Ottawa’s specialty grocers: Dutch, Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, Italian food…and beyond!
Alex Hosselet likes to keep it real, especially in the kitchen. One of his favourite pastimes is to relax at the end of a long day by whipping up delicious meals for family and friends.
Ottawa is a very diverse city. Beyond the embassies, festivals and multicultural neighbourhoods, Ottawa boasts a tonne of terrific specialty grocers, stocked with delicious and exotic foods from around the world.
Here is a selection of some of my favourites.
This has to be mentioned first because it is the oldest grocer I ever remember going to. Being Dutch, my family has been coming here as long as it has been open – decades. They have delicious sweets like Dutch chocolate (including the chocolate letters I receive EVERY year for Christmas), Speculaas cookies (which are ginger-flavoured and shaped like windmills), and black licorice (including the salted variety for the hardcore). The deli has a great selection of meats and cheeses, and prepares tasty sandwiches for a very low price. The deli even stocks horse meat, which is maligned by every non-Dutch person I’ve ever met, although I’ve been raised eating it and I find it’s both very tasty and very healthy (see here). There is a wide selection of Dutch goods and decorations, and an impressive selection of Indonesian food and spices, as Indonesia was once a Dutch colony. As a last added bonus, Dutch Groceries and Imports is right beside The Comic Book Shoppe, making the Bleeker Mall on Clyde an incredibly alluring location for me.
It seems like everyone, Chinese and non-Chinese alike, got incredibly excited when the T&T Supermarket on Hunt Club opened. I didn’t seem to get the same thrill, having frequented the Kowloon Market and other East Asian grocers for years. Put simply, Kowloon has every Chinese ingredient I’ve ever needed for cooking. They also have a great bakery with a great selection of inexpensive snacks. If you haven’t tried Chinese baked goods, my recommendation is to stop by and spend just over a dollar on a delicious coconut bun – I have a feeling you’ll be eager to try more. Kowloon recently went under renovations to expand and re-design their store, leaving it in a much improved and spacious condition. They’ve also expanded their traditional stock to include more products such as milk, OJ and white bread. As I live a few blocks away, I appreciate this convenience a lot.
I will admit that I have a crippling and irrational fear of Vanier. I’ve been trying to get over it by going out to experience more that Vanier has to offer. And Mario’s Food Centre is enough for me to make a trip out. I agreed to make dinner for a friend one time – a meal of their choosing. They asked for Portuguese cuisine, which I had absolutely no idea how to make. I consulted a Portuguese friend, looked up some recipes online, and called grocer after grocer until I found that Mario’s Food Centre carried all the ingredients I was looking for. A great selection of meats, spices, condiments and baked goods made this little shop a jewel on McArthur. Much like Dutch Groceries and Imports, they also carry Portuguese decorations: not surprising, many of them soccer-themed. If you are like I was, and haven’t experience much Portuguese food, do yourself a favour and put together a meal from Mario’s.
I spent several years working with a Vietnamese family, and was lucky enough to pick up a handful of recipes. When I have a craving for Vietnamese, I pick up groceries from Phuoc Loi. They carry the right blend of vegetables, noodles and spices to put together all of the meals I learned to make. If you’re a big fan of the pho, spring rolls and rice wraps you find at Vietnamese restaurants, why not learn to make them yourself? You’ll find everything you need at Phuoc Loi.
Nasa Food Centre is my one-stop shop for Indian and Pakistani food. I learned about it from my former roommate, who taught me how to prepare Pakistani delicacies. They have great canned and dry goods, as well as mixes and spices blends for preparing great foods like curries, masalas, chutnies and haleem. They carry many pre-made goods, such as their paneer parathas. They carry baked sweets, including the addictive gulab jamun, and make their own naan bread. To top it off, the staff is always exceptionally friendly with me.
I have been told on numerous occasions that I eat an inhuman amount of pasta. I would say that I eat a very reasonable amount of extremely compelling pasta. These two grocers, located right beside each other, are my destination for all my Italian needs. Luciano Foods has the largest variety of pasta and artisan sauces I’ve ever seen. They have every sort of ingredient, preserve and condiment you could want. They have a great butchery on-site with an impressive selection of meats. They have freezers stocked with cheeses from around the world, single-serving desserts, home-made gelato by the pint, and refreshing Italian beverages. If you haven’t managed to overdose on your main course, you can even pick up some of their Italian chocolates. The Home of Fresh Pasta is pretty much exactly what you’d think: a specialty vendor of very high-quality, fresh pasta. Italian food isn’t hard to find or particularly hard to make, but Luciano Foods and Home of Fresh Pasta has the very best.
There’s not enough time in the world for me to sample food from every corner of the world, especially with so many favourites that I keep coming back to. Ottawa has a great selection of grocers like the ones above that can provide you ingredients and experiences that you’ve never known before. If there’s a specialty grocer in your neighbourhood that you’ve never been to, why not try it out? You just might end up loving it.
If you have another grocer you’d like mentioned, feel free to leave it in the comments or send your write up to LTOttawa@gmail.com. If you’d like to criticize Alex for condoning horse meat, that’s okay, too. He’s used to it.