It’s tough to hop on an airplane and jet around the world, but experimenting with new foods is an exciting, low-risk way to explore new cultures. This has become easier in recent years, as the international, or world foods, aisles at the major grocery stores have expanded their offerings, but there is nothing quite like a specialty grocery store that can transport you to another continent or region. These are my favorite local stores that are sure to take you to another culture and fill your home with flavors and aromas from across the world.
229 W. Kilgore Road
A longstanding staple of Kalamazoo, Pacific Rim started out in the lower level of Oakwood Plaza before moving to its Kilgore location in 2018, where it expanded its offerings to include Cravings Deli, on-site cooking classes, and workshops such as traditional floral painting and Chinese watercolor painting. Pacific Rim has fresh produce as well as herbs and spices from China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia — it’s my go-to stop whenever we’re making sushi or dumplings at home. Pick up some aromatic greens like fresh lemongrass or kaffir lime leaf or browse the store’s beverage selection to sample floral flavors like lychee or cherry blossom. And, of course, Pacific Rim is the place to go for specialty cooking tools that you might not find elsewhere, such as bamboo steamer baskets, spoons for sticky rice, coconut knives and woks of all sizes. And while you’re there, stop in at Cravings Deli for a gorgeous bowl of ramen or other international dish.
World of Spices
5911 S. Westnedge Ave.
I’ve been coming here since it was just the back room of Hoffman’s Party Store. I still call it “Neha Aunty’s store” referring to Neha Sharma, the owner, and I had to look up the name World of Spices while writing this piece. Admittedly, I’m no good at cooking Indian food (my late grandmother would be aghast), but this place smells of the roasted spices, sandalwood incense and dusty flours that once filled my grandmother’s home. You can find all the tools and ingredients to cook up a dish or two or three from across the Indian subcontinent. Try out some of the produce, such as bitter melon, green chilis, fenugreek greens or mangos when they’re in season. The store’s freezer section is your hookup for samosas, parathas or puris, and the dry goods section has all varieties of lentils, rice in enormous quantities and, of course, spices. An incredible array of herbs and spices are also available, ranging from beginner-friendly coriander seeds and roasted cumin powder to the more pungent stuff like asafetida and black salt.
1923 W. Main St.
Asifiwe brings flavors from Africa and the Caribbean to Kalamazoo at its unassuming little spot along West Main Street. As you enter, you’ll be hit with the heady scent of dried meat and rich groundnuts as your eyes settle on the joyful selection of tea biscuits — Parle-G, Marie Biscuits, and Digestives are the perfect little bites when dipped into a cup of milky tea or coffee. Farther in, you’ll find some accessible ingredients like peanutmeal (perfect for thickening a hearty stew) and fresh or frozen cassava (a tuberous root also called yucca in different parts of the world). And if you’re coming in armed with some recipes and research, this is the place where you’ll find flours such as sorghum, millet, tapioca and teff. There is fresh and refrigerated produce to browse as well as freezers full of meats. Asifiwe’s unique selections will bring African and Afro-Caribbean flavors into your meal routine.
4315 Portage St.
We live in a region with a rich population of Hispanic and Latin American neighbors, and there are lots of great culinary options, including La Tienda Guatemalteca, La Hispanica and even La Azteca Bakery. But a grocery visit to El Ranchero is sure to fill your kitchen with the flavors of Latin America. Browse the meat counter, shuffle through fresh produce, fill your cart with snacks and spices, stock up on tortillas and sauces and pick up some juice, maybe guava or mango. Note: You will not be able to tear your children away from the party section if they spot the piñatas. And stop at the restaurant counter for tacos after filling your grocery cart.
International Gourmet Pantry
1514 W. Michigan Ave.
This shop near Western Michigan University was established in 1982 and specializes in food from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the South Asian subcontinent. Notably, this is the place to go for halal meats, including chicken, beef, goat and lamb. The shop has an amazing selection of goodies such as baklava and date-based sweets. You will also find a robust refrigerated and frozen section with falafels and kebabs. There’s a lot of dairy to explore here as well— thickened yogurt like Labne, yogurt-based beverages, cheese spreads or blocks such as paneer, milk powder and more. Plus, a kitchen staple: ginger-garlic paste. If you get only one thing, let it be the ginger-garlic paste. It’s so versatile.