One of the things we love most about Seattle is the seemingly endless options for grocery shopping. It always feels like no matter how obscure of an ingredient you need for a recipe, you can always track it down somewhere in the city. And, there have been countless times we have traveled to a foreign country and brought home a food product as a souvenir only to find that same product at a local shop! So, after much research and food sampling, here are our recs for the best specialty food shops for those of you who like to experience something other than Safeway.
Everyone knows that Uwajimaya is the premiere Asian grocery store, but just down the street is an overlooked, but equally awesome store called Viet Wah. It's smaller than its neighbor, but still has a vast selection of Asian import products for a fraction of Uwajimaya's cost. We especially love their produce selection, which has all sorts of interesting fruits and vegetables such as Bitter Melon from India, Lotus Root, Patola, and Taro Root. We don't know how to cook with any of those things, but we like that we have the option should the need arise! The store also has a nice wellness section with a variety of whole ginseng root and household items like teapots, candles, gift cards, and Buddha statues.
Scandinavia, that region of the world that includes Denmark, Norway and Sweden, has a strong presence here in the Northwest, and Scandinavian Specialties caters to all of your northern European needs. They have a nice selection of meat including lamb, Swedish meatballs (you don't have to drive to Ikea for these!), sausages, and smoked fish. They also have tins of fish, condiments, jams, and the greatest cracker in the world, Lefsa. They also have a small deli where you can grab a sandwich to go (we recommend the open faced lox and hard boiled egg sammie!). It's also so much more than just a grocery store! They have a huge selection of gifts perfect for your Nordic Uncle that you can never figure out what to buy during the holidays. They sell everything from clothing, to dishes, to books on Vikings. Holiday shopping handled.
DeLaurenti is a staple in Pike Place Market. It has been on the corner of First and Pike since 1946, and it is hands down our favorite place to browse and waste time. You could fill an hour easily looking at all the Italian specialty products. The shop is filled with Italian imports including high-end olive oils and vinegar, pure chocolate bars, pasta, and little tins of olives, fish, and beans. Their deli is a great place to grab cured meats and the best cheeses as well as a small selection of deli sides (we can't get enough of their stuffed peppers and dolmas). Hungry for lunch? They also have sandwiches, salads, and treats (plus a espresso machine for coffee) in the front of the store with a bit of seating. The best kept secret, though, is at their upstairs wine cellar where they hold a large selection of wine for purchase. There are a few tables there, and if you buy a bottle, they'll open it for you, give you some wine glasses, and let you drink it while hanging out. It's a great spot for resting while shopping the busy market, and not many people know about it so the tables are rarely taken.
The hot sauce selection is reason enough to go to El Mercado Latino located in Pike Place Market, but you'll also be pleasantly surprised by the wide selection of Goya beans, produce that includes jicama, and bags and bags of dried peppers. The spice selection is ON POINT and includes your standard chili powder and cumin to your much more obscure Agar Agar powder and Boldo leaves. They even have Beer Extract Powder. We've never heard of this before finding it here, but we are going to start cooking with it immediately. In addition to the groceries, they have a restaurant where you can get typical Latin food like burritos and tortas.
The Spanish Table and Paris Grocery have joined forces to bring you the new Paris-Madrid Grocery, which means it's now one stop shopping for both your French pate AND your Spanish jamon iberico. We truly love this store and hit it up often for no other reason than their truffled gouda.
Sidenote: a big perk of buying gouda for your next dinner party is that you can pull out the "This cheese is hella gouda" pun, you're welcome.
They sell all of the supplies you need to make a killer paella (including the pan!) if Spanish night is on your mind or French charcuterie and cheese if a Parisian picnic is more your jam. They have a large selection of wines from both regions as well as pottery, cooking gear, and cookbooks.
Big John's is like a hybrid of DeLaurenti (see above) and Costco...Italian imports meet a big warehouse with bulk items. It's pretty much the best of both worlds. Located near the stadiums, Big John's as been around since 1971 bringing you all your favorite Italian products and many more you didn't know you needed. Here you can find bulk olive oil, a wide range of flavored vinegars, a large cheese counter, cured meats, and pasta. Oh, the pasta! Lots and lots of pasta in every shape and size. For example, we didn't know we needed Farfalline (teeny tiny butterfly shaped pasta) until we saw it at Big John's. They also have wheel shaped pasta. We aren't exactly sure why, but pasta always tastes better when it's wheel-shaped. You can also find pantry staples, bulk spices, chocolate, and Italian wines. Sign us up.
This Mediterranean market is not going to win any beauty awards. In fact, you probably would drive right past it on Lake City Way, but if you do stop, you'll be rewarded with amazing Middle Eastern products from Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, and Iran. They carry nuts, dried fruit and beans, sadif spices, tahini, and a wide selection of oils. There is also a good amount of pickled things, and who doesn't love pickled things?!?! The best part is there is a small restaurant in the shop, which serves shawarma doner kebabs, sandwiches, and flatbreads - get the one seasoned with zaatar!
We want to know - what is your favorite speciality shop in Seattle? Leave us a comment so we can check it out!