Soba noodles, pomegranate molasses, halal meat and fresh-baked pita used to be a lot harder to find in Austin.
In recent decades, especially with tech booms in the 1990s and 2000s, Central Texas’ vastly diverse Asian and Middle Eastern populations have grown to more than 100,000 people, according to the 2010 census. City demographers have said that within the Asian population, Indian and Vietnamese residents form the largest groups, but international markets around the city cater to people who were born, raised, lived in countries near and far — or are just curious about those places. (See sidebar about Austin’s thriving Mexican meat markets.)
Back in 1967, Sally Matsumae’s grandmother, Shigeko Burnie, opened what was likely Austin’s first international market that sold items, including foods, that were nearly impossible to find outside cities with larger immigrant populations, such as Houston or Los Angeles.
The store started selling out mostly gifts after Burnie and her husband, a serviceman from Michigan who had been stationed in Okinawa, moved to Austin to be near Bergstrom Air Force Base.
“They would travel to Houston to get some things; there wasn’t anywhere to get it here,” Matsumae says. Her grandmother met an importer and started ordering some goods and placing orders for friends.
The store opened as Shigeko’s Imports in the same retail center that now houses the Tigress Pub. Burnie would import products from all over the world. Customers “would request something, and she’d hunt it down,” she says.
Matsumae’s dad took over the store in the 1980s. He decided to focus on only Japanese products and changed the name. Eleven years ago, they moved the store to Burnet Road.
After graduating from UT, the Austin native says she realized that she did want to take over the family business. Now, she oversees and ever-changing inventory at Asahi Imports that now includes more fresh ramen noodles than ever — to accommodate for the increased demand — as well as high-grade fish for at-home sushi chefs. Customers are also seeking out macrobiotic and fermented foods, such as natto.
Syed Ali moved to Central Texas about three years ago after working as a police officer in London. Even though he’d never worked in food, he says he wanted to do something different, so he opened a grocery store and meat market called Quality Halal Market.
The store has already evolved. Ali, who has had relatives living in Central Texas for more than 40 years, added variety to the inventory, buying molokhia leaves, Indian yams and halal bacon. He carries frozen foods, including prepared meals, naan and other breads like paratha and pooris, as well as fresh produce and staples like milk and eggs that people might not want to get at the H-E-B across the street.
People come from Killeen, Temple and Corpus Christi to buy goat liver and kidney or chicken, some of his best sellers.
“I didn’t open my store to become rich. I opened it to provide for my community a place where they can gather and talk and buy what they need,” Ali says.
It’s a similar story near the Austin-Pflugerville city limits, where Sadiq Islam has operated Shahi Foods for 11 years. Every few years, his business expands, and now he’s taken over all of the other spaces in the building at North Lamar Boulevard and Parmer Lane. On one end is a halal meat counter; at the other is a newly opened sit-down cafe.
Now, the walls that once separated the tenants are gone. The shelves are filled with canned goods, snacks, sauces, oils, vinegars and countless other products from dozens of countries, from Pakistan to Poland. Islam has lived in Central Texas since 1982, running convenience stores for much of that time, and he says he’s amazed at all the new-to-Austin faces he sees in the store.
Both Ali’s and Islam’s stores carry bread from Phoenicia Bakery, one of Austin’s market success stories. In 1979, the Abijaoude family opened the first Phoenicia on South Lamar Boulevard, and for decades customers flocked in for their creamy hummus and tahini, fresh olive bar, savory schwarma and gyro meat. In 1999, they added a second location on Burnet Road that on a Wednesday afternoon last week had a line seven people deep.
It wasn’t quite so busy at Chai Salelanonda’s Say Hi shop.
Salelanonda has operated this tiny gift shop just up the road on Burnet since 1974, and though the Thailand native carries some dried and canned goods, he’s starting to phase out that part of the business. You might have taken a cooking class from his wife, Pat, who used to teach around town.
Last week, two cans of shark fin soup remained on one of the shelves, and Salelanonda sat quietly at the counter drawing a landscape with a fine pen. His pieces, mostly of animals, are framed and available for sale amid the sake sets and sandals.
Salelanonda wants to spend more time with his new grandson, who was born six months ago on the other side of the world. For now, he’ll keep watch over his store that, in some ways, helped pave the way for MT, Han Yang, Hana World and Hong Kong Supermarkets, stores just a little farther north that seem like megastores by comparison.
Those brightly lit, modern stores draw steady streams of customers buying fresh jackfruit, daikon and burdock root, fragrant rice and spices, gem-like candies, snacks and sodas and hundreds of other products that he could have never imagined would be so readily available in his home away from home.
Mexican meat markets are some of the best places in Austin to find fresh tortillas, pan dulce, marinated meats, produce and other ingredients common in Mexican cuisine.
As Austin’s population has grown, more of these neighborhood grocery stores have opened, including mini- and not-so-mini chains like La Hacienda, La Moreliana and La Michoacana — and almost all of them feature a place to sit down and enjoy a meal, or at least a taco.
Like the other international markets featured in this story, they draw shoppers of all nationalities; however, because Mexican culture and cuisine is so ingrained in Austin’s — and Texas was once Mexico, after all — we decided not to include them in this particular roundup of international markets.
There are also other stores, including Fiesta Mart, Spec’s, Central Market and Whole Foods, that carry a variety of ingredients used in international cooking, which means Austin cooks have more options than ever for buying once hard-to-find products.
1) Quality Halal Market. Owned by Syed Ali since 2013, this well-lit market also features a butcher counter with fresh meat and some produce. 12920 W. Parmer Lane, Cedar Park. 512-260-7677, facebook.com/QualityHalalMarket.
2) Teji’s. An Indian market and restaurant with clothing and other gifts next to a sit-down restaurant. 1205 Round Rock Ave., Round Rock. 512-244-3351, tejifoods.com.
3) Ambica Foods. Spacious market has been open nine years and will open a second location in Cedar Park this summer. 3203 S. Interstate 35, Round Rock. 512-828-3000, facebook.com/AmbicaFoodsRoundRock.
4) Gandhi Bazar. The second of three area Gandhi Bazar locations, this store opened about six years ago. 12809 RM 620 North. 512-249-7600, gandhibazar.com.
5) Davod’s Mediterranean Market. This market features a selection of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern products and also sells its popular gyros in a cafe housed inside the store. 13497 N. U.S. 183. 512-305-3550, mediterraneanmarketaustintx.com.
6) Mang Dedoy’s. The best-stocked Filipino market in the area also features a nice seating area for dine-in eating. 8863 Anderson Mill Road. 512-249-0283, mangdedoyaustin.com.
7) Asia Market. This market used to be attached to the Asia Cafe next door, but now they operate independently, with the market carrying a wide selection of Chinese ingredients as well as other those for Asian cuisines. 8648 Spicewood Springs Road. 512-331-5780, asiamarketaustin.com.
8) Apna Bazaar. This sizable Indian store is located next to Asia Market. 8650 Spicewood Springs Road. 512-249-0202.
9) Gammad Oriental Store and Restaurant. Open for about 10 years, this small Filipino market and eatery also carries clothing and other gifts. 2309 W. Parmer Lane. 512-973-8745, facebook.com/pages/Gammad-Oriental-Store-Restaurant/143208205722387.
10) Gandhi Bazar. The original location of this Indian market opened about a decade ago, and it recently moved a few doors down in the same retail center. 2121 W. Parmer Lane. 512-837-9701, gandhibazar.com.
11) Hana World Market. One of the largest Korean grocery stores in Austin, Hana World Market features a sizable food court and fresh meat and produce selection, as well as kitchen and household goods. 1700 W. Parmer Lane. 512-832-6606, hanaworldmarket.net.
12) Shahi Foods. This store has been open for 11 years, slowly expanding its inventory of Indian, Middle Eastern and European goods to take over the entire building at the corner of North Lamar and Parmer, near Interstate 35. Owner Sadiq Islam recently added a sit-down cafe and hopes to open a second location. 12410 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-837-8668, shahishahi.com.
13) International Food. One of the few Middle Eastern markets with an in-house bakery that fills the store with the smell of sweet dough. 11331 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-491-8282, internationalfoodaustin.com.
14) MT Supermarket. The largest international market in Austin features ingredients from nearly every corner of the globe but focuses on Asian goods and products, including hard-to-find produce, noodles, sauces, spices and rice. It is an anchor for the Chinatown shopping center. 10901 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-454-4804, mtsupermarket.com.
15) Oriental Grocery and Bakery. Very small selection of goods, but the store features freshly baked buns and other Filipino treats. 707 E. Braker Lane. 512-833-9420, facebook.com/pages/Oriental-Grocery-and-Bakery/131863066857822.
16) World Food and Halal Market. One of several halal markets in North Austin, it also carries products from all over the Middle East, India and Pakistan. 9616 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-832-8365, facebook.com/WorldFoodHalalMarket?rf=104417872953155.
17) Taj Grocers. One of several Indian markets along Lamar. It sells a variety of products from that region of Asia, as well as the Middle East. 9515 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-836-6292, facebook.com/tajgrocers.
18) New Madina Market. Similar inventory as several of the Indian markets in this part of North Lamar, and it also has a fresh meat counter. 9200 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-719-5552, plus.google.com/118261894775181550853/about?gl=us&hl=en.
19) Hong Kong Supermarket. This medium-sized store has a large fresh meat and seafood counter, as well as a sizable selection of produce. There is a small counter in the back where customers can order banh mi, spring rolls and other to-go dishes. 8557 Research Blvd. 512-836-2068, hongkongsupermarket-austin.com.
20) Asahi Imports. One of the oldest international markets in Austin, Asahi Imports opened in 1967. 6105 Burnet Road. 512-453-1850, asahi-imports.com.
21) Han Yang Market. A sizable Korean market with fresh kimchi and other salads and prepared foods — but no restaurant. 6808 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-371-3199, facebook.com/pages/Han-Yang-Oriental-Market-Cafe/170688176312015.
22) Mom’s Taste. This small Korean store is one of the best places to find ready-to-eat dishes such as bulgogi, kimchi and banchan. 6613 Airport Blvd. 512-420-0499, facebook.com/pages/Moms-Taste/134062106644782.
23) DK Sushi and Seoul Asian Food Market. Owner DK Lee has downsized the market part at this restaurant location — the other is on South First Street on the other side of town — but he still carries sushi-grade fish, soy sauce and a few other ingredients. Most people come for his nigiri, sashimi and signature karaoke night, which now takes place on Thursdays. 5610 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-302-1090, facebook.com/pages/DK-Sushi/43973918870?ref=br_rs.
24) Say Hi. Burnet Road has grown up around Say Hi, a tightly packed gift shop that also carries a small selection of Chinese food products. Owner Chai Salelanonda has operated the store for more than 40 years and is winding down his grocery selection, but there are plenty of other gifts worth browsing. 5249 Burnet Road. 512-909-7446, facebook.com/pages/Say-Hi/161524037206273?fref=ts.
25) Sarah’s Mediterranean Grill and Market. A restaurant and market selling a variety of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern products. 5222 Burnet Road. 512-419-7605, sarahsmediterranean.com.
26) Phoenicia Bakery and Deli. The second location of the popular bakery and restaurant run by a Lebanese family. 4701 Burnet Road. 512-323-6770, phoeniciabakery.com.
27) Thai Fresh. Mostly a restaurant, but this cafe and coffee shop also carries some hard-to-find Thai ingredients. 909 W. Mary St. 512-494 6436, thai-fresh.com.
28) Phoenicia Bakery and Deli. This is the original location of Phoenicia Bakery, which opened in 1979. Known for its freshly baked pita, olive bar and prepared foods like hummus, the store expanded to North Lamar Boulevard in 1999, where it has a larger area for in-store dining. 2912 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-447-4444, phoeniciabakery.com.
29) Man Pasand Grocery. Smaller than the nearby Gandhi Bazar, Man Pasand carries a similar inventory of Indian products, from paneer to fenugreek. 3601 W. William Cannon Drive. 512-892-9600, manpasandgrocery.com.
30) Gandhi Bazar. The newest of the three Gandhi Bazars in Austin opened about three years ago. 3421 W. William Cannon Drive. 512-899-1000, gandhibazar.com.
31) Filipino Asian Mart. A tiny shop in Southwest Austin, Filipino Asian Mart is a hybrid restaurant and market with a limited but focused selection of Southeast Asian ingredients. 615 W. Slaughter Lane. 512-291-8135, my.globalbaymerchant.com/57635-Filipino-Asian-Mart.aspx.
To search for an international market near you, find an interactive map with this story online at Austin360.com.