I recently shopped at the AZ International Marketplace on the second day of its grand opening weekend.
First, the particulars.
According to the AZ International Marketplace Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AZInternationalMarketplace/info/?tab=overview), the store is comprised of
100,000 Square Feet of Groceries and General Merchandise from all over the world…Hundreds of thousand of products can be found in this marketplace.
It’s located at 1920 W Broadway Road in Mesa, Arizona, and is open 9am to 9pm every day.
I went with a friend and we walked down every aisle in the store.
Most of the packaged food seems to be Asian. A lot of the Asian food is highly processed, snacky food. We saw a lot of crackers, chips, cookies, and candy. In addition to the junk food, we also saw a lot of dry noodles and rice, as well as spices and sauces and oils.
In the middle of the marketplace is a large meat department. If there is a part of a cow or pig you’ve always wanted to cook and eat, you can probably find it in that meat department. My friend is a vegetarian, and I don’t buy and cook raw meat, so we didn’t stay in the meat department long or even look at all the items available. However, I did see cow lips for sale for the first time in my life. There were only a few cow lips left, so maybe they are popular in some dish I don’t know. Next time I have access to pay TV, I hope to see an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern in which cooking with cow lips is explored.
Just past the large meat department is a large produce department. In addition to many fruits and vegetables I am accustomed to seeing in supermarkets (red peppers, yellow peppers, green peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes), I also saw huge jackfruits, tiny bananas, and bundles of cinnamon sticks which looked like doll-sized bundles of firewood and smelled delicious.
A small part of the store (a back corner really) was dedicated to prepackaged food from Africa. (Reminded me of the time I rode the It’s a Small World ride at Disney World and the entire continent of Africa was represented by three brown children and a pink elephant.) In addition to several brands and varieties of red palm oil, we also saw Mama’s Choice plantain fufu mix, bags of cassava starch, and Tropiway brand fufu flour in both cocoyam and plantain flavors.
The marketplace also boasts a rather large section of food from East India. Unfortunately, by the time we made it to those aisles, I was in overload and didn’t get any photos of interesting East Indian packaging. We saw huge bags of spices, prepared vegetarian entrées at the good price of $1.69 per serving (I resisted loading my cart with them), cans of gulab jamun (delicious dough balls soaked in sweet syrup), and jars of ghee. I was most interested in the ghee, which looked a lot like the ghee I recently made: solid and pale yellow as opposed to the translucent liquid I was expecting. Maybe my ghee wasn’t a disaster after all.
Ok, obviously, that’s a mushroom. The can is even labeled granulated mushroom bouillon. But I’ll be damned if that doesn’t look like a walking penis. Do people in other countries not see that and think PENIS? Maybe Americans (or maybe it’s just me and my friend) have very immature senses of humor.
One of my favorite packages showed these kids carrying a giant peach. I don’t know what kids in rompers or a giant peach have to do with the dried noodles in the package, but I like the illustration a lot.
One of the most impressive parts of the store (at least to me) was the cooler containing tofu. I didn’t count the varieties, and I (stupidly) didn’t take a photo, but there must have been 15 to 20 kinds of tofu in the cold case. Some of the tofu had been pre-fried, and there were an assortment of brands. It’s the most tofu I’ve seen in the same place at the same time.
Maybe because I’m an anthropologist at heart, I’m fascinated by products that seem completely normal in one culture, while closely resembling torture devices in another. Case in point: the ear pick. American culture says it’s dangerous to stick cotton swabs in the ears. Another culture says it’s ok to shove wooden sticks with scoops on the end into the ears.
In addition to aisle upon aisle of “international” food, at least one-third of the store was dedicated to American (as in U.S.A.) or at least North American food. We saw Eggo waffles and Aunt Jemima. We saw Oreo cookies and canned vegetables. I was surprised the store carries food available at any supermarket in the valley, but I guess they want the place to be a one stop shop.
I was most surprised to see that food from Louisiana is apparently exotic enough to have its own sections. Louisiana food perhaps seems less exotic to me because I grew up in Louisiana. But I was not expecting to see an endcap dedicated to Cafe du Monde coffee and chicory. I was also not expecting to see three sizes (including gallon jugs) of Louisiana brand crawfish, shrimp, and crab boil. Where’s the Zatarain’s? my friend asked. Unfortunately, it looked like Louisiana brand had a monopoly on the Louisiana products. There were all sorts of Louisiana brand products available for purchase.
To round out the food selection, the marketplace sells a variety of housewares (throw blankets, bowls, cooking utensils), cleaning supplies, and electrical appliances (rice cookers, teapots). Shoppers can also buy incense, joss paper (also known as ghost or spirit money), and other paper items to burn as offerings to ancestors.
While a did find some bargains at the AZ International Marketplace (on Huy Fong sriracha Sauce, children’s toothbrushes to fit in my little mouth, and sport sunscreen that’s not supposed to run into my eyes), I certainly did not find everything in the store to be inexpensive. Since I hadn’t been shopping at other international markets, I don’t know how the prices at the AZ International Marketplace compare to similar markets in the valley, or if any of the other international markets in the valley can be considered similar to this one. If I lived in the area, I would probably go back and compare prices on items I’ve been buying at other stores, and I would probably take advantage of the good deals in the produce section. I would also probably do some experimenting with all those varieties of tofu. I would not use this store as a one-stop shop or my go-to market. But walking around it did make for a fun afternoon.
I took all of the photos in this post.