What? You're still buying your tortillas, spices and exotic ingredients at chain supermarkets? For shame. Boise's numerous international markets are packed floor-to-ceiling with victuals and supplies that often humiliate their Anglo counterparts, both in price and authenticity. Sure, communicating with the clerks may be difficult to impossible at times, but the benefits of international shopping don't need to be verbalized--like exotic fresh vegetables flown in weekly, fish that have never been exposed to mercury-laden American water and dozens of super-healthy, super-tasty grains of which you won't believe you've never heard. Go now, before these treasures are dozed down to make way for a Walgreen's.
608 Grove St., 433-1208
Boise's most gourmet international market is also the most ambitious in the services it provides. Sure, owner Dan Ansotegui offers house-made rice pudding, meatballs and frozen croquettes, but fans of these Basque favorites can also learn how to wean themselves from the Market's teat, thanks to numerous cooking classes. Not in the mood to self-subsist? Then simply mix and match any of the following for dinner: a hunk of Manchego cheese, caracoles (snails in spicy tomato broth), anguilitos (baby eels), some salt-cured ham and a bottle of Luberri Spanish wine. It's absurdly simple and ridiculously good.
Thana's Exotic Market : 3107 Overland Rd., 331-3539
: No other store in town has as many cultures represented as Thana's. Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines are stenciled on the store's front window, but inside everyone from India to Ghana contributes a delicacy. Where else can an adventurous Boisean purchase a whole frozen goat--or if you want, just its head, liver or paaye (knuckles)--wash it down with an ice-cold Abali yogurt-flavored soda or basil seed drink and then rent all the finest Indian movies that Bollywood has to offer? I haven't even scratched the surface; truly, Thana's must be seen to be believed.
413 N. Orchard St., 453-9311
The same martini-shaped sign that once beckoned Orchard St. drivers into the Crescent "No Lawyers" Grill and Bar now marks the Hispanic market Campos, a recent transplant from Canyon County. While some local south-of-the-border groceries offer little more than a few boxed pastries, spices and re-bottled Pepsi, Campos is a market for people who love Mexican cooking. I'm talking 10 different kinds of dried chili peppers--most of which were new to me--as well as bulk corn posole, beans, rice, cinnamon and a huge selection of fresh meats. On the way out, make sure to pick up some Pico Pepino suckers. They're cucumber flavored, look like cucumber slices, and will make the niños think twice before questioning the order "eat your veggies."
1208 Vista Ave., 367-9109
For years, Europe Delicious has provided Bench-dwellers in the know with the finest European chocolate, Lavazza coffee and fresh pastries, as well as the most affordable sheep's milk feta one is likely to find anywhere in the state. Enjoy it while you can--the whole operation is moving into the suburban miasma of Fairview Ave. and Five Mile Rd. in a matter of weeks. They'll still offer the same choice meats and treats alongside the best videos from the Eastern Block, but in a much larger venue. Teleca tirolska (veal salami), we hardly knew ye.
608 N. Orchard St., 387-0000
India Market is a relative newcomer to the local international market lineup, but has quickly battled its way to the upper caste of Boise groceries. The cause: an unparalleled mixture of the easy and the authentic. For the Brahman on the go, dozens of high quality (and affordable) frozen and dried Indian entrees, ranging from masala dosa to palak aneer and numerous different curry dishes. For the Shudra who prefers to cook from scratch, the market features cheap ghee and tahini, as well as bags of rice, chickpeas and more obscure grains--like pigeon peas or horse grain. And each Friday through Sunday, look for a fresh vegetable market with plenty of fresh Indian veggies flown in from Florida.
1424 2nd St S., Nampa, 467-6033
: Come for the pastries, stay for the tongue tacos. This combination tortilla factory/bakery/meat market/taco stand has been the soul of Nampa's Hispanic food scene for years and shows no sign of slowing down. The pastries, made fresh daily, send incredible smells for miles in all directions. The meat market is the most comprehensive (organ-wise) in the valley and the tacos are the height of simple brilliance: fresh ingredients topped with onions and cilantro for $1. Shout along, sinners: We're not worthy! We're not worthy!
5805 W. Franklin Road, 345-2494
Just walk in and you can smell the musty perfume: rice, in bags as big as futons, stacked nearly to the ceiling. But food is only the start at this small market in the space once held by Mussel's Fish Market. Jewelry repair is also available at a tiny counter inhabited by a tiny old man, and a plethora of ornate (and dirt cheap!) blue and white dishes fill boxes along the back wall. With the recent closure of Korean Food and Gifts on Ustick, the multitasking market has become a rarity in Boise, and International Markets is the best of its kind. On the way out, don't forget to pick up a six-pack of preserved duck eggs and a Mong Lee Shang grass-jelly soda. Together, they are the official BW breakfast of champions.
4870 Emerald, 342-5507
The slim storefront between the Navajo Room and Emerald Lanes bowling alley is deceivingly large on the inside. There is so much food, spice and miscellany packed into this bizarre bazaar, just figuring out where to start is an adventure of global proportions. In aisle one, bag upon bag of fried pork ears--and yes, they're for human consumption. Along the back freezer wall, a fleet of frozen fish from around Asia and Oceania, including tilapia, flying fish and Indian mackerel. As garnish, why not drizzle a little pork blood or beef bile over some "vegetarian squid balls?" No? Well, at least don't miss Fresh Market Day, happening each Saturday. It's a feast for the senses, featuring heaps of fresh daikon, bok choy and other Asian staple ingredients driven up weekly from San Francisco.