These are the ethnic and specialty shops where culinary pros find the ingredients for innovation — and inspiration.
by Catherine Currin
Let’s face it: with all the cooking at home these days, some of us may be growing weary of making the same old recipes. So we asked a dozen culinary pros to share where they get inspiration and fuel for innovation around their own tables. The answer: at specialty retailers in Raleigh and the surrounding area. “The unknown is what sparks interest,” says Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint. “Food is just like travel — we learn the culture, we learn the ingredients.”
“One of the reasons to live in a city of any size is to have access to the unique cultures that people bring from all over,” agrees Sean Umstead, co-owner of Kingfisher. Here in the Triangle, our blend of heritage agriculture, regional cooking and immigrant influences produces a lively culinary scene. Consider venturing to one of these niche food purveyors to spark your next meal at home.
“As a bartender, this is a great place to browse and get inspiration,” says Umstead, who visits Halal grocer Al-Taiba to pick up unique tinctures for his specialty cocktails at Kingfisher. “They’ve got wonderful essences like orange flower water and rosewater.”
1008 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham
Stanbury’s Drew Maykuth heads to this Middle Eastern store, which also carries goods from all over the world, for items like pickles and sumac. “Recently I’ve been picking up Injera, an Ethiopian flatbread, and berbere spice, which I’m not sure where else you could find in the area.”
1019 Method Rd., Raleigh
Bull City Olive Oil
At this specialty shop, “olive oil is treated like wine,” says Umstead. Located in Durham’s Brightleaf Square, the shop offers a spectrum of oils for mixing, finishing or frying.
905 W. Main St., Durham
City Market Produce
Capital Club 16 chef Jake Wolf heads to City Market Produce to stock up on North Carolina-made jams, jellies and chow-chows as toppers and sides for sandwiches and more. “The pops of N.C. ingredients in otherwise very traditional recipes helps make things our own.”
333 Blake St., Raleigh
“Compare is the only place I can find fresh garbanzo beans when I’m making my summer succotash,” says Moore. The Latin-centric market, known for its selection of goods for Caribbean, Central American and South American cooking, is also his source for Jamaican-style spices and Scotch bonnet peppers.
2000 Avondale Dr., Durham
Garland chef Cheetie Kumar heads to Grand Asia, known for its selection of Asian produce and spices, for their meat and seafood counters. “Their selection is surprisingly diverse and their fish section is really fresh,” Kumar says. An unusual find? Black-footed chicken.
1253 Buck Jones Rd., Raleigh
“You could spend the whole day there being fascinated by food,” says Scott Crawford of Crawford & Son and Jolie. He ventures to the Korean supermarket for specialty condiments like fermented pepper paste and kanzuri, “the secret ingredients that build umami.”
1961 High House Rd., Cary
King’s Grocery Store
The King’s off Roxboro Road gives Moore flashbacks from his time working at the Piggly Wiggly in New Bern, he says, so head there for Eastern N.C. staples. “I go in there sometimes just to visit, but also for their homemade North Carolina air-dried sausage. I like to use that when I’m making a chowder or to flavor a rice and beans dish.”
305 E. Club Blvd., Durham
Umstead finds “fantastic” spices and syrups from Lil’ Farm in Person County at the Durham Farmers Market. “They do a ginger harvest each year and produce amazing ginger and turmeric syrups for cooking or making drinks.”
501 Foster St., Durham
Scott Crawford suggests ordering a specialty finishing or drinking vinegars from Lindera Farm in Virginia—they’ll ship right to your door. “They have all kinds of flavors like hibiscus and crab apple and these are great mixed in club soda for a nice mocktail.”
El Mandado Supermaket
Kumar recommends the freshly-pressed tortillas and the cheese and crema counter at this Latin American grocery store in North Raleigh. P.S. There’s a Mexican restaurant inside, if you get hungry while shopping.
2950 E. Millbrook Rd., Raleigh
Kumar and husband Paul Siler are regulars at Patel Brothers in Cary, where they love to purchase unique produce and fresh spices. “Your spices should always be as fresh as your produce!” she says. It’s also a great spot to stock your snack drawer: “Some of my favorites are the Punjabi snack mix, Tandoori peanuts or the mini cocktail samosas that I can just pop in the oven.”
802 E. Chatham St., Cary
Que Huong Oriental Market
This “hole-in-the-wall” Vietnamese market has a little bit of everything, including spices, unusual cuts of meat, snacks and other packaged goods. Maykuth specifically goes there for the bread. “Their awesome bread is meant for Banh Mis, but it’s equally good for Po’ Boys or any other sandwich,” he says.
3312 Capital Blvd., Raleigh
Ronnie Moore’s Produce
Crawford heads to Ronnie Moore’s stand at the State Farmers Market for fresh herbs for his restaurants. “It’s one of the few stands there that carry fresh herbs,” he says. “They have beautiful and fresh sage, thyme, rosemary and basil depending on season.”
1201 Agriculture St., Raleigh
Spice Bazaar carries Indian, Pakistani, Middle Eastern and Halal groceries. Moore heads there for seasonings like sumac and cumin to pack his grilled fish with flavor. “I’ve become good friends with the owner, and sometimes all I want from there is a little potato samosa — it’s the perfect snack,” says Moore.
4125 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham
Delivered right to your door, Sunny Gerhart says he frequently orders from Spicewalla of Asheville for all sorts of unique spice blends as well as basics like black pepper and cumin seeds. “I like to use a lot of spices, and I don’t want them to sit on the shelf forever. You can really tell the difference in the quality.”
La Superior Carniceria
You’ll find Moore at La Superior when he’s planning to cook up fish tacos at the restaurant. “I usually stop by to get a pack of fresh tortillas in the morning. I’ll also substitute hominy from La Superior for my potatoes every now and then.” There’s also a cafe inside, popular for its house-made tacos.
3325 N. Roxboro St., Durham
Maykuth says he loves to snack on the fresh tortillas with lime from this mostly Mexican market off Tryon Road, which offers a range of produce, meats, baked goods and packaged items. But for Maykuth, the “icing on top” of their selection is their chicharron: “I love the super crunchy chicharron carnudo, which is essentially deep-fried pork belly.”
3609 Junction Blvd., Raleigh
Total Oriental Foods
Kumar adores this market for Vietnamese and Thai staples like galangal leaf, lemongrass and lime leaves. (She says there are great prices on coconut milk also.) Note: the sign above the entrance reads Saigon Market, so regulars use the two names interchangeably.
1629 Ronald Dr., Raleigh