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Issue Date: September 2007 Issue

Jungle Boogie

Monica Arjev, Photo of Jungle Jim's International Market
The Drive: Fairfield, Ohio
Miles: 248
Roll out the Barrels:  For an ultimate foreign foodie weekend, visit Cincinnati, or should we say, Zinzinnati, during its annual Oktoberfest, Sept. 22 & 23.
From the front, Jungle Jim’s International Market, just north of Cincinnati in Fairfield, looks bigger than any grocery store in Cleveland. And there is that bridged moat out front. But can a market, even a six-acre food-lover’s paradise, really be worth a four-hour drive?

Cross the threshold of the automated doors and you may be nonplused by the scope of the store. The sushi bar looks fresh and tempting; the 6-foot-tall singing Campbell’s can hovering over a soup aisle is intriguing; the 40-plus item olive bar beside the deli is certainly comprehensive. But when does it all add up to a cook’s nirvana? Just turn the corner past the award-winning restrooms …

Lay your fears to waste, and skip merrily toward the vanishing point at the other end of the store. Why? Entire freezer cases of dim sum-worthy Asian dumplings, topped with a mannequin pulling a rickshaw. A full deli case for just the cheddar cheeses. More than 1,400 hot sauces displayed beneath, appropriately, a fire truck. Fish so fresh, there’s a biopond hatchery with an observation platform in a quiet corner of the building. Separate sections for every nation you can think of — including an animatronic Sherwood Forest at the British section and a Hispanic section named Mercado Gigante that’s as big as some entire stores.

A mini movie theater, retelling Jungle Jim’s story since its 1971 inception as a roadside stand, is the perfect place for a quick respite. Then, head back into the light to browse the second half of the store.

The prices on everything are fair to amazing, and while all six acres were hopping with happy customers, we never felt cramped. The very best part? Plenty of checkout lines. Minutes down the road, you’ll find a variety of lodging. We stayed at the moderately priced Cincinnati North Hotel.

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