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A cook's tour of some of Sarasota's best specialty markets.

When i was growing up in Hamburg, Germany, a farmer's market was held in our neighborhood twice a week. Local farmers would proudly display everything from aromatic fruits of the season to fresh fish that flourish in the cold waters of the North Sea to Indian spices, Italian pickled olives, Turkish breads and French cheeses. I loved strolling through the market on those mornings, examining the wares and stopping every few meters to greet a friend or neighbor.

To my delight, when I moved to Atlanta, I was introduced to the Atlanta Farmer's Market where, in one huge mall, virtually every food item in the world is available. But when my husband -- who is Indian and shares my zest for global flavors -- first came to Sarasota 12 years ago, we could not find the ethnic food I love so much. However, over the years, Sarasota has become more diverse, and a number of small stores have opened to sell the foods that newcomers to this country remember from their native land. As a result, I can once again spend happy mornings shopping for foods from all over the world. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries.

The first stop on my shopping adventure is Sahara, a Middle Eastern restaurant and market in the busy Saba Plaza on U.S. 41. Inside, there are no colorful water pipes or displays of the intricately carved copper and brass plates of the Middle East, although some pictures on the wall depict scenes of the owner's Lebanese homeland. But the smells of Middle Eastern delicacies immediately transport you to that area of the world.

I get ready-made and dry ingredients for my Middle Eastern cooking at Sahara, but the store also has a fantastic selection of green and black olives imported from the West Bank (where some of the oldest olive trees grow). Sample a few before you make your selection. At the same counter you will find a selection of fresh feta cheeses. Usually you can select between a French or Bulgarian import; the Bulgarian is slightly saltier.

I usually buy the French feta and when I get home, I cut it in small cubes and place them in a glass jar. Then I add lots of garlic cloves and dry Provencal herbs and top everything with a good virgin olive oil. After a week, you have homemade marinated feta cheese that tastes wonderful with a fresh baguette.

Sahara also sells tahini (a finely blended sesame paste used in many Arabic recipes), fool mudammas (canned fava beans that have a distinct taste and are used in appetizers), pine nuts (I roast them in butter and garnish most Middle Eastern rice dishes with them), black tea and mocha (two essential hot drinks in the Arab diet) and ready-made hummus (a blend of chickpeas and tahini sold in a can -- before serving, I always add more cumin, garlic and lemon). I also purchase sumac, tamarind and a bottle of pomegranate juice (all used as subtle substitutes for the more acidic lemon). Finally, I buy loads of their fresh-baked pita bread, which can be stored in the freezer. Sahara also has a wonderful spice collection. I like their cumin (both seeds and powder), dried mint and black peppercorns.


This creamy eggplant appetizer is easy to make and always a party favorite. Serve with fleshly warmed pita bread.

1 medium-sized eggplant (about 1 lb.)

2-3 T. tahini sauce

1 1/2 c. plain yogurt

1 c. of finely chopped parsley (or cilantro)

2 cloves finely mashed garlic

2 T. lemon juice

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick eggplant a few times with fork. Wrap the eggplant in aluminum foil, put in baking tray and place in oven for about 30 to 40 minutes or until soft. When eggplant is soft, remove it from the oven, unwrap the foil and let it cool down before peeling off the skin. Place eggplant in a bowl and mash it with a fork. Don't puree it! Add all ingredients except the olive oil and blend well. Add olive oil on the top and enjoy.

Driving south on U.S. 41, between Stickney Point and Beneva Road, you see a streetscape of car dealers and furniture vendors. Suddenly a big yellow sign appears--"Geiers Sausage Kitchen-Choice Meats"--leading you to a small Bavarian-style house owned by the Geiers since the early '80s. Karl Geier grew up in Germany, where his father taught him the art of sausage making. Karl even received a degree as "Master Metzger" or "Metzgermeister" from Germany, an honor reserved for only those butchers who know all there is to know about meat. German efficiency is apparent here. Not one inch of space is wasted. At least five brands of German coffees are neatly organized on the wall. German pudding and baking mixtures are carefully placed on shelves next to glasses of pickled cucumbers. You'll see many kinds of cheeses, chocolates and pralines, different types of breads and rolls, mustards of various types and lovely cakes. Bavarian musicians yodel through the intercom.

I have never seen this store empty. People of all nationalities gather here because of one thing: Geiers' sausages.

Germans are big meat eaters. A typical German diet consists of cold cuts with rolls for breakfast, a roast with gravy and potatoes for lunch and cold curs with bread for dinner. Whether or not you're ready to follow that regimen, you can assemble a sample platter. Start with Hollsteiner salami, made of coarsely chopped ground beef and pork blended with natural spices smoked and dried to perfection. If you feel adventurous, try the blood tongue (zungeniwurst), made from veal tongue, cooked meat and a blend of spices; hausmacher liverwurst-an original old German-style, coarse-ground liver sausage best as a spread on bread; and finally, try some schinkenspeck--a dry, heavily smoked ham that tastes best when served with rye bread and accompanied by a glass of cold hefe beer. Ask to sample some of the sausages if you are not sure whether you'll like them.

You can also order Geiers' products on-line. Visit the Web page at

Guten App etit!

All roads lead to

Casa Italia. Or at least I think they should. Bright and clean, Casa Italia offers a selection of fine imports such as semolina pastas of various cuts and shapes; panettone cake, a classic cake from the confectionery traditions of Northern Italy; cookies and biscotti; an extensive selection of Italian wines; and various brands of sumptuous Italian olive oils, many of them in beautiful, hand-painted ceramic or terra cotta jugs.

The fresh food counter is divided into three sections: cheese, cold cuts and antipasta dishes or appetizers. You can choose from Italian, Spanish and South American cheeses, such as the Argentinean parmesan cheese, which I was told-apologies to Argentineans- cannot compare to the real Parmigiano Reggiano, Italy's "King of Cheeses," made of cow milk and produced in the Italian provinces of Patina and Reggio. By law, it must be aged a minimum of 14 months, but it is best eaten between the ages of 18-24 months. Most people know it as shredded powder that tops many pasta dishes, but it is equally delicious when eaten in slices just by itself or enjoyed with a glass of red wine.

The pungent smell of gorgonzola, aged and laced with blue mold, might frighten the novice. But once you get used to this savory cheese, you cannot get enough of it. If pure gorgonzola is too strong, ask for gorgonzola with mascarpone, a creamy blend that tastes wonderful when spread on a fresh baguette and accompanied by sweet grapes is surely pleasing to the taste buds. And don't forget mozzarella, a cheese that is originally made from water-buffalo milk.

The meat counter offers sweet sotressata, spicy pepperonis mortadella and Italy's culinary triumphs, prosciutto (smoked pork ham) and pancetta (Italian bacon).

My final stop is the antipasta counter, which is stacked with many types of marinated olives, stuffed bell peppers, roasted sweet red bell peppers, sun dried tomatoes, freshly prepared rapenade (see recipe) and much more. I always ask to sample several of the olives, which Guiseppe Galloni, the owner of Casa Italia, marinates himself.


Serve on bread for a quick lunch or antipasta dish.

1 1/2 c. black olives,

pitted and chopped

1 1/2 c. green olives,

pitted and chopped

4 filets anchovies, chopped

3 t. lemon juice

2 T. fresh thyme, chopped

1 T. fresh oregano, chopped

2 T. garlic, chopped

1 c. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 c. capers, drained and rinsed

Black pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a howl. Mix well and add pepper to taste.

In south sarasota, man area adjacent to Gulf Gate Mall, is a collection of small ethnic food stores, including A Touch of Britain; A Touch of Europe, with Russian, German and other European imports; and-one of my favorites-the Oriental Food and Gift Mart, with items from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines.

Ko Cha Adam, the owner of the Oriental Food and Gift Mart, has created a welcoming environment. The store is filled with Oriental cooking utensils, fancy gift items (I love the beautiful embroidered Chinese silk pajamas for children), and plenty of spices and condiments used in the Asian kitchen. The back of this narrow little store has been converted into a fully equipped wok kitchen for cooking classes.

Although this store is crowded with items, everything is easy to find. One section is dedicated to Chinese teas, including jasmine tea, Oolong tea, green tea and chrysanthemum tea. Squeezing through the aisle, you'll find several types of Chinese rice and flower noodles, but the largest section is dedicated to the Oriental sauces: light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, lucky fish sauce, oyster sauce (smells very unattractive, but is essential in all Thai cooking), sweet and sour sauce, white rice vinegar, hoisin sauce and fermented black bean sauce. I always keep Thai sauce, hoisin sauce, red hot chili paste or sambal olek, and Fermented black bean sauce in my refrigerator. In my pantry are soya sauce, oyster sauce, peanut oil, chili oil, sesame oil, Chinese vinegar and Chinese cooking wine. Add to this a few packages of Chinese noodles and a big bag of jasmine rice, and you'll have enough ingredients to cook a delicious South Asian meal.

Another good source for Asian cooking is Wong Kai Imports. Part of a huge produce warehouse on State Route 70 (across from Super Wal-Mart), Wong Kai is one of the largest importers of Oriental foods in this area and a major supplier to most of the Chinese and Thai restaurants in Southwest Florida.

Noodles, sauces, sweets, rice, teas, dried mushrooms and dried fish are available here as well, but in addition, Wong Kai offers fresh produce, meat and fish.

You can get bunches of fresh Chinese parsley (cilantro), Oriental eggplants, fresh ginger and garlic, tofu (soft and firm), bok choy (Chinese white cabbage), choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage), fresh chili peppers, garlic chives, scallions, lemon grass, Chinese basil leaves, radish, and other wonderful green leafy vegetables. The meat and fish department has such delicacies as duck, pork and frozen Chinese seafood.

The owners of Wong Kai are Chinese, and the entire family works in the store or the warehouse. Their kids are usually in the store playing or working on their homework, while Grandma sits behind the cashier and rakes care of the customers.


This easy version of a popular Eastern recipe is a big favorite with my family.

3 packages of dried Chinese noodles (even the cheap ones from the grocery store will do)

1/2 lb. medium-size shrimp

1 egg

1 t. water

1/2 c. sliced smoked ham

1 stalk celery,

sliced finely into two-inch strips

2 c. bean sprouts (optional)

1 medium yellow onion (chopped)

1/2 green bell pepper finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 t. fresh ginger, minced

1 T. curry powder

4 T. peanut oil

For the sauce:

1/2 c. chicken stock (you can use canned chicken broth)

2 t. light soy sauce

1 T. fermented black beans

1 t. sugar (optional)

1 t chili oil

Boil noodles in water until cooked but still firm. Drain, reserving boiling water and rinse with cold water until noodles are cooled and will not stick together. Place in oiled bowl and put in refrigerator.

Wash and clean shrimp. Combine egg and water and cook as a thin omelet. Cool and cur into two-inch slices.

Mix sauce ingredients in a bowl.

Add 2 T. of peanut oil to hot wok. When oil begins to smoke, toss in garlic, ginger, shrimp and vegetables. Stir-fry on high heat for two minutes. Add sauce and continue cooking until sauce reduces by half. Remove to bowl.

Rinse wok and return to high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add remaining peanut oil. Heat oil to moderate (don't let it smoke); add curry powder, stirring to mix with oil. Avoid burning curry; if it burns, start over. Cook curry powder for about 30 seconds. Add noodles. Toss noodles to coat and heat them. When hot, add cooked shrimp and vegetables and mix. Turn off heat. Add pork and egg shreds. Mix together. Serve.

At last , we have an Indian grocery store here! Until recently, aficionados of Indian food had to drive all the way to Tampa to get their groceries; but now the India Bazaar has opened its friendly doors in the Saddle Creek Shopping Center on 26th Street in Bradenton, next door to Manatee Community College.

The owners, Vaishali and Prashant Patel, a hard-working husband-and-wife team, noticed there was a sizable population of Indians, Brits and Indian-food lovers in Sarasota and Bradenton and decided there was a need for an Indian market. The store is immaculately clean and organized, and customer service is a top priority.

Walking in, you discover a world of spices, grains, lentils, "Bollywood videos" (Bombay's Hollywood is called Bollywood), Indian music CDs, and other exotic ingredients. This store is like an Indian bazaar; besides food you can get mehndi (a beautiful hand and foot paint that looks like a tattoo but washes off within a month), various hair oils with strong flowery smells, arjuvedic creams and potions, an array of Indian remedies for aches and pains, and many interesting cooking gadgets.

Several aisles of the store are stacked with hundreds of spices (whole and ground) and spice mixtures (dry or in paste form). But don't be discouraged. To create your Indian spice kit, I would recommend the following items: chili powder, turmeric, cumin seeds, coriander seeds (powdered and whole), fenugreek seeds (yellow-brown seeds with a liquorish taste), cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, red dried chili peppers, whole cloves (pungent flavor), mustard seeds, whole nutmeg, bay leaves and green cardamom pods (a distinctive perfumed flavor).

Delicious Indian condiments include pickles and chutneys. For starters, try sweet mango chutney, a lime pickle and hot ginger chutney. These can accompany any Indian food.

Dried beans and lentils are an important source of protein in the Indian diet, since many Indians do not eat meat for religious beliefs. Indians are creative in the use of lentils--they are used in soups, ground as flour and fermented for use in batters. Sample these at first: moong dal--small, yellow split lentils that cook fast; masoor dal--salmon-colored, small flat red lentils; chana dal--yellow, small split peas; and urid dal--cream-colored small split beans.

Finally, get a 10-pound bag of fragrant basmati rice. Once you have tasted this rice, nothing else will do. This grocer also has a produce section with fresh ginger, cilantro (fresh coriander), garlic and, depending on the season, an array of exotic vegetables.


This is a typical Indian curry dish. You can also substitute vegetables for the chicken.

1 lb. skinless chicken breast

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 t. garlic puree

2 T. freshly pureed tomatoes

1 t. ground cumin

1 t. turmeric

1/2 t. chili powder

1 t. salt

1 T. fresh coriander leaves chopped

2 T. vegetable oil

Heat oil in large non-stick saucepan. Reduce heat and fry onion until golden brown. Stir in garlic puree, cumin, turmeric, chili powder and salt. Stir in tomato puree and gently cook for a minute. Bring up the heat, add chicken to pan and cook on low heat until chicken is done (about 30 minutes). Top with chopped coriander and serve with basmati rice.

Only Known to insiders, La Abejita, a Latin food market, is hidden in the Gold Tree Plaza shopping center at 2870 Ringling Blvd. You'll recognize the store by the posters of Latin American movie stars and singers taped on the windows and door. It's a far cry from the smoke-filled bodegas you see in Andalusia, but you'll feel the authentic Latin flavor as soon as you step in here. The friendly owners, Luis and Lola Yengle, are from Peru and have lived in Sarasota for eight years.

They opened La Abejita in 1996 to meet the needs and demands of the growing Hispanic market in Sarasota--about 18 percent of Sarasota's population, according to the 1990 census.

Many of us in the United States think of Tex-Mex or Ameri-Mex food when we think of South American cuisine, but La Abejita reflects South America's real diversity. Scanning the aisles, as hot Latin salsa played in my ears, I found products from Chile, Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica. A Spanish-English dictionary might be useful, because the products here are South American imports and labels are in Spanish.

Starting with the sweets, you will notice that many items contain some form of "leche" or milk. Leche quenada, for example, is a caramelized milk candy. Flan is the most recognized dessert in Latin America. This baked custard takes a while to make, but try out a short version with a ready mix from Goya. Leche condensada la lechera is sweetened condensed milk, often used in Latin desserts.

Next are the cans of frijoles or beans, an important South American staple. Then you enter the spicy world of chilies: habenero (the hottest peppers alive!), jalapenos (Americans' favorite chili peppers) and poblanos. All come in various forms, shapes and sizes. They are dried, canned, fresh, mixed as pastes, bottled, and marinated with vinegar and other ingredients to make hot sauces and shredded for dips as in the famous salsa.

Fresh produce is available at the back of the store and includes yams such as malanga, manioc or yucca; tomatillo and some exotic fruits such as guava and melons. Last but not least, try out some South American cheeses: panela is a crumbly cheese, while queso anejo could be considered a hard cheese. Be sure to sample some of the cheeses; you may be surprised with what you discover.

Why not make your own salsa, instead of buying that stuff from the grocery store that is filled with preservatives? I promise it will not take long and will taste much better!


2 1/2 lbs. tomatillos

3 chipolte chiles, soaked in warm water until pliable, seeds removed, and finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 t. ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

Place the tomatillos in a medium saucepan and cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer the tomatillos for 30 minutes, or until they are tender. Drain the tomatillos and place in a food processor or blender until they are pureed.

Mix the tomatillos puree with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for two hours before serving.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Khammash, Isa
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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