Lafayette Square is swarming with international restaurants and markets, so much so that The New York Times wrote about it. This salad bowl of different cultures is led by the Lafayette Square Area Coalition, which is branding the area as an international marketplace, though all you have to do is look around to see that a variety of cultures are present. You’re only a sliding door away from access to Chinese, African, Indian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Saraga International Grocery is the superstore market where every aisle represents a different country. Need to find yuca or thai hot peppers? The produce section is colorful, testing my curiosity with odd shapes, textures and names I’ve never seen before. Saraga has a full-service meat and seafood counter, where you can order international delicacies like jellyfish and beef feet but also extra large shelled shrimp and racks of pork ribs. My favorite aisle had to be that with the snacks, because anything deep fried transcends cultural boundaries. Don’t leave without stopping to smell the sweetness of the bakery with its graffiti banner that leaves you thinking you just stepped off the subway in NYC.
International Foods is the mom and pop version of Saraga but specializes in South Asian fare. There are dozens of prepackaged spice mixes to purchase, from tandoori to more types of masala than I knew existed (I’m finding this cultural newness to be a trend). Almost any kind of bean, rice and grain could be found, although there wasn’t always an English translation listed on the bag. I was stumped by things like moong beans and ghee, but I ended up walking out with jasmine tea, some spice boxes and garlic powder.
Carniceria Guanajuato is a Mexican grocery store and restaurant tucked away off of Lafayette Road. With a full produce department, meat and seafood counters and grocery aisles, give yourself some time to wander and familiarize yourself with Mexican ingredients. Come prepared with an idea of what you’re looking for or make sure you have access to a Spanish-English dictionary as the entire produce department has signs in Spanish, not English. The aisles are friendlier, stacked with every kind of bean and tortilla product imaginable. I walked out with some cactus to deep fry and sweet gorditas that taste like cookies.
There are so many other markets in the Lafayette Square area to explore, and I can’t wait to see what culinary treasures are out there and share them with you!