Hana Market onigiri
Hana Market onigiri Credit: Laura Hayes

Many local residents are using their time at home to experiment in the kitchen, but they also might be missing the diversity of the region’s restaurant scene. International supermarkets can help bridge the gap. If you want to replicate your favorite Korean recipes or experiment with Peruvian cooking, these stores are your best friend. 

They even make it possible for some Washingtonians to reconnect with their roots, including Arthur Tanwangco, a restaurant industry veteran and owner of Five Pups Doggy Daycare. “I’m Filipino, so going to international markets gets me closer to home through the ingredients,” he says. “My husband and me, we’re huge foodies, and going to different markets has become our thing. We try to recreate world cuisines as close to authentic as possible.”

Priya Konings, a food writer and immigration lawyer who lives in Maryland, loves checking out the frozen food section at H Mart in Wheaton. “At regular grocery stores, you get frozen pizza,” she says. “At H Mart, I get dumplings, Korean pancakes, steamed buns, spring rolls, tteokbokki, and so many more flavorful items that are great for snacks and meals.” 

And while big box and chain retailers in the region have long lines and sparse shelves, most local international supermarkets in the D.C. metro area hardly have any wait and are generally well-stocked. They too must follow the safety measures that D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have put in place to protect shoppers and workers.

Visit Good Fortune Supermarket, an Asian grocer in Eden Center, for example, and you’ll see an employee disinfecting carts and providing plastic gloves for shoppers. At Panam International, a Latin grocery store on 14th Street NW, cashiers are protected behind a full covering of plexiglass. 

Some shoppers wonder if the unfortunate and unsubstantiated bias against Asian cultures during the pandemic is leading to better-stocked shelves at Asian supermarkets. 

“A friend mentioned how she had gone to an Asian market because she thought they would be stocked with many of the items that mainstream grocery stores had already run out of, like meats, milk, eggs, and toilet tissue,” saysAshlee Tuck, founder of the blog Will Drink For Travel. “I found her theory to be true.”

That xenophobia started in the early stages of the pandemic, causing many Chinatowns and Asian-owned food businesses throughout the United States to witness a drop in sales or close. WAMU reported on Eden Center’s struggles last week, citing xenophobia as a contributing factor. Getting back into Asian and other immigrant-owned supermarkets can help not only ignite the appreciation of international cuisine but provide a deeper cultural understanding. 

Consider these five international markets in the D.C. area before making your next shopping trip: 

Good Fortune Supermarket6751 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church

Located at Eden Center, Good Fortune Supermarket is a large grocery store with a sprawling produce department. From spiky durian to a variety of root vegetables that are a staple of many Asian, Latino, and African dishes, you will leave with plenty of cooking inspiration. If you don’t know what to do with taro, lotus root, or daikon radish consider picking up a hot pot kit sold near the registers. Take time to consider all of the different varieties of rice, too. If you don’t want to experiment with home cooking, they also have a whole aisle dedicated to instant noodles. 

H MartVarious locations

H Mart is a Korean-owned chain of supermarkets with more than 10 locations in Maryland and Virginia combined. Although H Mart is known for its expertly butchered beef and Korean specialties, most H Marts also have a comprehensive selection of Latino products. If your cooking goals for the week are tacos AND a kimchi stew, H Mart is a one-stop shop. The snack aisle is particularly fun: You can stock up on a variety of cookies and crackers you’ve never tried before for $2 or less per bag. 

Panam International3552 14th St. NW

Panam International Grocery store has a Latinx focus. Do not let the small size fool you—the supermarket has an in-house butcher cutting meat in front of shoppers and there’s an extensive selection of Peruvian condiments and a wide choice of Central American cheeses. Are you experimenting with new cocktails at home? Panam usually sells five limes for only $1. You can also stock up on Jarritos, the addictive Mexican fruit sodas with tropical flavors such as tamarind, guava, and passion fruit. They make great cocktail mixers.

Hana Market2000 17th St. NW

With its rows of colorful snacks, boxes of instant brown curry, wide array of noodles, and small selection of speciality produce like shiso leaves and lotus root, this tightly packed Japanese market off U Street NW is a favorite of Japanese expats and Japanophiles. During the COVID-19 crisis, they’ve still been setting out onigiri (rice balls) and the occasional bento box if you’re looking for something to eat straight away. Before checking out, peruse the selection of Japanese sweets and fizzy drinks in the refrigerated case closest to the register. 

Aditi Spice Depot409 Maple Ave. E, Vienna and 600 Carlisle Drive, Herndon

For those who have been holding off on making Indian and Middle Eastern dishes at home because they require spices typically absent from the shelves at Giant, try scoring them at a specialty store. Aditi Spice Depot in Vienna is a small shop packed wall-to-wall with spices. If you don’t want to cook from scratch, the frozen and prepared food section has an array of classic dishes. As an added bonus, they have plenty of flour, including millet flour, should you want to try to make a dosa at home.