In the 1960s, soy sauce was only available at specialty Chinese grocers in the city. Now, you can buy Asian ingredients at most supermarkets. But Asian grocers have far bigger, more interesting ranges and still carry ingredients that are hard to find elsewhere – and they often have better prices too. The best ones, crammed full of exotic ingredients, recreate what it's like to go shopping in Asia – no supermarket does that! So make your grocery shopping less chore-some and more awesome with a trip to some of Melbourne's best Asian grocers.
GREAT EASTERN FOOD CENTRE
'Where can I get kaya in Melbourne?' is the cry of anyone who's indulged in it overseas. Commonly eaten on toast or as a roti filling in Malaysia, the rich, sweet coconut spread is available at many of Melbourne's Asian grocers, but Great Eastern stocks about six different types.
That's the theme that runs through this popular store – if you want something, chances are they've got several varieties of it. No wonder it's always crammed with homesick expats and local foodies hunting for noodles, sweets, chips and condiments from all over Asia.
There's a decent selection of alcoholic drinks, frozen meats and seafood, tofu any way you like it (deep fried, soft, firm, vacuum-packed), fresh soy milk and, come the Mid-Autumn Festival (usually late September or early October), there are loads of mooncakes available both individually and by the box. With so much great stuff, this shop definitely lives up to its name.
Great Eastern Food Centre | 185 Russell Street in Melbourne | 03 9663 3716
NAN YANG SUPERMARKET
Ever wanted to buy a 15-litre bottle of soy sauce for under $16? On the hunt for pure coconut water without the crazy-in-the-coconut pricetag? Head to Nan Yang, a massive Asian grocer with teeny prices, enough cookware and crockery to outfit a new restaurant, and aisles and aisles of ingredients from China, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia.
There's a fridge full of mock meat and plenty of the real stuff, too – Nan Yang has its own butcher. It also has its own greengrocer section, where fresh herbs start at 50 cents a bunch. Oh, and that coconut water? The Chaokoh brand was $1.30 for 520ml when The Urban List visited, making it the cheapest we've seen in Melbourne. Take your spare change to Nan Yang and go nuts.
Nan Yang Supermarket | 313 Springvale Road in Springvale | 03 9546 7277
The first thing that hits you when you enter this Indian grocery store is the smell – an enticing, heady aroma created by the hundreds of spices along one wall. The second thing is the sheer size of this place.
Once a single shop bursting with sacks of rice, kilogram bags of dried chilli, and jars of curry pastes and powders, QG quickly expanded into the shop next door to accommodate its growing range. That second space is now full of refrigerated and frozen goods, including roti, lassis and cheap, reliable ready-meals that actually taste good, and plans are underway to expand even further into a third shop.
Stock up on snacks (we like the addictive bhuja mixes), legumes, chai and chutney and the third thing that'll hit you is the price – this place is damn cheap, even without the 5% membership discount. Sign up and you can shout yourself a Bollywood DVD with the savings – there's a heap to choose from at the front counter.
Quality Groceries | 1120 Glenhuntly Road in Glen Huntly | 03 9571 5544
Fuji Mart is a slice of Japan in middle of Prahran. If you need cheap boxer shorts, kitchen gadgets or sock glue (it's for sticking socks to your skin so they stay up, not for repairing holes in socks), head to the 100-yen-style variety shop section.
Fancy making nori rolls, katsu don or even your own tofu? Fuji Mart has all the ingredients you need, plus free recipes. And if you don't want to buy whole packets of ingredients, keep an eye out for individual sachets of miso, soy sauce and dashi.
Beautifully patterned ceramic crockery will ensure your meal looks good, and there's also a range of sake flasks and cups. Speaking of beverages, a corner of the shop is devoted to them – sake enthusiasts, take note. Seriously big bottles of the stuff share space with super cute single-serve glasses of sake and umeshu (plum wine) – just remove the lid and enjoy. Handwritten signs point out the growing popularity of shochu (barley wine) and while we can't vouch for the claim that it 'cleans the blood', hell, it's worth a shot. Kanpai!
Fuji Mart | 34A Elizabeth Street in South Yarra | 03 9826 5839
With a handful of Korean grocery stores and more Korean restaurants than you can poke a chopstick at, it's fair to say Koornang Roadd, Carnegie, is fast becoming Melbourne's 'little Korea'. Put some Seoul into your shopping with a visit to Mirae Mart, opposite the super popular Mrs Kim's Grill and a few paces from the stalwart Kimchi Grandma.
Head to the cooking equipment section and pick up a UFO-like Korean barbecue, select a packet of finely sliced beef from the freezer (perfect for bulgogi), a bottle of sesame oil and a tub of gochujang (red chilli paste) and start your own cooking Korea at home.
Mirae Mart | 135 Koornang Road in Carnegie | 03 9572 2555
Street food rules in Thailand, and it's something any visitor to the Land of Smiles misses once they come home. Recreate your favourite dishes with a copy of David Thompson's Thai Street Food (Penguin Books) and a basketful of ingredients from Talad Thai. Choose a jar of stinky but essential shrimp paste, a bottle of fish sauce and some Nittaya curry paste, arguably Bangkok's best – yes, it's from the same fragrant shop you stumbled past on your way to Khao San Rd – and you're on your way to making some killer meals.
Serious foodies should check out the range of cooking equipment – Thai-style street vendor satay grills are available in a few sizes, as are sticky-rice steamers and serving baskets.
Talad Thai | 1-5 Ferguson Street in Abbotsford | 03 9416 1520
OK, it's not strictly a grocery store, but Footscray Market is a must-visit if you're after specialty Asian ingredients such as banana flowers or sawtooth coriander. Wander into the heart of the market and you might feel like you're actually in Asia, with crowds gathering around butchers busily carving up pork bellies and goat, and discerning shoppers picking over mountains of fresh herbs and cheap vegies.
Asian grocery stores within the market can help you tick off whatever else is on your shopping list, from Filipino candy to black sesame ice cream, and if you need a wok or a rice cooker there's a convenient homewares stall, too
Footscray Market | 81 Hopkins Street in Footscray
Open Tuesday to Saturday (hours vary)
Main Image Credit: Brown Dress with White Dots