Cover Story » Vol. 6

Local Ethnic Markets

By Cristal Perriello, Bernie Whitmore, Paul Giorgio, Rachel Shuster, Linnea Sheldon, Dawn Fenton
Worcester County is, and always has been, rich in ethnic diversity. Our neighborhoods proudly display their ethnic heritage and families continue to pass down old-world traditions to younger generations. And as is true the world over, food and seasonings play a tremendous role here in defining, preserving, and even promoting ethnic identity, whether it be Italian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Russian, African, or a host of others. We are so lucky to have right at our fingertips international markets that make available to all of us the delicious, unique products of countries from around the world. So, as you read on about these local markets, remember that you needn’t travel far to experience the tastes of faraway lands!

Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplace
408 Pleasant Street, Worcester
508-755-0258

By Bernie Whitmore

The story of the market

Ed’s family has been in the grocery business for generations. His own path may have been predestined but not assured. ‘When I was 18 years old I’d been working for my father for almost 10 years. I had a fight with my uncle in front of customers so my father fired me and I told him I never wanted to see another grocery store.

‘But about seven years later, after going to college and traveling around the world I knew I had to make a living. There were two things I knew how to do – run a grocery store and the other was play drums. So I did the both!’

Hyder’s started with two hundred products in a tiny store on Park Avenue. After several moves and forays into other locations he settled into the current location on Pleasant Street, a sturdy brick firehouse built just eight years after the Civil War. His son joined him in the business and tended shop while we talked.

‘We started with a base of Middle Eastern, Greek and Armenian customers. Back then there were a lot of older women who could not speak English and they taught me the basics – how to count; how to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you; food names in their own languages. Families would shop together on Friday nights and Saturdays. But during the week the women would shop like they did in their old countries – a little for each day. So I got to know the same faces; over and over. Now I have the grandchildren of some of my original customers.’

To those original shelves of Syrian, Greek and Armenian foods he added Italian, French and German. Then Asian, Indian, Southwest American and Mexican ingredients – seemingly whatever his customers asked for. Hyder’s Marketplace offering tops four thousand products now. I asked him to show me around.

Searching for Oprah’s Creole Seasoning?

Behind the register at Hyder’s Marketplace is a wall of large jars containing over a hundred different herbs and spices – “But we could carry a hundred more; the possibilities are endless.” Hyder’s will scoop your choice into bags containing as little as a half ounce.

A couple steps further are more jars of exotic teas and coffees, also sold in bulk. Big plastic buckets contain a wide range of olives from around the Mediterranean and smaller containers that Hyder’s has marinated with peppers and other spices.

Heading to a refrigerator case, Ed boasts that their tabbouleh, soups, hummus and appetizers are made in their own kitchen. “When people move away, they have to come back to Worcester for our hummus.”

“We cut and marinate our own meats: chicken, beef and lamb kebobs; Caribbean pork chops; Tuscan-lemon and lemon-basil chicken breasts – sirloin tip roast and rib eye steaks.” He continues, “Every day we make Greek salad, chicken and tuna salads, and pasta salads in our own little kitchen.” (And while we were speaking of all these delicious ingredients, I just had to ask Ed whether he does the cooking at home. Indeed he does, and is particularly proud of his pasta salads and lamb roast.)

As he pointed out the large variety of cheeses I was surprised to spot a rack containing bottles of Greek wine. Noting this, he led me down an aisle stacked with different kinds of wine from the world over including, “French – a big collection of ‘05 Bordeaux! By the case!”

We wandered down aisles of dried goods; beans, flours, flavorings for fancy baking and ethnic cooking. As we approached the olive oil area, Ed stopped to help a customer select the proper oil for the salad his wife was planning for dinner.

Old world atmosphere – new world convenient

What I love upon entering old-style markets is the combined aroma of all those exotic foods. We talked about this.

“I smell it when I walk in the morning or after being away for a few hours. But after a while – this is what my atmosphere is, you get used to it. When I go home my kids go nuts: ‘Dad you smell like the store! …like it’s a bad thing’ he chuckles as a customer at the cash register shouts, ‘I love the smell in here!”

Have the TV cooking shows influenced Ed’s customers? “Oh yeah – kosher salt was once a big thing, now people ask for fleur-de-sel from France, Hawaiian sea salt, smoked salt…

“People have to shop in the big grocery stores. They don’t have to come here, they come here by choice. They come here for variety, the informed staff, and the aromas when they walk in the door. We want you smiling on the way out – not just on the way in.”

“I’ve grown up in Worcester, it may not be the easiest place to do business but you persevere. You can find people from every culture, from every walk of life in this city. There’s always hope in Worcester. I can’t imagine my life without this or some other store.”

From the start of our conversation it was obvious to me that the Hyders, both father and son, share a passion for serving customers that’s long vanished from the big grocery stores. But they do have a website and when I got home I added my email address to their list.

Moscow Nights

Moscow Nights,
a Russian Delicatessen
808 Pleasant St, Worcester
(508) 799-0751

By Bernie Whitmore

Not very long ago, one had to drive to Boston in order to purchase authentic Russian food. That was before Yuriy and Faina Fastovskiy saw an opportunity and opened a market here in Worcester. The Fastovskiys are proud of the business they’ve built and agreed to show me around.

Yuriy greeted me and showed me a place at the back of the store to lean my bicycle. “Free parking,” he kidded and with a handshake immediately established a warm rapport. Faina, his wife, remained behind the cash register and let him do the talking. He led me to a row of refrigerator cases, the first stocked with a variety of cheeses imported from Europe.
It was followed by a case bursting with salami, ham, sausages and a variety of cold cuts. Although their labels sported German, Polish and Italian, Yuriy explained they were made in America by makers who had come from Europe and used old-world recipes and methods. The next refrigerator contained dried, smoked and vacuum-packed fish.

The center aisle of Moscow Nights is a riot of color: jars of fruit preserves, pickled and marinated vegetables, bottles of mushrooms and vegetable medleys ~ some labeled in English, most in Eastern European. Yuriy patted the caps of each row, listing origins ~ Polish, Croat, and more. This could be an Eastern Europe geography lesson. Bulgaria, he noted, is most renowned for preserved vegetables. I particularly enjoyed the wide variety of honey from the US to New Zealand.

He went on, motioning to boxes of tea, halva, cookies, chocolates and snacks. If you suffer from pantry envy… this is the place to pack yours with exotica!

Moscow Nights

Moscow Nights

Freezer cases at the back of the store are stocked with heat-and-serve snacks and entrees as well as fancy layer cakes. Yuriy described a couple, pointing to a package of cherry blini. “Blini are very thin dough rolled up around fillings such as fruit, meat or cheese.” He also offered that “Pierogi are Polish ravioli stuffed with mushroom, cheese or fruit.”

The Fastovskiys came to Worcester in 1991 from Kiev, Ukraine. Yuriy worked as a machine operator for the first five years. But then something happened: “I don’t know where it came from, I never worked as a salesperson in Russia; never a business owner. We decided because Worcester doesn’t have a store like this and there was a Russian community. So we just decided to try it!’

Twelve years later they’ve built a loyal clientele that Yuriy describes in a precise manner, betraying its importance. “Fifty percent come from the former Soviet Union, many nationalities: Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Kazakhstan… a lot of people from Romania. Thirty percent are from Eastern Europe ~ Bulgaria, Poland, especially Albania. The rest are native-born Americans that happen in our door from curiosity or a simple desire for something labeled in Cyrillic, then become customers.”

When asked, Yuriy doesn’t claim any particular part of the store is more important than the rest. His approach to retail? “I feel good if I can satisfy the customer. If I have some stuff, let’s say this green tea,” as he reaches to the nearest shelf, “and I’m out of it. A customer comes to me, asks where the green tea is? Then I’m sorry, really sorry. That’s it – it doesn’t matter what other stuff I sell!”

Dinner at the Fastovskiys is Faina’s domain. Yuriy will help, but only when they’re expecting guests. Their favorite menu? Steak and fried potatoes. But on special occasions Faina makes a heavenly Napoleon, eight levels of cake layered with special cream.

In a half hour our discussion had ranged from Russian history to Van Cliburn, literature to retailing. But one thing was still on my mind. Caviar. Yuriy revealed himself an expert. He stocks some fancy tins meant for gifting, but behind the smoked fish are large plastic tubs of caviar that they will pack as you request.

Yuriy explained that black caviar doesn’t sell much and only comes from Iran. “The US won’t allow it imported from Russia due to the devastation of the beluga whale.” He continued, “Red caviar is preferred. Alaska has become a world-wide source of red caviar. Some companies use Russian recipes. Thirty years ago red caviar was thrown out with salmon. But with Russian immigration people started getting knowledge about red caviar and now America may be the number one exporter in the world. All from salmon and related fishes that have various size and color eggs. It’s all called red caviar. Russians would serve it with white bread and butter. Some Americans squeeze lemon juice on it. I totally disagree; lemon juice has a strong taste that kills the flavor of caviar. If you hate caviar, OK. But if you like it, don’t mix it with other flavors!”

Binh-An

Binh-An

Binh-An
Oriental Food & Gifts
64 Green Street, Worcester
508-798-6969

By Dawn Fenton

In Vietnamese, Binh-An means “peace,” and store owner Domenic Ngo has created a peacful international haven on the corner of Green and Winter Streets with his market, Binh-An Oriental Food & Gifts.

Ngo, one of 11 siblings who immigrated to the US from Vietnam in 1981, operates the store along with his wife Thu and their three children.

“My father sent us over here to make sure we could all go to school,” said Ngo, in a conversation over 30-pound bags of rice piled nearly shoulder high in the front section of the store. “I got my degree in electronics and worked at EMC for a while and just sort of fell into this. I worked [in the store] all the time after school and on weekends during college,” he said laughing, adding that it was only natural for him to take over when his older brother decided he no longer wanted the business.

Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Binh-An was bustling with activity on a recent Saturday afternoon. The emphasis appeared to be on fish and produce.

“Fish is one of our biggest items,” said Ngo. “Thursday is fish day ~ the busiest day of the week here is when our fish order arrives.” Included among the choices that day were flounder, red snapper, mackerel and shark. Rock crabs by the dozens swam about in tanks and a “bag it yourself” selection of lively Blue Crabs was a rare form of entertainment.

“There are no elastics on their claws,” laughed a customer who was struggling with metal tongs to get a crab into a bag. When asked what kind of crabs they were he replied, “Good ones!”

Large fresh snails, shrimp, clams and squid were also offered, and an abundance of crisp greens, mushrooms, corn, potatoes and other assorted produce items filled up a large area across from the fish station.

The meat section is small but diverse in its offerings. There were chicken drumsticks, duck wings and gizzards, ground pork, ribs, bo bap (shin meat), pork chops, a few whole chickens, pork shoulder, some small foul, chicken liver, and ~ most interestingly ~ whole duck heads that came in packages of four. Experts claim they’re like a chicken leg, but with more surprises ~ a bit like jerky, but soft and elastic in nature.

After fish, Ngo said that his biggest selling item is fish sauce. One aisle, filled entirely with sauces, had no less than 8 varieties of the fish category along with everything from hoi sin and soy to plum sauce and Cantonese sake sauce.

Binh-An has exactly what you need to prepare a healthy, authentic oriental meal. There is also a wide variety of specialty teas and coffees, or maybe you just need a package of roasted hot green peas or a cold can of lychee drink. Whatever your needs, the staff is helpful and friendly and the shopping experience is unique.

After our main interview, I had a chance to ask Ngo some quick questions as he got back to work:

Q: Are there any myths about Vietnamese food that you would like to dispel?
A: That it is unhealthy for you. Vietnamese food makes you tight! It is very healthy and natural.

Q: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to food?
A: Mangosteen [the fruit of an evergreen]! I love them. I drive 8 hours to Canada to buy it fresh by the caseload.

Q: What is a typical meal like for you and your family?
A: Fish fried in oil with something like lemongrass and pepper. Red snapper is best. We always have a soup and two other dry items like a spare rib with rice or vegetables.

Q: What is the best thing about having the store?
A: No one tells me what to do. I don’t have to answer to anybody except for my wife!

D'Errico's Market

D

D’Errico’s Market
141 East Central Street, Worcester
508-797-9686

By Paul Giorgio

Although it’s lost some of its following over the past several years, D’Errico’s Market on East Central Street in Worcester stands today as the last standing “Italian” ethnic market in Worcester. As the neighborhood changed, so has the clientele. Today you’re just as likely to see Hispanic and Brazilian shoppers as you are to see old Italian men and women. The Shrewsbury Street neighborhood that was once predominately Italian has changed with a wave of immigration to the area.

In the not too distant past ~ just a generation ago ~ Shrewsbury Street was lined with little mom and pop ethnic markets. It seemed that every block had its own store. There was Argento’s (where D’Errico’s is now) and Turo’s and Toscano’s and the Boulevard as well as Manzi‘s and Balsamo’s. These were the big ones, the supermarkets of their day, when “big” meant about two thousand square feet.

To step into D’Errico’s is to step back in time. As you enter, you are greeted by a large deli case with about four butchers behind it. On most Saturdays it is chaos ~ but organized chaos. Butchers are cutting up meat and chickens to order. You can still buy a traditional porketta ~ a stuffed pork roast that is usually filled with salami and mortadella, cheese and spices ~ here.

The top of the deli case is lined with bins of fresh olives. Maybe you fancy some dried Sicilian or Kalmatas ~ just ask the man behind the counter to scoop some out for you. Fresh cold cuts fill the cases. Feast your eyes on mortadella or proscuitto as well as other cured pork products also imported from Italy. There is a large selection of cheeses, too, to accompany your meats. If you’re more in the mood for seafood, choose from a variety of fishes that you probably won’t find at the chain grocery stores: Baccala ~ a salted cod, Polpi-octipus, and of course calamari.

The aisles feature a host of packaged products imported from the old country: polenta, Arborio rice, a variety of pastas and olive oils, canned tomatoes and jars of stuffed hot peppers line the shelves.

Looking to make a Tiramisu, the wildly popular Italian dessert? All of the ingredients are here, from the Lady fingers to the mascarpone cheese to the espresso coffee.

At Christmas time, the place is jammed, and it’s easy to see why.

D’Errico’s is in its third generation of ownership. Today, Joe Evangelista, who owns the market with his sister, runs the business that was started by his grandfather, and you’ll often find him behind the deli counter filling orders or wandering the store making sure the shelves are stocked.

A great deal has changed in the almost 100 years that the market has been serving customers, but in a great many ways nothing has changed at all…

Central Street Market
15 Central St., Hudson
978-568-8888

By Linnea Sheldon

Where can people from all over the globe go to feel at home? It sounds like a trick question, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s not, and the answer is Central Street Market in Hudson, a town known for its large Portuguese population. Owners Monica and Carlos Freitas make it their business to make sure that everyone who steps through the door of their store feels welcome and finds what they’re looking for ~ and maybe even some special items they weren’t!

if you’re looking for hard-to-find ethnic favorites, this is your place, with shelves lined with popular imports. Aside from typical convenience store fare such as tobacco, lottery, beer, wine, calling cards, and even cosmetics, the market carries products imported from all over Central America and overseas.

The market specializes in meat and caters particularly to Brazilians, Portuguese, Latinos, and Italians. The homemade sausage, known as chourico or linguisa, is very popular. The market sells hot and sweet Italian sausage, chicken and pork sausage, and oven-ready stuffed chicken. All of the meats are all-natural and fresh, with no steroids, hormones, or antibiotics. They also carry a good selection of seafood.

The market, which was once owned by Monica’s uncle, has been in the family again for about two years. Monica said the ethnic piece is what really sets them apart from other stores in town, “We have a butcher,” she explained, “People come in and pick out a particular meat and the butcher cuts it, nothing is prepackaged.”

The store has many regulars, thanks not only to the large ethnic selection, but also to the family’s hospitality. “We give them a one-on-one a lot of other places don’t,” Monica said. “We’re really big on customer service.”

Monica has a degree in Business Administration and Management, and her husband works as a field engineer. Both speak fluent English, Portuguese, and Spanish. “People feel comfortable coming in here and talking to us,” Monica explained. “Plus they can get all their products they would get back home, because we import them. About 80% of our products are ethnic products.”
Monica’s parents were both from Portugal, and Carlos’ family is also Portuguese. Monica’s sister, Tania Garcia, also works at the store and helps prepare popular dishes to sell.

One of the most popular products are the fresh, hot Portuguese rolls that are delivered every weekday at 3 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday mornings. They also have someone making Portuguese bread and torresmos, which are fried bacon, pork loin, and pork tenderloin, which is then marinated and fried.

Exploring all the different cultures of her customers is one of Monica’s favorite parts of owning the market. It is located right outside the center of town, and her customers are always willing to share their own recipes. “I had never really explored Brazilian and Spanish food before we were here,” she said. “Now my customers give me recipes to try and I enjoy learning about all the different cultures. I have customers from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Columbia, and someday I would love to put a cookbook together to share.”

Monica explained that her store is different from a typical grocery store in Portugal because they have everything under one roof. The market also carries a large selection of imported cheeses, and a good wine selection, plus everything ireasonably priced. For those who are a little intimidated, Monica is quick to suggest a meat rub or some spices to liven up a dish.

The market is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

An Authentic Ghanaian Dish

An Authentic Ghanaian Dish

Chelsea’s International Mini Market: A Taste of Africa, Right Down the Street
560 Lincoln Street, Worcester
508-852-1138

By Rachel Shuster

Africa is a continent rich in tradition, culture and history. Chelsea’s International Mini Market, located at 560 Lincoln Street in Worcester, shows us that Africa is also rich in flavor. This market is a small and simple establishment located modestly in an unobtrusive strip mall. As you walk into the store, the smooth sounds of authentic African music travel through your ear drums, as the scent of both sweet and zesty spices tingle your nostrils.

All of the food products in the market come from countries in Africa ~ Nigeria, Guinea, Ghana and others. The market has a vast variety of African spices and ingredients including fish powder, wrewre, agushie, cray, waakye leaves, winbi flour, corn flour and corn oil. These popular African foods are sold in simple packaging and containers so as to highlight rather than overpower the beauty of the products themselves. The three aisles of the market are also full of canned and paper packaged products including various types of beans, fish, and meats. These spices, canned foods and other ingredients are all offered at unbelievably reasonable prices, ranging from $.79 to $6.99. Other products including fresh ginger, onions, cassava dough, corn dough, and Okra, both whole and cut, are very reasonably priced.

Not only are these spices and cooking ingredients pouring off the shelves, but there are also 5 large freezers stocked with more ethnic fare: there are assortments of chicken, goat, sheep, cow feet, lamb, and tripe (a delicacy of edible entrails of cows’ stomachs). The freezers also hold various types of fish including croaker, tilapia and red snapper, as well as some frozen vegetables, such as spinach.

Next to these freezers is a refrigerator full of both ethnic drinks (Malta Goya, for example) and American favorites like Coca Cola.

Aside from the ethnic African food and drink, the market also provides a whole section of African fashion wraps, displayed in all different colors, lengths and patterns. These wraps are located next to the fully stocked shelves of bath and body products behind the counter; some of these products include shampoos and lotions clearly unique to African countries.

Other features of the market include posters promoting upcoming ethnic African events in the city, an entire wall devoted to ethnic CDs and DVDs, and a board that indicates current Vigo rates, noting the rates of countries like the US, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Chelsea’s Mini Market also provides international money transfer and phone cards.

Chelsea’s Mini Market is clearly not out to make a huge profit or compete with other markets, but instead to provide a place where the sensibilities, products, and tastes of Africa are offered to those for whom they are a reminder of home and also to those who wish to experience them for the first time, as I was.

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