For years I’ve been driving past a grocery store near our house. It underwent a major renovation recently but we still hadn’t been inside. One day, my wife and I said. We went this weekend, expecting it would have some good produce and meats, since it’s called Vine Ripe Market. As we walked up we saw some hookahs in the front display window. Interesting.
Inside it slowly dawned on us that it was a Middle Eastern market, perhaps the major one serving the San Diego area. Besides the hookah counter, with dozens of varieties of tobacco, pipe accessories, and charcoal braziers, there was a sweets counter with more varieties of date candy than I’ve ever seen, a bakery with display cases of baklava and unfamiliar cookies, a deli with flatbreads and vegetables. It went on and on like this. Need Palestinian olive oil? They’ve got it. How about ten varieties of lentils, a dozen kinds of halvah, or a selection of yogurts and yogurt drinks bigger than the entire dairy section of your grocery? No problem, my friend. Half the labels were in Arabic script, a quarter were in Cyrillic, with a smattering in English and other languages. Tall East African women loped through the aisles in headscarves, swarthy men with high-grade eyebrows perused the masala spice racks, exotic women with olive skin made trays of pistachio pastries. All this in a typical-looking grocery store in a typical strip mall in a suburban Southern California neighborhood. I was floored.
We picked up some Lebanese fresh cheese, had lunch of flatbread with roasted cumin seeds, vegetables, and goat cheese, and I got 2-foot diameter flat breads for a buck each. Toddler Harbat wolfed down the flatbread, so we’ll be going back again. It makes me want to recline on some pillows with a jar of noms at my side, someone waving a palm frond, and my wife in a harem getup. Hmm…something like this: