When Zakariae El-Amerany and three of his peers worked at a local Middle Eastern market, they decided they had the skills and experience to open a small grocery store of their own. Peace Market, 923 45th Ave NE, Hilltop, primarily stocks foods from the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, and Ecuador.
Originally from Morocco, El-Amerany was inspired to provide his community access to foods and give customers a chance to buy products that they could not only use to make foods from their culture and home countries, but also provide a reminiscence of home.
“You are far from your family and country,” said El-Amerany. “It is a good way to connect to the community. Community will say ‘This reminds me of my country, and I have not had this in 30 years.’ You see the happiness in their faces. This is very important. You feel at home.”
Mostly along the Central Avenue Northeast corridor spanning Minneapolis, Hilltop, and Columbia Heights, there is a variety of small grocers whose foods concentrate on the diverse ethnicity and culture that encompasses the Twin Cities. I visited 11 of these stores and explored various items that made each store different. Here is a list of grocers and the unique items you may find when you visit and shop:
A staple in Northeast, this deli and meat shop is mesmerizing. The bratwurst and kielbasa selection alone make choosing difficult. The bakery choices like sea salt halva, pastries, and cream puffs make decisions even tougher. The deli also bakes breads and has an immaculate mustard section as well as something they are known for, “horseradish with beets.” The Kramarczuk family even has their own book with their family recipes up for purchase at this Eastern European deli. 215 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis.
Upon entering Little India, the first thing you notice is the large inventory. You can buy different teas, spices, baked goods and even a suitcase if you are dabbling with travel now that we are moving back to normalcy. The store has a fresh meats area, South Asian-inspired desserts beautifully laid out in a showcase, as well as fresh samosas baked daily. You can find just about any naan or roti here and with a fry pan, can quickly heat up this well-known side bread. 1835 Central Ave. NE Minneapolis.
This small market houses a large selection of dried spices and foods ranging from dried chiles, to Pasta De Harina (Wheat Pellets) to Piloncillo Mediano (Medium Cane Sugar). The grocery store also has a small, but robust fresh produce section, as well as meats, and varying types of tortillas. The store carries a variety of imported hair and hygiene products. 2312 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis.
If you are looking for a variety of animal hearts, tongues, livers, stomachs, and kidneys to cook with, this is your place. The store has a well-organized meat section that sells a variety of animal parts including goats, cow, chicken, and lamb. The grocery store and restaurant boast a variety of goods that caters to many different Middle Eastern cultures including Syrian, Egyptian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Afghani, Iranian, and others. The baked goods section has a variety of breads, and sweets built for any palate. The frozen section showcases a variety of hard-to-find fish like the Zubaidi fish, a species of butterfish that lives in the coastal waters of the Middle East. The cheese section was also immaculate and if you did not know beef bacon existed, you do now, and can certainly find it here. 2513 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis.
A small market alongside a car repair shop, Luis “Alfonso” Quizhpi and family run this small, quaint, but stocked Ecuadorian business. Opened 16 years ago, the store displays an immaculate drink section with everything from multiple Jarritos flavors to aloe vera water. The store sells a variety of frozen goods, including tamales, but also fresh aloe, fresh bread, and fresh corn patties daily that the staff will heat up on-site. It was delicious. 2801 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis.
Supermercado Loma Bonito
Dong Yang Oriental Food
Sharing a parking lot with Supermercado Loma Bonito, Dong Yang from the outside looks like a small cozy little market. Upon entering, you experience not only multiple aisles of products handwritten and labeled in Korean, but a deli at the back of the market where you can order fresh-cooked Korean meals to go. With a vast selection of kimchi, frozen foods, fresh produce, tableware, and Asian-inspired hygiene products, this grocer has the food and fare that will make anyone feel like they are anywhere but here for a moment. 725 45th Ave. NE, Hilltop – Central Plaza.
Located in a strip mall on Central Ave NE, this market also functions as a UPS access point. This small store showcases produce as well as staples like pickled pork skins and carries a variety of dried goods including shrimp and spices. 4110 Central Ave. NE, #208B, Columbia Heights.
Mentioned earlier, Zakariae El-Amerany and three other partners started this Halal grocery store after leaving another local market. The store opened its doors in October 2019 and carries a variety of foods that serve a variety of Middle Eastern and South American cultures. Kubba, a bread that is flat, rolled out and stuffed with meats or chicken, is a popular item here as well as seasonal fruits such as sour plums that you can find for only two weeks of the year, imported from overseas. Here, you can find tagines and other cooking wares that can assist with cooking a meal authentically. 923 45th Ave. NE, Hilltop.
The first scene that struck me upon walking into this well-organized grocery store, is the immaculate mango display as soon as the sliding glass doors open. This particular store reminded me of my own upbringing as I stared down the aisles in awe of the vast selection of beans, flour, rice, spices, teas, cooking wares, bulk nuts, bulk spicy snack mixes, and the beautiful produce section. Don’t forget to grab a fresh-baked samosa or a bag of masala-flavored potato chips on your way out, along with some of the many biscuits the store houses. 4864 Central Ave. NE, Hilltop.
NE Halal Market & Deli
This grocery may look small but sells unique products like camel milk. If you needed a spot where a particular product truly made you feel like you were at home that was normally inaccessible, this would be the place to find it. The store has a wide variety of meat, frozen foods, flour, spices, canned hummus, beauty products, and a display of purchasable hijabs. The pickled items here are vast, shelves full of different vegetables including pickled turnips. 4811 Central Ave. NE, Hilltop.
Jerusalem Halal Market
Here you can find camel meat, sheep tongue and brain, oxtails and other items that make many dishes flavorful, and reminiscent of home. The store carries fresh pita bread, a variety of pickled items, soaps, and other hygiene products. 4945 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Heights.
Grocery store inclusivity
After completing my journey through these grocers, I had a better understanding of why these venues and opportunities for different cultures harbor deep importance. The stores are safe, judgment-free, welcoming spaces that provide the familiarity that patrons can identify with and shop at ease. The foods that may seem “exotic” and different (whether or not appealing, once tried) to someone born and raised in the United States, are a normal drink or meal for immigrant community members living here.
In late December 2020, supermarket chain Giant (East Coast), highlighted products on their shelves not only representative of products produced by women, but by businesses owned by people of color. Highlighting the products from some of these smaller retailers promoted diversity and reflected the customers and the experiences in their communities.
For those curious about cultures or wanting to take steps toward equity, my advice: don’t wait for larger stores to adopt these products; go directly to these local stores for a rich introduction to the various cultures that contribute to our distinct world.
Below: Bakery at Little India Grocery, pickled pork skins at Cuernavaca. Pooja Groceries’ vast selection of rice, beans and flour. Part owner Zakariae El-Amerany at Peace Market and owner Luis “Alfonso” Quizhpi at Mirasol Express. Supermercado Loma Bonito. (Photos by Marla Khan-Schwartz)