Where are Tyler’s international grocery stores?

Next time you go to a chain grocery store in Tyler, take notice of the single aisle containing significantly limited international products. For Tyler residents with ties to other countries, foods and familiar brands from home can mean a lot. 

According to DataUSA’s demographic information, in 2019, Tyler was home to 10.1% foreign born residents in 2019. The most common countries of origin for foreign born residents in Texas were Mexico, India and El Salvador.

While first-generation Tylerites may embrace barbecue and sweet tea, they may lean on the culinary repertoires of their families’ home countries as well. 

Along with enriching Tyler with multiple languages, faith traditions and practices, foods from afar bring new flavors and aromas to our city. There’s nothing like mouth-watering cooking smells from the kitchen that remind us of home. Special foods become even more desired around important holidays and annual celebrations. 

But some international foods require distinct, hard-to-come-by ingredients. Enter Tyler’s multiple locally owned international markets. These shops’ shelves are laden with a wide spectrum of international products that many consider necessities.

The Tyler Loop caught up with five such food stores in Tyler, exploring their products and the residents who love them.  

Zoe’s Afric Mart, 3500 S Broadway Ave. #304

Zoe Afric Mart is home to hard-to-find African foods and products. 📷 All photos by Chris French

Immediately upon entering, the fragrance of pungent spices greets you, followed by a warm “Welcome to Zoe’s Afric-Mart” from the shop owner, Paulina Anaab.

Zoe Afric Mart’s counter displays glass bottles of peanuts, a popular and inexpensive snack ubiquitous to almost every region of the continent of Africa.

Open since 2013, the market is filled with popular imported products including raw shea butter and unrefined African black soap. Both of these skin care products are known for their extensive healing properties and affordability compared to other high-end products.

Zoe Afric Mart sells sobolo, also called bissap, a sweet, floral tea made with dried hibiscus petals. The drink is popular in West African countries including Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria.
Zoe Afric Mart sells African staples including spices for soups and sauces.

Another prominent item offered is fufu, which is a staple food in West African culture. Typically eaten with soup, the ingredients needed to make this soft, sticky dough are easily found at Zoe’s Afric-Mart. The store features a variety of imported goods including fresh produce, traditional mortars and pestles, yam flour, fruit juices and sought-after spices.

During the economic hit due to COVID-19 when chain grocery stores were closed, Anaab’s market remained open to the public. She says her shop is not limited to groceries, but features many other traditional African market items. 

Import Emporium Asian Market, 5503 S Broadway Ave.

Import Emporium Asian Market began in 2003, providing staple ingredients from southeast Asia for Tyler residents.

Located on Broadway next to Shogun Sushi & Hibachi Grill is a family-owned Asian grocery store. Open to East Texans since 2003, Import Emporium was formerly located across from Legacy High School but moved to a more visible location. 

Refrigerated coolers line Import Emporium, stocked with cabbage, bean sprouts, imported meats, and heat-and-eat frozen foods.

Nipaya Russell said her decision to open the store in Tyler was made when she noticed the inconvenience of traveling to Dallas to find necessary groceries. Despite discouraging comments advising them against the idea, Russell and her husband  took the plunge. 

Import Emporium Asian Market sells popular Japanese Pocky snacks and home items, such as mortar and pestle ensembles for grinding spices and peppers.

Russell’s fondest memory is watching her children go from helping restock shelves to occasionally working with her at the store. Each of the store’s aisles contain a range of regional staples from countries across Asia. Near the back of the store, refrigerators are filled with bean sprouts, Chinese eggplant, Gai Choy and other fresh produce. Another set of refrigerators lined features frozen Asian delicacies including mochi, pot stickers and spring rolls. 

Import Emporium Asian Market sells rice in bulk, a southeast Asia staple.

Traditional Asian market items such as mortars and pestles, Japanese chopsticks, and tea sets. Colorfully hand embroidered purses from Thailand, Nipaya’s home country, line the shelves. Import Emporium is a great place to find Asian goods with plenty of variety for exploring.

Valon African and Caribbean Market, 1503 S Vine Ave.

Valon African and Caribbean Market boasts a diversity of foods from multiple international countries.

Another shop contributing to African necessities is Valon African and Caribbean Market. Encouraged by friends and family and inspired to help others, Onyeka officially opened the doors of the Afro-Caribbean store in 2018. 

alon African and Caribbean Market stocks desired imports including smoked crawfish, left, and smoked fish, right.

The market’s shelves hold traditional African, Caribbean and American items, as well as some popular products from other cultures. Onyeka says her market is diverse and though it is known for African products, they try to be culturally inclusive. 

Shelves stocked at Valon African and Caribbean Market were especially appreciated during Texas’ pandemic shutdown last spring.

Especially during COVID, while most grocery stores and restaurants were closed, Valon’s doors remained open and well-stocked. “So many different types of people came in during COVID,” Onyeka said.

At the market, you can find high-quality yams, different types of flours for soups, a variety of meats and fresh produce. In addition to African seasonings, the shop sells Indian, Middle Eastern and Jamaican spices. Onyeka said the majority of his spices are not typically found in chain grocery stores. Likewise, she says the spices and seasonings that can be found in local supermarkets are not comparable in flavor. 

Supermercado Monterrey, 510 S SW Loop 323 #300

Supermercado Monterrey bustles with activity on a weekday afternoon.

In 2007, a large grocery store opened in Tyler to cater to the Hispanic population. Upon entering Supermercado Monterrey, you are greeted with the sweet aroma of fresh baked goods displayed next to the produce section. Colorful pinatas hanging from the ceiling smile down as you walk through the aisles. 

Varities of menudo line bins at Supermercado Monterrey. Menudo meat is beef tripe, an inexpensive and popular staple to add to flavorful broth. Guajillo chilis and spices simmer with the meat for six to eight hours, prepared Saturday nights. Customer Paulina Pedroza said on Sunday mornings, the dish is topped with cilantro, onion and salsa (sporting the colors of Mexico) as a welcome recovery dish following a lively Saturday night.

An assembly line of skilled staff members make fresh corn and flour tortillas daily, sold at a very reasonable price. Juan Francisco, the store manager of the past 10 years, says that Supermercado Monterrey offers a range of products that are not available at local chain supermarkets and at affordable prices. These include seasonings, fresh meats and seafood and fresh produce.

Supermercado Monterrey stocks several brands of crema Mexicana, used as a condiment on enchiladas, tacos, flautas, enchiladas and tostadas. Tyler resident and Monterrey customer Pedroza said the colors red, green and white are an important trio embellishing Mexican entrées. Crema, guacamole and red salsa create a tasty visual reminder of the Mexican flag.
Pitayas are a special fruit from the cactus plant, popular in Jalpa, a small town in central Mexico. “Possible one third of the Latino population in Tyler are from the little town of Jalpa,” said Pedroza. Also many Tyler residents have roots in the region of Guererro.”

Another highlight is the conveniently placed café inside the supermarket serving traditional Mexican foods. Cesar’s Tacos menu includes authentic tacos, tortas, aguas frescas and flautas.  

Himalaya Market Indo-Pak, 3092 Spur 124

Himalaya Market Indo-Pak opened its doors just three months ago, boasting specialties from south Asia.

Himalaya Market Indo-Pak is a new international grocery store that opened on New Year’s Day of 2021. The store specializes in Indian and Pakistani essentials. Prior to its grand opening, East Texans originating from India or Pakistan would need to travel to Dallas or Houston to shop for traditional necessities. 

Himalaya Indo-Pak’s shelves are stocked with desired staples and special foods, especially important to Muslim Tylerites during Ramadan.

The market offers fresh halal meat, snacks, produce, grains and spices. In addition to groceries, they offer beauty products such as hair oils, herbal toothpaste and activated charcoal powder. 

Himalaya Indo-Pak stocks produce including fresh ginger, which makes an appearance in many Indian and Pakistani favorite dishes.

Also available are precooked frozen entrees: vegetable pulao, Punjabi sarson ka saag and aloo matar. For those who cannot wait to get home to heat up a meal, there is a restaurant with a menu of traditional entrees conveniently located inside.

Kurkure is a corn puffs snack popular in India and Pakistan. The package offers a special free data promotion from Airtel, a an Indian multinational telecommunications services company based in New Delhi, India.

Since traditional Indian dishes center around a mostly vegetable diet, there is a wide selection of vegetarian options, including veggie burgers, aloo tikki and palak paneer.  

Himalaya Indo-Pak Market sells kulfi, traditional Indian ice cream popular throughout India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Middle East. Among kulfi flavors are mango, almond, pistachio and coconut.

During Ramadan, a holy month in Islamic culture, the store offers dried dates, typically eaten at sun down to break the daylong fast. Additionally, Himalaya Indo-Pak grocery provides halal meat without the inconvenience of traveling to bigger cities during the holy month, which continues in 2021 until the evening of Wednesday, May 12.

Esra Malim is a biology student at The University of Texas at Tyler. She has worked at Christus Mother Frances as a unit tech and scribe for two years. Esra is the vice president of the Keep Tyler Beautiful Youth Advisory Committee. In her spare time, she enjoys rescuing animals, volunteering at Nicholas Pet Haven, painting and making handmade rings.

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