While most ingredients I use in my dishes are simple, I’m always looking to find new and exciting foods to try. For fresh produce I try to shop at my local Farmers Market. I use the Local Food Wheel (available so far for San Francisco and New York) to keep track of what is in season.
Zabars is a specialty foods and kitchenware store in New York City that is the ultimate foodie heaven. They source specialty products from all over the world, and their cheese counter and fish counter are particular standouts. While I normally prefer to cook my own food, their prepared section makes me weak at the knees. I visit Zabars every time I visit the city, and have been known to leave with more bags than I can carry. It also holds a special place in my heart because it is where I bought my first ceramic knife.
Wasik’s Cheese Shop
I was very fortunate to go to college within walking distance of Wasik’s Cheese Shop in Wellesley, Massachusetts. They have a wonderful selection of cheeses, and a very knowledgeable and kind staff, more than willing to offer as many samples as you would like. They also have delightful gift baskets. (hint..)
Rancho Gordo Beans
While canned beans are easy, there is no doubt that using dried beans provides a more superior tender and flavorful bean. Rancho Gordo beans are pretty much the best you can get. Their beans are all heirloom varieties, and the farmer Steve is passionate about beans.
If you were to seek some of the rarest cheeses in the world, chances are they could be found in the case at Formaggio Kitchen, or at least in the back in the enormous cheese cave, with perfectly controlled temperature and humidity, created to resemble the alpine hillside historically used to age cheese. A few years ago, I had the great privileged of attending a cheese tasting at Tanglewood featuring Ishan Gurdal, the owner of Formaggio. I’ve been a devout follower ever since.
For middle eastern groceries in the Boston area, there is no better location than Mt. Auburn street. My favorite of the markets is Sevan, which carries a huge variety of Turkish foods, freshly made in their bakery and kitchen. Some of my favorites include: frozen Lahmacun (Turkish pizza), Manti (a type of ravioli), Choreg (a sweet round bread), and Kazandibi (a type of pudding). They also have a great selection of pantry goods, including olives, tea and coffee, spices, nuts, cheeses, cured meat such as soujouk and pasterma, and even middle eastern beer and wine.
Kam Man Foods
Walking into Kam Man Foods in Quincy, Massachusetts is an incredible experience. A refitted big-box, the store is separated into three distinct parts, a large housewares store on the left, a supermarket on the right, and many small shops in the center surrounded in glass boxes. It is by far the best way to find anything pan-asian, something like Super 88 meets Ichiban Kan meets Target. For those interested, they also have a good selection of Bento supplies.
Penzey’s is a great mail order spice company, with a few retail locations across the country. They have good kitchen spice starter kits, and in addition to basic spices, they have some very good mixed spice blends. I personally enjoy their Bavarian mix.