There’s something about shopping for Thai groceries that gets me really excited.
I think part of this excitement comes from just loving to shop, because come on, what girl doesn’t love to shop?
But with Thai groceries, there’s an added element of excitement that comes from searching for hard-to-find things. You can’t just pop into any old Asian grocery store and find what you’re looking for… No, shopping for Thai groceries is more of a shopping expedition than a typical grocery store run. And then you tack on the thrill of finding new ingredients, ones that you weren’t searching for per se, but that are interesting and intriguing, and well, I’m sold!
So today I wanted to share with you some of the places where I let my excitement for Thai ingredients run wild! These three markets all happen to be within blocks of each other in Oakland, CA. Of course, there are many more markets catering to the Thai and Southeast Asian populations in the Bay Area and beyond (I’ve included links to some resources below), but these three markets are some of my personal favorites.
International Lao Market:
The International Lao Market (1619 International Blvd) is packed from floor to ceiling with sauces, spices, pastes, and other staples used in Thai cooking. They carry many different brands of fish sauces, soy sauces, oyster sauces, and more, and also have a good selection of my favorite Mae Anong curry pastes.
In addition to these dry ingredients, the International Lao market has a sizable fresh produce section where you can find elusive ingredients such as small shallots, betel leaves, holy basil, lemon basil, and even bitter melon leaves and ivy gourd vines. On occasion, they also carry cilantro with the roots attached and you have no idea how happy this makes me!
The frozen section of this market also has a great selection of hard-to-find Thai ingredients like various Thai sausages, frozen fish including the short bodied Thai mackerel known as pla tu, and even crickets and water beetles, if you’re interested!
The Mekong market (1613 International Boulevard) is right next door to the International Lao Market. Although a little smaller, this market also has a great selection of Thai ingredients that I find to be complimentary to what is offered next door. The Mekong market usually has the softest, most pliable plastic jars of palm sugar that I’ve found. They also typically have staples of Thai cuisine including Thai chilis, galanga, kaffir lime leaves, holy basil, and lemon basil (again, depending on the season). If you’re lucky, you might even run into a bag of a dozen fresh kaffir limes!
Like the other markets, the Mekong market carries Thai kitchen utensils such as cutting boards, cleavers, and mortars and pestles. They have also recently had these golden instruments for making lod chong in stock, and perhaps more importantly, the store owner was kind enough to give me detailed instructions for how to make this delicious dessert!
Mithapheap market (formerly known as Sontepheap Market, 1400 14th Avenue) is just two blocks down the street from the Lao and Mekong markets. This grocery also has a large selection of canned goods, spices, pastes, and sauces, but I usually come here specifically for their fresh produce. They carry vegetables that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere, including pea eggplants, young acacia leaves, and culantro.
Mithapheap also has a nice selection of Thai kitchen utensils, including sticky rice steamers and serving containers. I recently found a traditional Thai coconut scraper, to make my own coconut milk with, and have been having a lot of fun with it!
And if you’re lucky, you just might find some seedlings for sale in front of Mithapheap market. I actually found some of my holy basil seedlings here this Summer and they’ve really taken off and are doing well! And not too long ago, I was fortunate enough to find the most adorable kaffir lime tree seedlings I’ve ever seen. I brought several home and am hoping they take off as well…
The owners of all three of these markets are very helpful and encouraging. They go out of their way to explain how certain ingredients are used and will be sure to tell you when other ingredients will be in stock. I think this is one of the main reasons why these three markets are some of my favorites.
Of course, these three are just a few of the markets that sell ingredients used in Thai cooking in the Bay Area. Kasma Loha-Unchit of Thai Food and Travel has put together a fantastic list of groceries in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose which cater toward the Southeast Asian community. And if you’re not in the Bay Area, Natty Netsuwan of Thai Table has put together an awesome searchable resource for such markets around the United States. But really, more than anything, I’ve found that it just takes a little love of shopping and some dedication to Thai food to find the ingredients you need to whip up a delicious Thai dinner!