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Monday, February 06, 2023

Gainesville Asian markets give customers a ‘taste of home’

Four Asian markets provide a place the Asian community can rely on for staple groceries

<p>The Enson Market, an international grocery store, sits at University Towne Center in Gainesville Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022.  </p>

The Enson Market, an international grocery store, sits at University Towne Center in Gainesville Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. 

For Gainesville residents who want to make tteokbokki, pancit, biryani or huǒguō, ingredients can be hard to find. Asian markets provide what several common U.S. grocery chains can’t: authentic flavor and, for many, comfort food.

Some may be looking to break out of their comfort zone with Asian snacks. Others may want to reminisce on a childhood favorite with a home-cooked meal. With these four favorites to choose from — Tahanan Filipino Bistro & Shop, Chun Ching Market, Enson Market and India Bazaar — fresh ingredients and groceries aren’t far from reach in Gainesville.

Tahanan Filipino Bistro & Shop

Bang Dimattac Carugda, 44, was a nurse at UF Health Shands Hospital since 2006. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, she and her husband took a leap of faith and bought SM Oriental Food Mart, the local Filipino grocery store.

Carugda renamed the store Tahanan, which means “home” in Filipino. She wanted Gainesville’s Filipino community to get a taste of home, she said, through the groceries and ingredients in her store, located at 4000 W. Newberry Road.

“That's actually one of the best things that I've experienced,” Carugda said. “Clients who have been here in and out [were] looking for stuff, and they were able to find it here.”

Before the grocery store was built in 2004, the Gainesville Filipino community had to travel to Jacksonville or Orlando to get groceries for home cooking, Carugda said.

Tahanan carries Filipino home necessities, such as packets of pancit noodles, traditional fried noodles; pandan leaf extract, a common condiment; and bagoóng, a fermented fish condiment. Another section of the store is reserved for snacks like lychee jelly, dried mango and tamarind candy, as well as various flavors of bottled tea.

On Fridays and Saturdays, Carugda and her husband have a bistro where they cook and serve Filipino cuisine to go. Customers can enjoy freshly cooked adobo, pancit and Lumpiang Shanghai, among other staples.

Carugda’s biggest mission for Tahanan is making it a place where the Filipino community can get many of the ingredients they need to prepare their favorite dishes, she said.

“We wanted them to actually get the same items that they usually get,” she said. “I would say not 100% but at least 50-60% of what they like from the Philippines will be bought from us.”

Chun Ching Market

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Located at 418 NW 8th Ave., Chun Ching Market is farther away from UF campus than most grocery stores UF students shop at. Owner Thu Win, 45, calls the market a “hidden gem” for many Gainesville residents.

Chun Ching Market has a nearly 30-year history in Gainesville, being managed by four previous owners before Win and her husband Ye Oo. The couple bought the market from its previous owners in 2018.

The store has an assortment of goods from China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. Colorful displays of snacks line the shelves and frozen dumplings, tofu and rice cakes can be found in the freezer aisles. Necessities such as fresh meat, spices and produce are also available.

Kay Lee, 49, has been shopping at Chun Ching Market for about three years. Lee, who is originally from South Korea, said she appreciates the Korean ingredients and spices that can be found at the market — particularly the red chili pepper flakes, a staple in Korean cuisine.

“They have everything here,” Lee said.

To staff the grocers and cashiers, Win said she looked to the community and customers who visited the store.

“We have a great team here, and we are all very close,” Win said.

Tyler Walsh, a 20-year-old UF business junior, visited Chun Ching Market for the first time Friday. Walsh said he was interested in trying different Korean recipes, such as tteokbokki, a spicy rice cake dish. 

“Recently, there has been a lot of interest in Asian culture from people that aren't a part of that community,” Walsh said. “Having these markets allows people to have access to these different types of cuisines and the different cultures that are here in Gainesville.”

Enson Market

Enson Market — an Asian supermarket chain with several locations dotted across the U.S. — opened at 3035 SW 34th St. over the summer. 

Business was slow during the first few weeks but scaled up once students started moving back into Gainesville for the Fall semester, said Ben He, a 23-year-old department manager.

“The size of this market is much bigger than the others, which will give us the opportunity to get fresher stuff,” he said.

The massive store shelves all their products by category, including a vast array of household basics. Shoppers browsing the aisles can pick up mirin, gochujang paste, dumpling rice paper and other necessities while soft jingles play in the background.

Some of the most popular products among students who visit the store are the large assortment of snacks from different parts of Asia, He said. These include shrimp crackers, panda-shaped biscuits and unique flavors of potato chips like seaweed, crayfish and wasabi.

Shopper Yuting Zhou, a 32-year-old Gainesville resident, said she was happy Enson Market had items people typically can’t buy in American grocery chains, like frozen dumplings.

Zhou comes to the market frequently to do her regular grocery shopping, so she can cook dishes from her hometown in China.

“It’s just a convenience for Asian people because they got specific food I can get here,” Zhou said. “It’s the primary reason that I choose to shop here.” 

India Bazaar

As customers enter through the door, smells of spices and fresh produce greet them while upbeat Bollywood music fills their ears.

India Bazaar is an Indian grocery store located at 3550 SW 34th St., along a strip mall plaza. The store is divided into two sections: “Food Market,” the main grocery store, and “Halal Meat and Fish Market,” which sells all certified halal meat — the only type of meat Muslims can consume. 

Halal meat is meat from livestock that has been blessed under Islam and killed ethically. It doesn’t include pork.

The Food Market has items like daal, masala, roti and other condiments commonly used in Indian and south Asian cuisine. It also has some common Indian hair care products, such as coconut hair oil and tubes of henna.

Betty Chafla, a 29-year-old Gainesville resident, said she shops at India Bazaar when she wants to pick up frozen meals or snacks. Chafla said the store’s location is one of the strongest reasons to visit.

“They have a really big variety, and they're near a bubble tea and a restaurant right there,” Chafla said. “So, they're located near other things where it's easy to stop when I am here.”

The India Bazaar team founded the grocery store in 2001 and have slowly expanded the store’s size over the course of several years. They never spent any money on advertising. Customers were drawn to them because they stayed true to their roots, they said. 

The team at India Bazaar also operates two restaurants within the same plaza — Indian Cuisine and Indian Street Food — making the plaza a hub for Gainesville residents to get a real taste of Indian food and culture.

Saurav Saha, 34, and Aishiki Banerjee, 34, said they moved to Gainesville from India last week. They said they were very satisfied that India Bazaar contained most of the common groceries they would buy in India. 

“It’s kind of like an SOS service for us,” Banerjee said. “Getting home-cooked food is very difficult out here, and if we get the grocery stuff we can manage it ourselves.”

The store is also a comforting reminder of India, they said. 

“It felt like a taste of home,” Saha said.

Contact Erina at Follow her on Twitter @ErinaAnwar_ .

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Erina Anwar

Erina is a second-year journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and is excited to discover new stories in Gainesville. When she’s not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.

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