In large U.S. cities like New York, you find little bodegas — convenience stores — on almost every block, selling fruits and vegetables, dried goods, newspapers, odds and ends. Wheaton doesn’t have the density (yet!) to support bodegas on residential blocks, but we nevertheless seem able to support quite a few little stores that are scattered throughout the downtown area. I’m actually surprised there are so many, but most of them are tiny, rents must be fairly low, and there are lots of people around of various ethnicities — or broad culinary interest like me — to support them. As high-rise apartment/condos are built, these little shops could really thrive, though I imagine only some will survive.
There are in fact so many bodegas in Wheaton that I am splitting my review of them into two posts, starting with the ones that are not Latino-oriented. Thus, a mix of Asian, African, and American bodegas are discussed below as Part I.
Hung Phat Market
Hung Phat (11315 Fern) — bursting with mostly Thai or Vietnamese goods that threaten to collapse from crowded shelves down upon unsuspecting shoppers; huge, nearly overwhelming selection of sauces, pastes, and spices; lots of dried/frozen/preserved items; back corner is a pile of dishes, pots and random kitchen implements; small but good produce section; not sure I trust their meat; lots of unusual items like pork or beef blood (fresh and frozen!) or sliced fresh taro root. Good source for limes. Friendly staff, I enjoy shopping here.
Asian Foods Market
Asian Foods (2301 University) — Less claustrophobic than Hung Phat, better arranged, more multi-Asian, but not as many excitingly unusual finds; still, they have for example dried chrysanthemum, frozen purple yams, and many rice varieties; authentically average Thai street food, mostly fried things and curries/soups, served from steam tables in the East Wing. And they are incorporated!
Shalom Strictly Kosher
Shalom Strictly Kosher (2307 University) — Shalom is our go-to source for challah bread (great for French toast — does that make it Israeli toast?); big deli section with all kinds of salads, pastrami and other meats, sandwiches assembled to order; chubbs, whitefish, herring, the usual mix; acceptably good knishes (I am very picky about knishes); lots of meats and dried goods; excellent bakery; everything indeed seems to be strictly kosher; meat looks to be excellent quality and is kind of expensive — I suppose rabbinical supervision does not come cheap. Overall a useful, unique part of Wheaton’s food scene. Max’s Kosher Deli, also good, is next door.
Dessie Ethiopian Restaurant and Market
Dessie Ethiopian Restaurant and Market (2655 University, next to Nick’s Diner) — the market is about a third of the space, and bare bones, just a few shelves of injera, unlabeled spices, grains, and a few other items; the restaurant section is bigger but still small, lots of green, a tiny three or four seat bar with a television; I look forward to trying it one of these days (Mrs. Me is not an enthusiastic consumer of Ethiopian food; I’m not crazy about injera but I love the meat and veggie dishes). Not sure I will ever have occasion to shop at the market.
Ethiopia Plus Market
Ethiopia Plus Market (11303 Georgia) — looks a lot like the market third of Dessie inside, slightly more shelf space but not much difference in contents; with no inviting restaurant included, I am likely to stick with Caramelo Bakery next door when I find myself on this block of Georgia.
Filipino Home Baking & Grocery Store (11222 Triangle Lane, next to Moby Dick) (forgot to take a photo) — I know essentially nothing about Filipino culture but this store does a good job of providing the basics, I would imagine; lots of baked goods, preserved fruit, many varieties of fish in cans, especially competing brands of sardines; freezers full of fish, veggies, and lumpia, the Philippines’ answer to the spring roll. Also some CDs and Filipino accoutrements. Friendly staff.
Old Tired Amherst 7-Eleven
7-Eleven (11445 Amherst, next to Wheaton Post Office; 11406D Georgia) — possibly you are already familiar with these quintessentially American bodegas — although Japan has more of them than does the United States. Slurpee! Sometimes we go here for emergency milk or ice (or Big Gulps), especially now that our Safeway is a Zombie.
Shiny Newish Georgia 7-Eleven
Coming soon: Bodegas of Wheaton, Part II: Los Mercados Latinos