are accepted. Call 402.339.2671 for more information.

posted at 10:49 pm
on Sunday, June 24th, 2012

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