Specialty Grocery Stores

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We have an embarrassment of excellent cuisine choices here in little ol' Berkeley, and if you want to re-create one of those meals at home, just shop at the specialty grocery stores for that hard-to-find spice, where the prices are hard-to-beat.

There's an International District where grocery stores sit side-by-side like a peaceful foodie United Nations: there's the Indian grocery store next to a Middle Eastern market, and there are two competing Mexican markets on the next block flanked by yet another Middle Eastern store. Sprinkled among the stores are restaurants of various nations ranging from Pakistan to El Salvador to Jamaica.

I buy my lentils at the first, high-end olive oil in hefty 3-liter cans at the second, and dried beans & tortillas at the third. Despite their independent Mom-and-Pop shop status, the prices are lower than anywhere else by a long shot, probably because of all the local competition.

The spices that launced the Crusades are all represented: cardamom pods, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon sticks, white pepper, cumin seed, mustard seed. And each market has its own produce section that rival farmers' markets for freshness along with very reasonable prices.

What I particularly enjoy are seeing the imported products for instant kheer (Indian rice pudding) or a British brand of "biscuits" that are de rigeur in these immigrants' home countries. It's world travel right around the block.

Depending on where you live, there might be a large Arab population (shout out to Detroit), or Ethiopian (shout out to D.C.), so look around and see what's in your neck of the woods. Wander through one of these stores sometime and enter a new world. Your wallet will like it, along with your taste buds.

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