How to Take A Delicious Cultural Odyssey, Close to Home

Cultural Travel

by Jessica Voigts

On a quest for global books? We’ve shared the One Place to Visit, wherever you travel – and now I’d like to share a cultural travel tip that lets you dig deep into different cultures – both here and abroad. It encompasses books, food, language, hobbies, and cultural artifacts. Take a delicious cultural odyssey that captures many facets of a culture –  books and more. And, your cultural travel might not be too far from your own home.

The most delicious way to find new global books, foods, and other treasures? Head to an international grocery store in any big town. But what can you find there, besides tortillas and fish sauce? All kinds of treasures.

I tend to prefer Japanese grocery stores, since I’ve lived in Japan and often cook Japanese food. My three favorite Japanese grocery stores in the US (thus far):

I also love discovering small Mexican grocery stores (they abound in Michigan), and Indian markets (although I have to always ask for the least spicy grocery items!).

Su Casa, for Mexican cultural travel in Fenville, Michigan
Su Casa mural, Fenville, Michigan. Photo used courtesy of Jessie Voigts. Copyrighted.

What will you find?

Sushi, Mitsuwa, Chicago
Sushi, Mitsuwa, Chicago, Photo used courtesy of Jessie Voigts. Copyrighted

Incredible prepared food – often made on the premises, by members of that culture. From sushi to tortillas, your taste buds will go on a journey to other lands. You can discover new dishes, tastes, and find your favorites.

Groceries, which you can purchase to take home and snack or cook. Here’s a tip – ask the cashier for their favorite recipes, and how to make them. I’ve not only gained family favorites from this technique, but also new friends, who beam at me every time I come in, and share different recipes (and show me the ingredients to get) with every visit. I’ve learned recipes for delicious cactus salsa, the right way to make inarizushi, and discovered ingredients (especially vegetables) I never would have seen – or looked at twice.

Household and beauty items you didn’t know you couldn’t live without! From beautiful, useful serving dishes to a new kind of laundry soap; from a facewash you just love to the perfect calendar to hang in your office; from t shirts to footwear; your home will be graced with intercultural items, in daily use.

Movies and music – which can bring the sights, sounds, and language of different cultures home (I especially love Bollywood movies, and often rent them from a local Indian grocery).

Cultural artifacts, from Mexican wrestling masks, piñatas, or sculptures to Japanese Neko-chans, Korean art, Chinese vases.


Cookbooks and more at Mitsuwa, Chicago
Cookbooks and more at Mitsuwa, Chicago. Photo used courtesy of Jessie Voigts. Copyrighted.

And, best of all, you’ll find new reading material. At the least, you will find newspapers (which, in turn, will showcase local international events you may enjoy). Some grocery stores have separate bookstores (like Kinokuniya at Uwajimaya in Seattle, Mirai at One Market in Detroit, Sanseido at Mitsuwa in Chicago), where you can peruse books, magazines, and more in different languages – and in English. Head to the bilingual section, where you can find cookbooks, how-to books (Ikebana, anyone?), fiction, non-fiction, and even children’s books either in English or printed in both English and the target language. You might purchase cookbooks, nonfiction that teaches hobbies, translated manga, travel guides, photo books, and more.
Shop at International Markets and you’ll be experiencing a culture in new, holistic ways – through food, cooking, music, movies, and reading – in small ways, not too far from home. Pretty soon, you’ll be planning an international trip to experience your favorites on location!

What’s your favorite international grocery store? What do you love buying there?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

10 thoughts on “How to Take A Delicious Cultural Odyssey, Close to Home

  1. Oh very cool! Yes on Michigan having lots of small Mexican grocery stores, including a cool one here in Traverse City.

    Our food co-op has some great international foods, although we’re pretty boring when it comes to food.

  2. My favorite thing to do when we travel – anywhere – is to visit grocery stores. I always wish I’d taken photos, but I am usually so excited to be there that I forget. I will never forget those incredible yogurts (RHUBARB!) in Scotland…

  3. I love these ideas Jessie! We do this even with our always traveling lifestyle. 😉 We are in Penang for Mandarin but we love to go to Little India, and the Japanese stores and Korean stores and Irish pubs here etc.

    I think one of the many great things about my child’s world school education is she has walked so much of the planet for the last 7 years and has done grocery shopping and bargaining in markets in so many countries and languages. Fun!

    It is truly a small world today for all of us if we just open our minds to the possibilities every where!

  4. thanks, everyone! i LOVE visiting grocery stores in other countries – and asking for recipes!

    kerry – what a wonderful recommendation – YUM!

    and nancy – echo! delicious!! WOW!

    seems like we have lots of great options for finding excellent food (and book) markets when we travel! love these suggestions.

    1. Jessie: I really love this article, even though Japanese is not my choice! We are fortunate in Tucson to have so many International Markets. Of course Mexican, but many Oriental (the Chinese settled here very early) and MidEastern. I recently learned that Tucson has more refugees per capita from other countries than most other cities in the U.S.–and the food follows the people. I hope we can have an article in the future about shopping in markets when you travel to foreign countries, because it is one of the ways I like to familiarize myself with the culture as I travel. And its so much cheaper to buy souvenirs that way!

  5. My favorite place to shop isn’t a grocery store, it’s an entire street…9th St in South Philly, the Italian market. It’s a lot like shopping in Italy. Each store is a specialty–chicken, meats, pasta, fish, spices, vegetables, mushrooms, chocolates, even game meats. There’s a fabulous kitchen supply called Fante’s, quite famous, where you can buy every type of knife, appliance, dish, utensil or cookbook you could ever want. You can stop for a coffee or cappuccino either there or at a little place up the street. And around the corner is Isgro’s–a fabulous bakery.

  6. This reminds me the next time I am in a foreign country – or a different part of this country – to go visit a grocery store. You CAN learn a lot about the culture of the area.

  7. great idea, Dr. Jessie. I like visiting grocers from different cultures, but I’d never thought of cashiers for favorite recipes.

    One of my favorite international grocers in the US — and I don’t even know its name, it’s a modest sized shop rather than a big grocery — is in Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts. I like it because it’s a bit unexpected: it stocks Korean food, some other sorts of oriental foods too — and Irish food. A combination that suits its neighborhood. What do I buy there? Barry’s Tea in the green box, from the Irish section! (Barry’s comes in different sorts in different colored boxes, the green box kind is my favorite)

Comments are closed.