By Tom Phan

Getting tired of shopping at your local grocery store? Next time try looking for a Southeast Asian grocery store in your neighborhood. These stores have been gaining popularity in Taiwan as they offer unique flavors and ingredients at affordable prices. Mostly run by Southeast Asian owners, they offer a unique shopping experience for Taiwanese consumers, providing access to products that are not commonly found in local supermarkets. 

But what and where are these grocery stores? Some sell a wide range of goods from various Southeast Asian countries, while others only sell products from one specific country, such as Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. How can we identify the culture associated with a grocery store? What are the distinguishing characteristics? 

About one in every 40 residents in Taiwan is a migrant worker or a resident from Southeast Asia. As migrant communities formed, Southeast Asian grocery stores have sprung up. Besides Southeast Asian customers, these stores have also drawn the attention of Taiwanese shoppers who are eager to try out new food and ingredients.

Most Southeast Asian stores can be identified by the national flags above the entrances. Occasionally one might see a number of different flags next to the store entrance, which means they sell  products from several different countries. 

The store name, logo and décor also provide clues to the country of origin. Indonesian stores are always labeled “Toko Indo” (“Indonesian store”). Philippine stores usually have English names that are printed in bright colors while the names of Thai or Vietnamese stores are usually printed in the local language.

Tom Phan

As migrants from the same cultural background gathered, places like  the “Myanmar Street” in Nanshijiao, “Small Philippines” on Zhongshan North Road, and “Indonesian Street” near Taipei Main Station appeared. 

Southeast Asian grocery stores sell a wide range of products, including foods, spices, drinks, snacks, and candy. Some stores also sell seafood and fresh produce that are not commonly found in Taiwanese supermarkets, such as durian, longan, green papaya, and other vegetables and herbs. They also offer various spices and seasonings that are essential to Southeast Asian cuisine. 

In addition, Indonesian stores often sell prepared foods, the most popular of which is “Bakso meatballs” (also sold in frozen packages). Some stores also provide dine-in options. “Tempe,” a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans, is a best-selling item.

If you shop at a Philippine store, you will definitely be surprised by the large selection of canned products, including beef and tuna. Moreover, a wide range of colorful pastries and snacks. Philippine coconut oil, Cebu dried mango, mango juice, are also representative of the rich culinary tradition of the Philippines.

Vietnamese stores offer an incredible variety of spices and herbs, vital components that give the nation’s cuisine its iconic flavor and taste. You might want to try Vietnamese coffee, and sometimes you may find fresh pastries on the cashier counter. These pastries are only sold on weekends, and different specialties are served each week. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from the staff.

Tom Phan

Among the several Southeast Asian stores I have visited, ECC on Zhongshan North Road is the most impressive. This supermarket, which mainly sells Philippine products, has been in business for more than 20 years. Its size and range of products are comparable to PX Mart and Carrefour, two of Taiwan’s largest supermarket chains.

In addition to selling food, ECC also provides salary settlement services for migrant workers, as well as shipping services to assist with sending goods to the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries in the region. Most interestingly, there is a list of best-selling goods on the wall next to the ECC counter, so that customers can quickly browse through popular items and decide what to buy. 

Next time if you get tired of shopping at 7-11 or your local grocery stores, be sure to explore these Southeast Asian stores in your neighborhood. You might find a bargain, a new ingredient, or simply, an exciting cultural experience.

The article first appeared on every little d. Translation is by Grace Weng.

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