Photo by Lucie Monk
A to Z International Fine Foods' collection of low-priced olive oils and bulks of rice render one trip enough for a few months. You'll make excuses to go back more frequently.
Related recipe: Chickpea & Freekeh Kofte
I have a habit when dining out. Some delicious concoction lands on my plate, and—after a few fawning bites—I lean forward to my fiancé, feisty elbows propped on the tablecloth. “You know … we could totally make this at home.”
The word “totally” bares my insatiable ambition as a home cook. If it’s printed in a cookbook or plated in a restaurant, I’m dead sure I can recreate it.
I cook all over the map—no flavor is out of bounds. In my spattered kitchen, I’ve ventured to France for financiers (small cakes), to Brazil for silky moqueca (fish stew), to Algeria for mahjouba (crêpes), and as far as Indonesia for the piquant gulai ayam (chicken curry).
And thanks to an ever-growing Baton Rouge network of stores and markets, I can meet my oddball grocery needs right here in the city. I stock my pantry, I stamp my culinary passport, I bloom a little more in this endless but savory pursuit. No, there’s no one-stop shop to satisfy the global gourmet’s needs. But who would want that?
I first ventured to Vinh Phat Market over a year ago at the behest of Country Roads’ publisher, and my boss, James Fox-Smith. “Go,” he advised, “with a recipe.” A valuable bit of wisdom, I concurred, when I set eyes on the sprawl of products.
Vinh Phat’s central aisle exhibits crates of cascading fresh produce, from bold red Thai peppers to gawky protuberances of the ginger-esque root galangal. Labyrinthine to a first-time shopper, the outer aisles’ crowded smorgasbord of powders, pickled specimens, and protein cooed to me. I clutched my single recipe, vetted by a friend living in Bali, and all the while ran up a hysterical tally of “Gotta get that next time” and “Oooh, what can I do with that?”
A to Z International Fine Foods has joined my grocery retinue too; the store specializes mostly in Indian and Pakistani products, but ingredients native to North Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean are well stocked too. Lumpy bulks of rice and low-priced vats of olive oil render one visit enough for several months; I make excuses to return much more frequently than that, snatching up pomegranate molasses, dried ginger and chiles, and other intriguing spices for my pantry—dreaming up star-making roles for each.
I was already at work on this column when I spotted Kased’s Halal Meat Market and its chirpy “Grand Opening!” banner on Florida Boulevard. A sucker for both new ingredients and cachet, I wrenched my steering wheel infield, soon in deep perusal of the aisles and meat counters. Adjoining the market is Sultan’s Kitchen, which offers Mediterranean takeout for the impatient shopper.
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A word on those Kased’s meat counters: If you hadn’t planned on seeing an intact calf’s head in this lifetime, keep your eyes trained upward. I gave it an astonished thrice-over … I’m not ruling it out.
Spend enough time in a place and you’ll shed your tourist skin. Novelty is a potent fuel—I left Kased’s with a box of freekeh, the roasted green wheat on course to become “the new quinoa,” by the estimation of some—but as a cook, I relish the confidence that comes with a known quantity. The surer my hand as I whisk and deglaze and drizzle, the more pleasure I’ll derive from the delectable finale.
The day may well come that I look out, eagle-eyed, over Baton Rouge’s grocery outlets and realize I’ve seen it all. I will have motored up and down Siegen and Airline, sifted through the hidden pockets of East Baton Rouge, and camped outside new stores for their soft openings. I will have heard of, Googled, held, chopped, and cooked with every ingredient this city can offer me …
And that, I predict, is when the real foodie fun begins. Details. Details. Details. Vinh Phat Market 12351 Florida Boulevard Baton Rouge, La. (225) 273-1175 A to Z International Fine Foods 13461 Tiger Bend Road Baton Rouge, La. (225) 753-7746 Kased’s Halal Meat Market 8129 Florida Boulevard Baton Rouge, La. (225) 412-4835