Why you should shop at global grocery stores

I have been pondering a lot lately what it means to be Southern when it comes to food. The definition used to be simple. Fried chicken and catfish, long-stewed vegetables, cornbread and sausage gravy. It’s the only place in the country where macaroni and cheese is considered a vegetable.

But Nashville has expanded it’s culinary horizons and immigrants from all lands are helping redefine Southern food as an expression of love and hospitality. Global restaurateurs from across the world invite us to their establishments and are eager for us to try their cuisines. And slowly those cuisines become a part of our shared fabric. And in the end breaking bread at the communal table is what brings us together, whether that bread is a biscuit or naan.

The produce section at India Bazaar in Cool Springs

Which brings me to ethnic markets and grocery stores. Here are five reasons you should take one or three for a test drive.

  1. The produce is better and cheaper. Many global cuisines are vegetable and fruit based so it stands to reason that consumers demand freshness and variety. Walk into Patel Brothers Market on Nolensville Road and rows of beautiful produce greet you at the door. The vegetables at InterAsian Market just down the road are simply stunning. And India Bazaar in Cool Springs is always a good choice.
  2. Spices, spices, spices. You pay $5 for a jar of (name your spice of choice) at the grocery. You can get more of it for less money at ethnic grocery stores. They have all the greatest hits you’re used to plus some spices and spice blends you need to try. Sumac, a lemony Middle Eastern spice, is a go-to at my house as is the blend za’atar, a mix of ground dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, or some combination thereof, mixed with toasted sesame seeds, salt and sumac. So delicious on roasted carrots or cauliflower. Put what you need of any bulk spice in a jar for your pantry and freeze the rest for later use.
  3. Halal meat. Worried about the source of your protein and the care under which it was raised and butchered? A lot of people are these days. At many markets (and you’ll usually see the word “halal” which means permissible on the storefront) all they sell is halal meat. It means this: The animal must have been healthy at slaughter, the end must have been humane and the animal must have been fed a natural diet. The butcher case at the Kurdish Azadi International Food Market on Nolensville Road is a thing of beauty. Bonus points for the freshly baked breads you can get there every day direct from their onsite bakery.
  4.  Sweets. Can we just talk Mexican pastries for a moment? From conchas, a sweet bread roll found in every color of the rainbow and sometimes filled with custard, to Cuernos which are horn-shaped danishes filled with cream, you cannot go wrong. La Hacienda Market and Bakery, which is next to the iconic Mexican restaurant, features row upon row of beautiful pastries. And the fun of it is you get a tray and tongs and just go up and down the rows selecting treats to your heart’s content. Los Primos in Franklin has a similar set up.
  5. Learn something new. Many of my pantry staples were once exotic to me. I routinely use tahini and pomegranate molasses from the Azadi Market and an array of chile sauces from K & S World Market. Labneh, a Middle Eastern version of sour cream that is smoother and thicker, is always in my refrigerator (add some to mashed potatoes — magical).

A huge assortment of pastries at Los Primos in Franklin

What is it to be Southern? Who knows anymore. Everyone is from the south of somewhere.

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