Ten excellent ethnic groceries
Colombia. Great at coffee, even better at food: wander down to Mundo Latino to find out just how good. Stocks include a wealth of foods from across South America (you'll also find Brazilian, Chilean and Peruvian foods on the shelves), be it frozen empanada and blood sausage, canned feijoada stew, jalapenos and even powdered pão de queijo – cheese buns that make an excellent starting point for the less confident chefs (you simply add water). Other favourites include more than 20 different flavours of frozen tropical fruit purée, Mate, the Pervian Inca Kola, and guarana-flavoured soft drinks.
Tokyo's Middle Eastern and South Asia establishments seem to have converged on this unlikely back alley near Shin-Okubo Station – Green Nasco sits alongside a mosque and kebab shop, while you'll find half a dozen other similar stores in the immediate area. The shop stocks an excellent range of spices from Pakistan and India, as well as a halal meats such as chicken and mutton (both imported), and beef from Hokkaido.
If Taiwanese cuisine tickles your taste buds, head to Nikko Asia Shokuhin no Shokuzai, a vast emporium spanning several floors. Dabble in the selection of Taiwanese seasonings – including soy sauce and white and red sufu (fermented bean curd) – or pick up dried foods such as snow fungus, chenpi (sun-dried tangerine peel) and noodles. Don't fill your basket up too soon, though: the third floor is home to a range of essential Taiwanese vegetables, including orange daylily, Oriental chives and wild rice. And if that's not adventurous enough for you, it also offers chicken thighs, pigs' trotters, various innards, mandarin rolls, steamed dumplings, frozen dim sum, Chinese tea, mahout (twisted dough fried in peanut oil) and sachem (a type of Chinese pastry).
In case the name wasn't a big enough hint, Thailand stocks a range of essential Thai ingredients, including long coriander, stink beans, herbs, vegetables and various seasonings. As an added bonus, you can finish your shopping with a bowl of noodle soup at the small restaurant on the premises, frequented by Thai locals who come to gossip with the owner.
This fourth-floor superstore stocks a vast selection of Chinese produce, including fruit and veg, fresh fish, frozen foods, seasonings, spirits, dried foods, confectionery and more. Prices are written in Chinese, and most of the clientele seem to hail from the country themselves. Favourites here include the range of shop-made side dishes, such as pigs' trotters and pigs' ears stewed in soy sauce. Yugi Shoten no Shokuzai can be found a short walk from the north exit of Ikebukuro Station.
Iranian cuisine is a comparatively rare sight in Tokyo, but stray down the right Kodenmacho backstreet and you'll stumble across Darvish. Run by a friendly chap known as Uncle Hasan, this shop stocks fragrant rose jam, rose water, dried fruits (including lemons, figs and dates), nuts and various different types of Iranian honey. The owner is so friendly, in fact, that he may even offer to show you how to enjoy a cup of chai, prepared in the traditional Persian style.
Buried among the food shops in the Ameyoko Center Building, this pungent emporium holds pretty much every spice you might ever want or need. It carries a whopping 2,000 different goods in total, including spicy doubanjiang (chili bean paste), tianmianjiang (sweet bean sauce), Sichuan chilli peppers, seasonings, spirits, tofukan (dried tofu) and dried shrimp. You'll also find a range of Thai and Indonesian foods, seasonings and spices.
If it's Thai products you're after, you could do a lot worse than Asia Super Store – and we're talking about more than just food. Stocks include Thai chilli, lemongrass, banana leaves, bai teuy (screwpine leaves), seasonings and confectionery, but also Thai magazines, shampoo, soap, wooden mortars and bowls for making tom yum soup.
Fuji Store specialises in food from one of Southeast Asia's more under-represented countries: Myanmar. Take your pick from popular products including lahpet (a type of fermented tea regarded as a Burmese national delicacy), savoury deep-fried mixed nuts and Myanmar-made tobacco.