All Photos by Sara Bloomberg
The Bay Area is a multicultural salad bowl. People from all over the world flock here for the culture, the weather, the thriving tech job market, and of course, the food. With so many different ethnic groups calling this region “home” it’s no wonder there’s such a diversity of food choices available. In addition to a wealth of restaurants serving a variety of international cuisines and neighborhoods organized around specific cultural groups (Chinatown, Japantown, The Mission, etc.) there are also many markets that feature foods specific to particular regional cuisines.
Here are five favorite specialty shops selling food and culinary goods imported from Spain, Japan, Russia, Germany and Italy. If you are curious to explore products from these countries or are nostalgic for the food and culture from any of these regions be sure to visit these shops. And, of course, there are so many more of these specialty stores in the Bay Area so please share your favorites in the comments.
Address: 1814 San Pablo Ave Berkeley, CA 94702 Phone: (510) 548-1383 Facebook: The Spanish Table Store Hours: Mon-Sat 10:00am-6:00pm, Sun 11:00am-5:00pm
Why we love it? How about a paella pan made to serve 200 people?
Looking for food from the Iberian Coast? Come to Berkeley’s International Marketplace, home of The Spanish Table 2 which opened in 2001. Here you will find foods from Portugal, Spain, Andorra, Gibraltar and, most recently, North Africa. The store sells wine, groceries, cookware, ceramics and cookbooks, and there is an online wine shop dedicated to selling wine from these regions. Store Manager, Caty Salas explained the main reason people shop here is the depth of product selection. “No one else has this focus. It’s a specialized niche,” she said. Salas said that while Cost Plus World Market may have some things, they certainly don’t have the range of products that Spanish Table imports. And, that’s what keeps customers coming back.
“We have people from all over the world shopping here,” Salas said. “People come in here and say, ‘Oh my god. I haven’t seen these since I lived in Spain.”
Indeed, you can find a wealth of Spanish imports here—paella pans, tapas, North African tagines to make stews, and even a pickled partridge preserved in a jar. Not their best seller, Salas said, but certainly unique. They also carry a delectable selection of Manchego, jamon iberico, lomo, almonds, olives angulas, bacalao, piquillos and padrones.
They also have an impressive selection of Sherry and Madeira wine, as well as Spanish beer and wine.
Address: 1220 San Pablo Ave Berkeley, CA 94706 Phone: (510) 524-7243 Store Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00am-6:00pm
Why we love it? A shelf of sushi roe that comes in all colors of the rainbow.
Tokyo Fish Market is not just a fish market. It’s an institution that’s been around since 1963. You will certainly find plenty of fresh seafood, some even imported directly from Japan. The market is frequently packed with patrons who come to purchase items such as sake, Japanese rice, mochi candies, Japanese vegetables and live crabs. They carry over 100 types of fish and seafood products ranging from local rock cod and squid to smelt, tuna, halibut, octopus and soft-shell crabs. They also have a separate gift shop with Japanese food-related specialty items.
Address: 5335 Geary Blvd (Between 17th Ave & 18th Ave) San Francisco, CA 94121 Neighborhood: Inner Richmond Phone: (415) 221-5550 Store Hours: Every day 9:00am-9:00pm
Why we love it? They have chocolate “babushka” dolls.
Looking for a little Eastern European flavor to spice up your weekly menu? The Royal Market & Bakery is your one-stop shop. Located in the Inner Richmond district, Armenian store owner Vardges Kazaryan said vodka is definitely one of their best sellers.
“We carry vodka. Lots of vodka,” he said. “Whatever you want, we have.”
They sell a mix of traditional Russian foods, as well as some Armenian, Georgian, and Middle Eastern fare. Their selection of fresh, Russian-inspired homemade products is quite impressive: Armenian bread, sweet cakes, savory kebabs, potatoes with sauce, pork, vegetables, chicken, beef tongues and caviar.
You can also find pierogies, sausages, cheddars, fresh fish and meat and housemade pickles of all kinds. The bakery is stellar, too, and offers Russian-style cranberry and cherry cakes from Los Angeles as well as other housemade desserts.
Address: 1581 Church Street San Francisco, CA 94131 Neighborhood: Noe Valley Phone: (415) 282-6803 Hours: Everyday 10:00am-6:00pm
Why we love it? Rows and rows of German candies, lots of sauerkraut and curry ketchup.
Walking into Lehr’s German Specialties is like walking into Germany. And store owner Bridgette Lehr is there to guide you. She’s a sweet German woman who will tell you everything you need to know about Germany, German food and why they can’t carry the infamous Kinder Surprise Eggs, anymore. (A chocolate egg containing a small toy. Apparently, there was a lawsuit and the company is prohibited from selling them in the U.S.).
This is one of the last German-owned businesses in San Francisco that sells regional specialties including German food and drinks, books, and decorations. It’s been in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood for about 40 years and has a loyal following.
They carry a wide range of German products: large blocks of marzipan, teas to help cure insomnia, bloodwurst sausages, head cheese, pickled herring, handkäse (a type of cheese) and even sauerkraut juice to help with digestion.
A large portion of the store is also dedicated to German magazines, CDs and cassette tapes, cookware, imported toiletry items and costumes for Oktoberfest.
Address: 1100 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 Neighborhood: The Mission Phone: (415) 647–5581 Store Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00am-6:00pm
Why we love it? Ravioli made on site with an old-school ravioli roller. Stop by in the morning to see the men hard at work.
Looking for fresh housemade Italian ravioli? Need gourmet Italian salami for that dinner party tonight? Go to Lucca Ravioli Company in San Francisco’s Mission district. From the moment you enter the always-crowded market you are treated like family. The experience is almost surreal. Men in white aprons greeting customers like they’re guests in their home. Store manager Martin Ricker seems to know every customer on a first-name basis.
The friendly service keeps people coming back for more, especially around the holidays when patrons line up down the block for specialty turkey and pumpkin ravioli. 54 pillows of this delightful dough will only cost you $7 a box. Don’t even think about trying to call in an order ahead of time. First come, first-served. That’s been the rule since the store opened in 1925.
They also carry other fresh pastas made on site such as fettuccine, tagliarini, linguini, lasagna and spinach-flavored; a huge array of dry meats, blocks of cheese, their ever-popular homemade pizza dough, wine and Fernet Branca—that bitter and aromatic Italian digestif— one of their best selling items and a San Francisco favorite for hangover prevention.