Super King Market
Although Super King Market has already been discussed across multiple food media platforms, this local grocery store chain is exactly what I had in mind to kick start this exploration of Los Angeles’ food landscape. Super King, as an Armenian-owned grocery chain, stocks a lot of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ingredients and brands. Grapeseed oil dominates the oil aisle (say that 10 times really fast) and sumac can be found in extra large sized jars. But what Super King is notorious for is their produce section.
Let’s set the scene: You finally find a parking spot at the busy San Fernando Road location. As you approach the entrance, you are greeted by pallet-sized crates of already cheap sale items. Already a win. You look for a basket but all they offer are large carts (I’m team basket myself, I almost always prefer the speed and maneuverability of a handheld vessel over feeling like captaining a barge through several narrow canals). Once inside, your jaw will drop at the sight of the famous Super King produce section.
It’s like the farmer’s market meets Costco bulk bins. The produce section is almost the size of a Food 4 Less’ produce section but the total size of the store itself is no bigger than your average Trader Joe’s. Seasonal produce is highlighted front and center here, this is the stuff that’s usually occupying said bulk bins. You will likely find something you’ve never found at a grocery store before, especially not at a national chain store, such as fresh dates. They look like blonde baby prunes, clustered on a thin branch like a bunch of grapes – nothing like what you would imagine if you’re only familiar with the pruney dried kind of dates. Ingredients that some may be familiar with but may have only encountered on restaurant menus, such as nopales, are available at Super King as well. Its produce section more so resembles the farmer’s market than even Whole Foods does: the bins so large and overflowing that you have to sift through to find the best produce yourself, hardly anything is too uncomfortably shiny and uniform. Hence the reason a lot of chefs like to shop here. Oh and the best part about this produce section? The prices are *chef’s kiss* so very low.
The Lay of the Land
Beyond the produce aisle, you’ll find a dairy section that is mostly stocked with lots and lots of labneh, a staple if you’re munching on a Mediterranean spread for dinner. There’s also a great selection of fresh Mexican cheeses, such as Oaxacan cheese and queso fresco. And, of course, halloumi can be found here. It’s known as “frying” cheese because it will form a crust if shallow fried in a pan with oil instead of melting into a soup. I’m glad this cheese is on the come-up because it reminds me of Wisconsin’s beloved fried cheese curds, both cheeses are sturdy yet tender.
The grains aisle is an entire other world to get lost in. They stock bulgar, pearled wheat, barley, and buckwheat, ingredients one could assign to the category of grains all-day cafes love to use in their “seasonal grain bowl”. Buying your rice here would be an excellent idea. Imported jasmine rice – yes, the real stuff from Thailand – and basmati can be found in a variety of brands and bulk sizes.
While I didn’t thoroughly scour the frozen section, I can confirm they stock phyllo dough, the kind of puff pastry that you need to make baklava. I can’t imagine making it myself anytime soon as I’m sure I can find a more astounding version at a nearby Persian restaurant or bakery, but it’s nice to know I have that option.
The butcher’s counter is a dead giveaway for the customer base being equally as Latino as it is Armenian. The fun parts of a cow, such as tripe and tongue, are on full display. It is scientifically proven (by me) that those cuts make the best tacos. Feel free to replicate this experiment yourself at Tacos El Primo on the corner of Redondo and West Adams.
Finally, Super King’s bakery section is so much more fun and interesting than your average national chain’s. Lavash, a type of flat bread, can be purchased, essentially, by the foot. Might as well pick up a yard or two so you have something to scoop up your labneh with.
And the ultimate question: is there fish sauce? Yes. Only one brand though, a Filipino brand which I have never heard of called Ligo.
Come here for: cheap farmer’s market-esque produce when you’re an East Side homebody too lazy to go all the way to Santa Monica, hard to find Middle Eastern spices and sauces, and cheap groceries overall.
Don’t come here for: East Asian ingredients. This section resembles a Middle America “ethnic” food aisle. That’s ok because there are plenty of other great places to get East Asian ingredients, some of those places might even be highlighted in future installments of this newsletter…
Super King Market 02
2716 N San Fernando Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90065
What I Bought
“Molasses” may be somewhat of a misnomer for this ingredient as its flavor profile is more tart and bright than sweet and rich. Essentially, it’s pomegranate juice reduced down to a thicker viscosity, so if anything that is where the relation to molasses comes from. If you like to cook from an Ottelenghi cookbook – and I’m sure 4 out of 5 of you reading this have one of his best-selling titles on your shelf right now – you’re probably going to need to source pomegranate molasses for some of those recipes. Ottelenghi can probably give you a better idea of what you can use this in, but I would suggest sweetening up a braise with it or whisking it into a salad dressing. I’ve used it as a glaze on whole-roasted cauliflower, one of my favorite vegan entrees, which helps it to caramelize under the broiler.
According to the plastic bag this Zaatar comes in, it’s been imported from Lebanon. If you’ve seen that video of Arab grandmas tasting (then immediately spitting out) spice jars of Zaatar packaged in the US and are also haunted by the idea that you’ll never know what the real thing tastes like, I think this might cure that fear. Zaatar is not only the name of this spice blend but also the main ingredient of said spice blend. It’s an herb that grows wild in that region and has been described as tasting like a cross between thyme and oregano. Since you can’t buy any less than a full quart of this stuff, I assume people eat it by the fistful, something I also intend to do.
Orange Blossom Water
This shit is liquid gold. Smells amazing. If you’re bored and feel the need to make Thai tea from scratch, consider picking up some of this. I don’t know what else to use it in but personally I don’t care because this is all I buy it for.