Instead of your usual grocery haunt, how about mixing it up the next time you head out to pick up produce, meats and snacks for the week?
Irvine is home to many diverse grocery stores with options like Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Persian and Indian markets.
And we’ve got the lowdown on the best items to get at these stores.
99 Ranch Market
Chicken wing-flavored Lays potato chips? Yes, please.
Irvine is home to two 99 Ranch Markets on Culver Drive and Walnut Avenue, and the Taiwanese American supermarket chain has a wide variety of Lay’s chips.
Another must-have is the Mogu Mogu drink: the lychee flavor with chewy bits of nata de coco is perfect for the warm summer months.
Want to impress your friends with a dim sum brunch? Pick up a bamboo steamer, and from the frozen section grab pork soup dumplings, shrimp cheung fun (rice noodle rolls), pork and green onion steamed buns, chicken gyoza and a pack of mixed dumplings. Serve with chili oil and an easy dipping sauce made of soy sauce, black vinegar and sugar.
The ramen aisles (don’t sleep on Shin Ramyun) provide plenty of options for easy weeknight dinners, and pick up a light and fluffy taro cake from the bakery for dessert.
Move over cinnamon rolls, and make way for sweet cinnamon hotteoks (stuffed pancakes). Grab them frozen for an easy, delicious breakfast.
H Mart also has three locations in Irvine: in the Irvine Business Complex, Northpark and Westpark areas. Bring a couple of reusable bags for snack options that are plenty, from turtle chips to honey twist snack chips, choco cereal snack cups to Kancho chocolate biscuits. While you choose between the napa cabbage or spring onion kimchi, don’t overlook the other banchan, or small sides, like seasoned radish and fish cakes.
And do like the TikTok influencers and pick up some buldak spicy carbonara ramen and all the ingredients for tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes).
If you want to incorporate Korean dishes into your meal roster, make sure to pick up pantry staples like ssamjang (seasoned bean paste), doenjang (soybean paste), gochujang (red chili paste), rice syrup, sesame oil and gochugaru (Korean chili flakes).
Another Korean supermarket chain with two locations — find one on Irvine Boulevard and the other on University Drive — in Irvine is Zion Market.
From the produce section, pick up purple sweet potatoes — steamed and paired with kimchi make a hearty, nutritious snack — enoki mushrooms, and during the summer season, boxes of lychee and mangosteen, the white fleshy fruit hidden by a hard shell.
If you are in a hurry, stop by the food court for spicy fried chicken or pick up a Korean corn dog from the frozen section. A popular corn dog is the fish cake mozzarella sausage; pop it in the air fryer for a few minutes and serve it with spicy mayo.
A must-have item from Mitsuwa Marketplace: a sando bento box. Yes, this Japanese store has the best sandwiches. Thick slices of white bread encase four different fillings: creamy, umami egg; flaky tuna; ham and rustic potato salad. Round it out with a matcha cream strawberry sandwich for dessert.
Located on Culver Drive, the specialty store also sells exclusive Oishii strawberries. Plump and juicy, an eight-pack of this sweet fruit can cost around $50.
While some people may think twice before buying supermarket sushi, Mitsuwa’s offerings would settle those inhibitions. The nigiri and sushi selection are top-shelf and extensive, from uni (sea urchin) to chirashi bowls. Meaning “scattered” in Japanese, chirashi bowls consist of rice topped with raw pieces of sashimi and seaweed. There is no sauce mixed in, typically distinguishing them from poke bowls.
Food items are not all Mitsuwa sells. Sonny Angel dolls often sell out fast, and the skincare products are top-notch without breaking the bank.
Seafood City Supermarket
Before you can even shop the aisles of the Filipino grocery store on Barranca Parkway, your nose buds will lead you to Grill City for grilled meats and seafood. The chicken skewers play tricks on your mind. First, your mouth is awash with a sweet sticky glaze, but then the subtle salty, umami flavor comes through.
Pick up some of the skewers, deep-fried tilapia, grilled pork loins and pancit palabok (rice noodles with meat and seafood) to create a kamayan experience at home: place the items on a banana leaf surrounded by white rice for a communal meal best enjoyed with your hands.
And for dessert, pick up the ingredients for halo-halo at Seafood City Supermarket. Literally meaning mix-mix, toss together sweetened red beans, bananas, ripened jackfruit, delicate chunks of yam, purple ube jam, nata de coco and tender pieces of buko (young coconut) with evaporated milk and your ice cream of choice.
Go-to favorite snacks include the ube rice porridge, Boy Bawang corn nuts, Piattos cheese potato chips and Oishi cracklings. And don’t sleep on the fresh fish selection at Seafood City.
Pro tip: always pick up two 3-foot-long Sangak bread at the entrance. This way, you’ll still have plenty to take home since it’s hard not to snack on the warm, baked-in-store flatbread as you make your way through the aisles, and then as you check out, and in the car ride home too.
Whether it’s fesenjoon, a pomegranate and chicken stew, from the food court; zoolbia, a crispy, sweet fritter from the bakery; thick, creamy labneh that pairs well with the sangak bread or marinated chicken kebabs that are easy to grill, the Persian grocery store has something to suit all taste buds.
Do fruit rolls count as a serving of fruit? Wholesome Choice carries lavashak (Persian fruit leather) usually made with a handful of ingredients and with no sugar added. The best flavor? Pomegranate, hands down.
The most superior tea biscuit is Parle G, and Namaste Plaza, an Indian grocery store on Jamboree, is the place for them. And to make the chai to dunk the biscuits in, pick up tea bags plus cardamom, ginger, cloves and cinnamon.
While you’re in the spice aisle, if you want a mild chili powder that still gives curries a deep, red color, Kashmiri chili powder is your friend.
Tired of eating pancakes? Why not give dosa (a thin South Indian crepe) a try? The fermented rice and lentil dosa batter is in the fridge section. All you have to do is ladle it onto a frying pan and cook for a few minutes. Serve with potatoes cooked with onions, mustard seeds and curry leaves — all available at Namaste Plaza.
Another lip-smacking — albeit, quite heavy — breakfast is paratha flatbreads with a dollop of butter. The frozen section has various vegetarian options for paratha with the potato and cauliflower versions most popular.
And for serial snackers, the mixture section is popping. Definitely try out the Kurkure Chatpata Mix.
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