May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, making it the perfect time to dust off that old recipe of halmoni’s or to finally take a stab at that pad see ew you’ve been wanting to make. Fortunately, Milwaukee is home to a number of independent Asian grocery stores, some carrying ingredients from across the continent and others specializing in Chinese, Indian or Burmese products. Here are a few of the top spots to stock your kitchen with the same supplies you’d score in Seoul or Shanghai, all while supporting AAPI Milwaukeeans.
5455 S. 27TH ST. | 414-308-1095
The largest Asian supermarket in the Milwaukee area, Pacific Produce stocks a good balance of products from across East and Southeast Asia. From kimchi and papayas to laksa paste and pickled mustard greens, you can find just about anything you want here. There are instant noodles from across the continent, beef tendon for that authentic bowl of pho, whole salmon for aspiring sushi chefs, and big packs of Thai chilies just waiting to mess you up in the most delicious way. And for folks who are unfamiliar with Asian food and need a gateway drug, Pacific Produce also has an enormous selection of Asian junk food: White Rabbit milk candies (China), hot-chili-squid-flavored Lay’s potato chips (Thailand), Oh Yes! snack cakes (South Korea) and a whole lot more.
2404 W. CLYBOURN ST. | 414-667-9666
The Chinese pop playing on the stereo and red lanterns hanging from the ceiling tell you all you need to know about Mo’s specialty. This is a great place to pick up ingredients for hot pot, as the store carries an assortment of seasoning packets, fresh vegetables and frozen packs of thinly sliced lamb, beef and pork. There’s also an entire wall devoted to frozen dumplings: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, pork, vegetable, shrimp, gyoza, shumai, wontons, potstickers, cartoon buns shaped like pandas and more. Additionally, Mo’s kimchi offerings are probably Milwaukee’s best. While most Asian groceries carry the standard Napa cabbage variety, Mo’s also offers buchu (chives) kimchi, chonggak (young radish) kimchi, baek (white) kimchi, and kkakdugi (diced radish kimchi). Fans of Japanese cuisine (and spending money) will find a respectable selection of sake and frozen cuts of Wagyu ribeye for $108/lb. This is also a good spot to pick up Asian kitchenware, like ramen bowls, woks and bamboo steamers.
10701 W. NORTH AVE., WAUWATOSA | 414-771-3535
Indian Groceries & Spices is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and it’s easy to see why the store has stayed in business for so long, as it offers the area’s best selection of subcontinental foodstuffs. Seasoned Indian cooks will find dosa batters, 20-pound bags of chapati flour, a wide variety of ghee and paneer, and an enormous array of legumes – kidney beans, red lentils, chickpeas, and more – while those with less experience can start with boxed mango lassis, frozen naan and some of the many instant meals stocked here. Indian Groceries & Spices even has an organic section that includes dal, coriander powder and jaggery. In addition to food, the store also sells henna supplies, bangles and incense sticks designed for every possible situation, from a bit of bedroom passion to a sales call with your most enervating client. An added bonus: the store hosts monthly Indian vegetarian cooking classes.
4. 5XEN Market
6300 N. 76TH ST. | 414-446-9100
Rows of Southeast Asian produce and dry goods, brightly colored traditional clothing decorated with silver coins and informal restaurants serving chicken larb and steamed fish all give 5XEN more than a passing resemblance to markets in Phonsavan or Sa Pa. Alongside purple sticky rice and pandan leaves, you’ll find whole frozen quails, grill-ready Laotian pork sausage and “Buddhist style” frozen chickens from Mekong Fresh Meats, a Hmong butcher in Mosinee. At the rear of the market are stalls filled with dense patchworks of soaps, balms and medicines imported from Thailand, as well as vendors selling traditional Hmong, Thai, and Lao clothing. There’s a small food court of sorts here, too, where you can sit down to a bowl of pho, red curry or some bubble tea.
4900 W. NORTH AVE. | 414-442-4016
On the West Side, Viet Hoa is a solid all-arounder, carrying a good selection of both East Asian and Southeast Asian staples. You’ll find fresh durian, gingko nuts, fish mint and bamboo along with frozen eel, squid, shrimp and frog legs. The store’s butcher carries everything from beef shank and chicken feet to pork tongue. Viet Hoa also has a notably wide selection of tofu varieties, fish cakes, instant noodles and pickled ingredients, the latter including Thai eggplant, lotus rootlets, lemon and cassia leaves.
IN ADDITION TO these larger stores, there are a number of smaller Asian grocers scattered across the city, with many of them serving specific immigrant communities. Here are three that are worth checking out.
6. Bharat Mart
1556 N. FARWELL AVE. | 414-210-5046
This compact shop sells all the Indian basics – rice, legumes, paratha, instant curries – along with some cooking implements and Indian clothing. At least five Indian brews are included among its excellent beer selection.
3401 W. NATIONAL AVE. | 414-383-4188
Smelling faintly of durian, this welcoming little grocer focuses on Southeast Asian foods and sells several ready-to-eat dipping sauces, soups, and salads. The rhythmic pok-pok of mortar and pestle comes from a small counter where staff prepares made-to-order som tam. Choose traditional (Lao) or Thai style and a heat level: 1, 3, 5, or (gulp) X.
3875 S. 27TH ST. | 414-281-9200
Myanmar Asian Market is one of several Burmese grocery stores on the city’s South Side. If you’re looking to experiment with one of Asia’s most overlooked cuisines, you can find satay seasoning, paktew, mackerel crackers, and preserved plum here. And pick up a sepak takraw ball for a kick in the park while you’re at it.