A trip to the grocery store can be an international flight. You can explore the Far East at Hmart in Jericho, the Indian subcontinent at Maharaja Farmers Market in Hicksville, Latin America at Bravo and C-Town supermarkets in Nassau and Suffolk.
Or you can take the Grand Tour at Food Bazaar in Brentwood. Here, in this 50,000-square-foot former Pathmark, you’ll find groceries and produce from all over the world — from China to Colombia, Vietnam to Venezuela — plus all the milk, eggs and paper towels on your weekly shopping list.
The store, opened in June 2016, is the only Long Island outpost of a 24-store chain founded in 1988 by Francis An. Born in Korea, An had lived in Argentina for many years before settling in Queens, where he noted a lack of supermarkets that catered to immigrants. “There were bodegas,” said Suzanne Kuczun, the company’s director of marketing and development,” but no one-stop shops where you could buy dry goods, produce, fresh fish and meat.”
At first, An geared his inventory toward Latin America, but as the chain grew, he tweaked each store for its specific community. “Depending on where we open,” Kuczun said, “we will carry Polish food or Greek food or, in the case of Brentwood, lots of Asian food.”
Kuczun finds that customers fall into two groups: “There are the people who can’t believe they’ve found the exact product they used in their home country, and there are the ‘foodies’ to whom the store is just a culinary adventure.” Everyone appreciates the low prices.
The store’s entrance leads directly into the produce department, where you’ll not only find unparalleled variety but botanical metaphors for world harmony. Among the well-tended vegetables, karela (the distinctively warty Indian bitter melon) reclines next to artichokes; the serrated-leaf Mexican herb culantro takes in the same periodic misting as the Brussels sprouts in the next basket.
Here are blood oranges and fingerling potatoes and local cheese pumpkins, but also nopales (cactus pads) and guavas and baby bananas and lemongrass and a box of 2-foot-long mountain yams (packed in sawdust, no less) all the way from Hokkaido in the north of Japan. Even the produce guy was stumped by a bunch of greens that looked like a cross between dill and broccoli. It turned out to be huauzontle, aka Mexican hairy amaranth.
What to do with all this bounty? Food Bazaar has scores of recipes on its website, but store manager Andy Ma knows that social media plays a vital role. “Before, it was hard to research all these foods,” he said. “Now you just go on to YouTube and see someone cooking with them.”
Once you manage to leave produce, five aisles are devoted to international groceries. Signs tell you whether you’re in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, the West Indies, Central America, China, Japan, Korea or Southeast Asia.
Every country, it seems, has its own brand of garlic paste, chocolate, canned beans. The Peruvian department carries multiple brands of colorful pepper pastes: mellow yellow ají amarillo, garnet aji panca, brick-red rocoto. Bags of tooth-shaped cancha (toasted snacking corn), jars of lima beans that remind you of how they got their name.
Guatemala offers an object lesson in pickles. In addition to jars of mixed vegetables (think Italian giardiniera), there’s cabbage and spicy green mango and izote flower and loroco buds and picaya, the immature frond of a palm that looks like a multi-fingered alien hand.
Asian condiments abound, from Korean gochujang, the spicy red chili paste that has elements of sweetness and fermentation, to Vietnamese fish sauce to Chinese and Japanese soy sauces. There are dried noodles and wrappers of every variety and more instant ramen than you can shake a chopstick at.
You may know the Japanese snack Pocky sticks (skinny cookie wands covered in chocolate) but probably have not made the acquaintance of yakgwa, an ancient ceremonial Korean confection of little flower-shaped cakes made with wheat, rice and sugar. For the very strong: 44-pound sacks of Korean sea salt (a steal at $29.99).
Then there are the products that transcend nationality and must be shelved accordingly. The rice department, for example, features sacks from Madame Gougousse (produced in Thailand and common in Haitian kitchens), Nishiki (grown in California for Japanese cooking), Rhee Chun (from California, for Koreans), Thai Hom Mali jasmine rice, Deer basmati rice (“From the foothills of the Himalayas) and good old American Carolina rice.
One thing Asian and Latin American cultures have in common is an appreciation for nose-to-tail cooking. No noses, but you’ll find frozen whole oxtails and cured pig tails, as well as cow feet and chicken feet. For chicken soup, there are mature, 6-pound fowl ($1.99 a pound) and for mondongo, packages of snow-white honeycomb tripe (a cow’s stomach lining).
You’ll also see more whole fish at Food Bazaar than at most supermarket seafood counters: red snapper ($6.99 a pound), yellowtail snapper ($4.99), bluefish, catfish and whiting ($2.49), porgy and mackerel ($1.99) as well as meaty steaks of blue snapper kingfish, corvina and salmon ($3.99 to $6.99).
The dairy department features Latin American cheeses such as cuajada, queso duro and cotija as well as many brands of crema (a bit thinner but more flavorful than sour cream). You can do all your dairy shopping here, thanks to plenty of yogurt, organic milk and even quail eggs.
In fact, Food Bazaar carries a fine selection of “conventional” goods. Cereal ranges from Grape-Nuts to Cap’n Crunch Sprinkled Donut Crunch. Such old-timey brands as Chef Boyardee and La Choy are reminders that, once upon a time, Italian and Chinese ingredients were considered exotic. But times have changed, and, accordingly, Food Bazaar carries Cento San Marzano tomatoes, Maille Dijon mustard and hard-to-find Chivers Olde English orange marmalade.
Even noncooks will find things to covet at Food Bazaar. The housewares aisle is a great source of kitchenware, from tortilla presses and hand-painted Mexican mugs ($5.39) to modernist Japanese teapots ($8.99). And there’s an unbeatable selection of votive candles featuring saints from Christopher to Francis to Barbara to Martin de Porres.
No matter the country of origin, products here are clearly labeled for the English speaker. Aisles are wide, parking is plentiful, service is friendly. And you can pile your shopping cart to overflowing for a fraction of the cost of a trip around the world.
101 Wicks Rd., Brentwood
Hours: Open every day from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
If you’d like to zero in on one region of the world, here is a selection of global markets on Long Island:
ASIAN (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian)
Hmart: 366 N. Broadway, Jericho, 516-513-5050; 495 Great Neck Rd., Great Neck, 516-482-3113; 400 Hillside Ave., Williston Park, 516-699-0270, hmart.com
H&Y Marketplace: 478 Plainview Rd., Hicksville, 516-935-4041, hanyangmart.com
V & T Supermarket: 12 N. Franklin St., Hempstead, 516-481-1133
Oriental Groceries: 2460 Nesconset Hwy., Stony Brook, 631-689-8787
Philippine’s Best: 56 Woodbury Rd., Hicksville, 516-939-0800
Asian One Best Grocery: 1021 Portion Rd., Ronkonkoma, 631-732-7336, asianonebest.com
New Bakaliko Greek American Grocery Store: 115 Broadway, Hicksville, 516-932-8988
Agora The Little Greek Market: 610 Pike St., Mattituck, 631-315-5070, littlegreekmarket.com
Apna Bazar: 217 Bethpage Rd., Hicksville, 516-931-2045
Maharaja Farmers Market: 1620 Hillside Ave., New Hyde Park, 516- 355-5051; 265 S. Broadway, Hicksville, 516- 822-6061, maharajafarmersmarket.com
Patel Brothers: 415 S. Broadway, Hicksville, 516-681-0091
Eastern Geo Supermarket: 1226 Middle Country Rd., Selden, 631-880-7430
Shin Nippon Do: 63 Mineola Ave., Roslyn Heights, 516-625-1814
Super Jordan: 324 Jackson Ave., Syosset, 516-364-7533
Tavlin: 2828 Merrick Rd., Bellmore, 516-221-9008
Geffen Gourmet: 407 Mill Rd., Hewlett, 516-791-5000
Angora Food Market: 2690 Rte.-112, Medford, 631-289-7008, angora.us
Nazar: 1474 Deer Park Ave., North Babylon, 631-586-2246, nazarrestaurant.com
The Turkish Pistachio: 2026 Rte. 112, Medford, 631-569-5832