La Borincana Foods
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One step into La Borincana will take you to more than 15 countries at once. With foods imported from Barbados to Uruguay, La Borincana delights natives and satisfies epicures with its wall-to-wall variety.
Paying homage to his Puerto Rican roots, owner Enrique Muñiz Jr. derived the store's name from the word boriqua (meaning Puerto Rican) when he opened the business 10 years ago.
The storefront boasts an open-air stand offering fresh fruit and vegetables, including plantains (49 cents a pound on our visit), yucca or cassava root (89 cents a pound), calabaza (89 cents a pound) and African yams from Ghana ($1.49).
The freezers that line the walls inside are filled with prepared frozen foods, including a variety of Goya TV dinners ($3.29). There's a wide selection of beans, both in cans and bags, as well as sauces, syrups and exotic beverages, such as tamarindo soda ($1.59). As you browse the six packed aisles, you'll notice that tiny flags mark the origins of the products, a great timesaver if you already have a culinary destination in mind.
This is certainly a one-stop shop if you're preparing foods from the Caribbean and West Indies, since the store also supplies the necessary cookware, including tortilla makers and pans. There's even a carousel of greeting cards, Spanish-language magazines, newspapers and music. Muñiz was happy to share his plans for creating a bigger meat section in the back room and a restaurant on the second floor.
2127 Fulton Road, Cleveland, (216) 651-2351.
Hours: Mon-Fri 10 a.m. - 7 p.m., Sat 9 a.m. - 7 p.m., Sun 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. M, V
Almadina Imported Foods
With shopping carts and supermarket-sized produce shelves, this spacious Middle Eastern grocer is not too immense and definitely not too small.
The store boasts a full halal meat department (prepared in accordance with Islamic laws) and a service that creates ready-for-pickup party entrees.
Products are mainly imported from Palestine, India and Pakistan. The store sells several kinds of rice, canned and packaged goods, olives, beans and flavorful nuts.
Almadina also offers an extensive takeout selection, which includes such traditional favorites as shish kebabs ($1.50), shwarma or ground beef ($3) and the top-selling Iraqi kebab ($1.50). There's also a wide range of sandwiches, along with meat and vegetable platters.
The stone oven in the bakery makes fresh pita bread and zatar (a bread paste mixed with spices and herbs, such as sesame seeds, oil and sumac) with cheese, among other items.
Cookware is also available, as are hookahs — the Eastern water pipe for smoking — and Middle Eastern coffee cups.
Almadina's clientele is as diverse as the products, with lively conversations readily sparked between customers and storekeepers under bright lights that create a friendly atmosphere.
11550 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, (216) 671-4661.
Hours: daily 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. A, DS, M, V
Kathy's Kolacke & Pastry Shop
From the outside, Kathy's Kolacke looks like it's part of the set for a cowboy movie thanks to the storefront's Western town feel, but step inside and you'll be transported to Eastern Europe.
Selling Polish, Hungarian and Italian sweets and pastries, owner Kathy Schreiner moved to this bigger location on Detroit Avenue last December. Customers can now purchase their snacks and dine at one of the terrace-style glass tables.
The shop is well known for its Polish kolacke: flaky, light pastries with assorted fillings. At Kathy's, they come in four fruit flavors, nut or cream cheese. For a mere 50 cents, customers can have a savory bite of Polish tradition.
Schreiner's secret? The sweetness of her desserts doesn't overpower the details, such as the delicate texture of the pastry.
If you're expecting company, a special party deal of 100 kolackes is available for just under $40.
Schreiner bakes other sugary treats, too, such as lemon bars ($1.50), double-layer carrot cake ($2.25 a slice) and apple-raisin muffins ($1.55), as well as non-sweets that include Italian bread, pepperoni-mozzarella rolls, sausage-and-spinach rolls and biscotti.
The store has a café feel to it and is a great place to grab a snack and catch up on some quiet reading.
24961 Detroit Ave., Westlake, (440) 835-6570.
Hours: Tue-Fri 8 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sat 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. A, DS, M, V
Calabash African Market
Look for a red-brick row of shops trimmed with green awnings and black-and-white, Tudor-style adornments. A sense of childlike curiosity is awakened when you enter Calabash for the first time.
As you stroll the aisles to the beat of festive Ghanaian music, this modest yet well-stocked West African grocery store will tickle your taste for adventure with products such as egushie (dried melon seeds), wentia (a dark-colored soup seasoning) and plantain fufu (a flour used to make traditional dumplings).
A little adrift? Don't worry. Owner Sabina Smith and her niece, Stella Blankson, can give you not only the details of their products, but also how to use them to cook your own delicious African feast.
While it's popular among immigrants from Africa, you can also find native Clevelanders with a hunger for rich stew frequenting the store, which sells goat meat for $3.50 per pound and a variety of other ingredients, including cassava leaves, dried herring and oxtails.
Imported directly from West Africa — mainly from Ghana, from which both Smith and Blankson originally hail — the diversity of products makes this a great place to soak in the colorful culture.
Vibrant African dresses are sold at about $60 apiece and the wall behind the front counter is plastered with CDs of African music for $12 each. Calabash also carries cosmetics and medicinal products, as well as cooking supplies including mortars and pestles.
1918 S. Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, (216) 261-0553.
Hours: Tue-Sat 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sun 2 - 6 p.m. A, M, V
Tink Hall Food Market
Walking the aisles of this spacious store in Asia Plaza is like paging through a culinary encyclopedia of Southeast Asia. From Vietnamese chili sauce to black jelly-preserved duck eggs, this grocery is packed with an extensive array of products from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, among other destinations.
Browsing this place will make you feel like a kid again, akin to the group of ecstatic schoolboys we met who were on a field trip there.
One of the main attractions is the fresh seafood section. Bubbly eyed tilapia ($3.69 per pound) crowd a large tank, while jumbo lobster ($9.50 per pound) sit quietly at the bottom of another sizable tank. The store also sells live frogs ($3.99 a pound), a common delicacy in Chinese cuisine.
The variety of produce is remarkable. Giant cactus-like okra ($1.95 a pound), wrinkly bittermelon ($1.15 a pound) and fuzzy squash (69 cents per pound) are some of the fresh fruits and vegetables carried.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the foreign names? Don't worry. If you look closely, many of the products have English translations written directly on the package.
Recently, Jin Cheng Bakery claimed a corner of the store to set up a table filled with fresh-baked goods common in many Asian countries. The small, snack-sized products, such as sweet pineapple red bean bun (69 cents), bacon-onion bun (69 cents) and a petite sponge cake (60 cents), are delicious and great for a lunchtime snack.
Whether sauces, beverages or noodles, this store stocks a big selection. The refrigerator is filled with beverages and products from all over Asia, including banana-flavored grass-jelly drink from Taiwan (59 cents), a dark coffee called "Fire" from Japan ($1.79) and rice-glue congee from China (99 cents).
Cooking materials are also on hand, from large pots and woks to bowls and cookbooks, as well as Chinese newspapers and magazines.
Take in all the sights, smells and sounds and you'll feel as if you've traveled to Asia and back in half an hour.
2999 Payne Ave., Cleveland, (216) 696-1717.
Hours: daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. DS, M, V