Only 10 years ago, a listing of Los Angeles shops specializing in Oriental, Middle Eastern or Latin American food wares would have filled less than a page. Today, waves of immigrants have brought with them products that have changed what we cook and the way that we cook it.
From 1980 to 1985--in Los Angeles County alone--there has been an estimated 11% growth in population among Latino groups and about a 14.7% growth rate among Asiatic and other groups. Couple this ethnic population growth with the increasing popularity of cooking and dining as a social art form among affluent Americans, and you have a cooking scene never before experienced in a single metropolitan area in modern times.
The ethnic markets listed here include only a smattering of those available in Los Angeles. Check the telephone directory for markets in your neighborhood, as well. Most major supermarkets, in fact, are well stocked with ethnic food products. Still, it's more fun to step into an ethnic grocery store filled with the exotica of a foreign land, and exploring the international possibilities at holiday time will yield great gift ideas and inspirations for your own seasonal feast.
To this categorized listing of ethnic shopping places--including Latin American, Oriental, Middle Eastern and Continental food stores--have been added a few general gourmet food stores that carry some ethnic food products.
Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 624-2378. This huge market, made up of stalls, is the mecca for fresh, dried, packaged and precooked Mexican ingredients of every type, at very low prices. Exotic fruits ( sapotes ), vegetables (cacti), fresh fish, meats, (everything including lamb's heads and pig's feet-- patitas de cerdo ), poultry and fresh Mexican cheeses. Fresh and day-old cakes and breads, tortillas and homemade taco shells . The central switchboard number will refer you to individual stalls.
El Mercado, 3425 East 1st St., Los Angeles (Mexican), (213) 268-3451, is another huge market with colorful stalls featuring fresh,packaged and cooked Mexican food products.
Los Cinco Puntos, 3300 Brooklyn Ave., East Los Angeles, (213) 261-4084, is one of the few strongholds of the handmade corn tortilla. Tortillas are sold daily except Wednesday over the counter from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, customers are limited to two dozen per person.
La Spanola, 2020 Lomita Blvd., Lomita (Spanish), (213) 539-0455, is one of the rare outlets for Spanish sausages ( longaniza ), cured hams ( jamon serrano ) and other meats needed for authentic Spanish cooking such as tapas (appetizers).
Liborio, 864 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles (Cuban / Guatemalan / Salvadoran / South American), (213) 386-1458. Fresh, canned and packaged products from Central and South America. Fresh banana leaves, yucca and plaintains ( platanos ). Tamarind paste, carne seca (dry beef), yerba mate (herb tea) from Brazil. Papa s criollas (small yellow potatoes) and papas secas (dried potatoes) from the Amazon. Fresh cheeses from Guatemala ( sacapa ), Salvador ( petacon ), Honduras ( duro blandito ), Nicaragua ( chontaleno ), and a full range of cheese from Mexico.
Rincon Chileno, 4354 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles (Chilean), (213) 666-6075. Congrio , an eel found in Chilean waters, is flown in weekly to supply the adjacent restaurant, but they will take special orders on request. Canned products from Chile include abalone, soft clams, natural palm syrup and papayas in syrup. Try take-out foods such as freshly prepared cushion-shaped breads ( pan amasado ), Chilean corn tamales ( humitas ) as well as typical Chilean desserts.
Catalina's Super Market, 1070 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles (Argentine), (213) 461-2535. Specialty foods such as herb tea , sweet-potato paste, quince, fruitcakes, chocolates, hard apple cider, beers and wines and imported cheeses.
Guatemalan Imports, 2214 West 7th St. Los Angeles (Guatemalan / Central American), (213) 487-4340. Central American food products, including everything needed to make Guatemalan tamales and tostadas. There is also a take-out and a restaurant.
Habana Bakery, 2346 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles (Cuban), (213) 389-3359, specializes in authentic Cuban bread and a variety of pastries such as Cuban galletas , capuchinos , and braso hitano ; Salvadoran semitas , Argentine empanadas and Mexican pan dulce .
Stone Bakery Co., 6700 Crenshaw Blvd. Los Angeles (Caribbean). (213) 753-3847. Jamaican sourdough bread, buns, meat pies and ginger cakes.
Check the Yellow Pages for Oriental grocery stores in your area. Most supermarkets also carry basic Oriental foods.