Jacksonville's ethnic grocery stores provide exotic foods for
some customers and a taste of home for others.
Ethnic markets, specializing in unusual and hard-to-find
foreign foods, can be found all over town. These shops cater to
Jacksonville's growing, diverse ethnic population. They're also
drawing more and more mainstream customers as well.
"We want different foods. Ethnic foods are always exciting.
They offer new combinations and new flavors," said Rich Grigsby,
professor of culinary arts at Florida Community College at
Jacksonville's Institute of the South for Hospitality and
Ethnic groceries have been part of the American fabric for
decades. Think of old world-style Jewish delis and Italian meat
markets. But in recent years, they've been increasing in number
In Jacksonville, the roster of specialty stores represents a
global culinary tour. With a few stops around town, a cook can
stock the pantry with Latin American, Caribbean, Thai, Chinese,
Korean, Indian, Philippine, Middle Eastern and Indonesian foods.
Will down-home Southerners set aside fried chicken and
barbecue, albeit temporarily, to experiment with tabbouleh,
enchiladas and pad thai? They already do. Shop owners report
increasing numbers of white bread-reared consumers perusing
Obed Santiago, Puerto Rico-born owner of Tropical Grocery on
Beach Boulevard, said that while most of his customers are
Hispanic, West Indian and Jamaican, he has a growing following
of American-born patrons.
"A lot of them have tried the food at different parties," he
said. "They like the food. It's very tasty. We have a lot of
variety -- all the different rices, beans and jams."
Jacksonville's adventurous cooks are part of a national trend
toward dabbling in (and adapting) some ethnic creations while
completely assimilating other foreign dishes and ingredients
into the American menu.
"A lot more ethnic foods are becoming more mainstream. Ketchup
used to be the No. 1 condiment. Now, it's salsa," said Sherrie
Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute in
Washington, D.C. "Today's consumer's palate has become a lot
more exotic. They're willing to try a lot more foods . . . Meat
loaf and mashed potatoes are still on the menu, but so are
Asian, Mexican, Spanish and Indian."
Grigsby of FCCJ agreed. "People see something, and they want to
try it," he said.
Supermarkets, gourmet grocery stores and speciality gift shops
also are picking up on the trend and now offer more imported
foods. But to get a good sense of the variety of foods
indigenous to a particular cuisine, it's worth a trip to a store
that specializes in the native foods of the country or region.
Many ethnic grocery store owners started their businesses
because they couldn't find products from their homeland. Others
simply wanted to own their own business.
"I decided to do something for my people," said Santiago of
Tropical Grocery, a retired Union Carbide Corp. employee. His
5-year-old store carries tropical produce including chayotes,
cassavas, papayas and green bananas; seafood including octopus
and cuttlefish, and other items such as hot sauce, beans, rice
Hala Cafe & Bakery on University Boulevard West caters to
Jacksonville's large, multi-generational Middle Eastern
community. The combination restaurant/grocery store sells phyllo
dough, pistachio nuts, feta cheese, syrups, pita bread, rose
water, falafel mix, tabbouleh salad mix, gyro mix, fava beans,
caraway seeds and pastries. …