World Cuisine Jacksonville's Ethnic Food Stores Are a Bit of Home to Some and an Exotic Shopping Place to Others

By Crownover, Catherine | The Florida Times Union, November 14, 1996 | Go to article overview

World Cuisine Jacksonville's Ethnic Food Stores Are a Bit of Home to Some and an Exotic Shopping Place to Others


Crownover, Catherine, The Florida Times Union


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

Culinary Arts.

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

and variety.

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

their shelves.

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

and seasonings.

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. …

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