Walking down Harvard Avenue in Allston, you can pass myriad restaurants from different parts of the globe. Besides these eclectic cheap eats, there are many local stores that are doorways into various international cuisines.
As a foodie, I was excited– but equally daunted– since I was initially not familiar with what to look for in these stores. Sometimes, the language barrier between me, the shopkeepers, and the items, which aren’t always translated in English, can also make the shopping experience inconvenient for newcomers.
Still, I like to get groceries at these stores, especially when I find items that are not available or more expensive at major supermarkets. I find that these places also carry some of my weekly groceries as long as I know what I’m looking for.
If you’re interested in supporting local business and exploring global cuisines, then keep reading for a guide to some of Allston’s diverse international markets.
It’s easy to miss this small store sandwiched between Blanchard’s Liquors and Brighton Music Hall. But this Cambodian-owned store houses a plethora of Southeast Asian and Latino ingredients. Don’t expect to find miso paste, Chinese cooking wine, or Korean pepper flakes here – instead, expect to find Southeast Asian seasonings, toppings, and prepared foods used in stews, soups, and salads. This includes papaya salad dressing, canned bamboo shoots, crispy shallots, and a lot of curry pastes. Their produce section carries fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, and basil at a much cheaper price than your local supermarket.
Additionally, they seem to have every Goya product imaginable, from manteca (lard) to bottled sofrito (aromatic cooking bases). They also have a wall dedicated to Latino spices, including annatto, coriander seeds, and dried chiles.
While they might not have the best meat section, their frozen-foods section is an exciting territory to step into. One of my best finds was the Cambodian sausages, which are seasoned heavily with lemongrass, galangal, and chilis. They have a $10 card minimum, but you can find it easy to reach that with all these finds.
Bazaar on Cambridge
Bazaar’s brick exterior is brightly painted with produce, dairy, and other food items, which matches its interior. The Eastern European supermarket on Cambridge Street has one of the best produce sections I have encountered in the area — beating supermarket chains by a longshot. Every time I enter, I am greeted with wooden crates and shelves brimming with fresh seasonal and affordable fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Nuts and dried fruit are also available at a decent price.
Being an Eastern European store, Bazaar has many exciting foreign products to try. If you’re pescatarian, you’re in luck. Smelts, salmon, and more can be found canned, smoked, and pickled. Meanwhile, they have a robust deli section with many local and European smoked and cured meats and sausages. I highly recommend checking out their dairy section, which has several brands of labne and kefir (fermented dairy). Yet you can still find most pantry staples like flour, eggs, bread, and more. You can end your trip to Bazaar by passing its hot food section that sells blintzes (stuffed thin crepes), kotletkis (Russian meat patties), and more baked goods.
Often, I find the meat section at most supermarkets in Allston lacking. Vittoria Market is one of the few butcheries in the area that has a wide selection of meats, including various cuts of chicken, pork, and beef. My best find at this Brazilian butchery is actually their seasoned sausages, which can be garlicky or spicy. Despite the language barrier with their butchers, there is a helpful Portuguese translation guide for different cuts of meat above the meat section.
Besides a great selection of meat, they also have Brazilian produce, like plantains, yuca, and aloe. Their freezer section also includes ready-made foods such as frozen pupusas (cornmeal-stuffed breads), and açai mixes. Lastly, there are multiple brands of Brazilian cookies, cakes, and chips that fill their aisles.
Cheema Supermarket is another nearby butchery, known for their clean, fresh, and affordable Halal meats and South Asian products. Like most Halal butcheries, they accept orders for pickup at least 30 minutes in advance. Their freezer section also contains prepared meals like kabobs and Halal chicken nuggets.
Apart from Halal meat, Cheema Supermarket houses an abundant collection of Shan spice boxes. This South Asian household brand has seasoning mixes for almost every regional dish and some Southeast Asian dishes. Take caution when buying a box since the spice level can occasionally be too much, even for people who grew up with the brand. They also carry a good amount of snacks like Halal gummy candies and Punjabi cookies, which could be eaten along with the different types and brands of teas they sell. More so, as someone who is not South Asian, I appreciated how Cheema, the store owner, can be very accommodating in answering any questions about their products.
I learned about Mayfair Foods when some of my Latino friends recommended it to me. The store specializes in South American products, especially those used in Argentinian and Peruvian cuisines. The store owner’s son Moises highly suggests going through the salsas and seasonings that are essential for Peruvian cuisine, like aji de gallina, a chicken garlic stew, and carapulcra, a spicy peanut/pork stew. Mayfair Foods’ has a notable assortment of dried chiles from guajillos to anchos.
Although their produce and meat sections are a bit lacking, they carry an assortment of grains, including different forms of corn. But what makes this store stand out from other Latino markets is its coffee and yerba maté selection, along with the equipment to brew them. My best find here is the cafeteria, an espresso percolator, which comes in all sizes.
When it comes to food, Allston has a lot more to offer than delicious and affordable hole-in-the-wall restaurants. There are several locally-owned markets that offer a chance to explore diverse cultures through food. Also, supporting local businesses and forming relationships with the store owners can bring communities together through food.