Several days ago when I needed that new bamboo spatula, I knew exactly where to go. I hopped in my car and headed for Asia Market, smack in the middle of the Ethnic Grocery Trail. "Ethnic Grocery Trail? What the hell is that?" I can hear you saying. Would you feel better if I told you it was 501 Business in Durham? Ok, I'll show you:
I've also included in this map some places you might not have thought or heard of to to pick up utensils and implements. If you buy enough neat food, you might need some neat new cookware to cook it in. :)
I've left a number of things off this map. Regular grocery stores are right out: no HT, Compare, Whole
Paycheck Foods, or Kroger. I didn't even put in the last remaining Red & White (King's), even though it's on the trail. I've left out boutique-like stores such as Parker & Otis and Foster's. I've also left off countless Hispanic grocery stores and tiendas, because they're exactly that: countless. If you can't find one of those, you've got a much worse problem than I know how to help with. :)
So let's say your downtown somewhere, and you need a bamboo spatula. The first thing you need to do is find Business 501. Once you're there -- well, for purposes of this demonstration, let's head south, like I did.
Keep going south. After a couple miles, you'll come up on TAFKASS. On one of the service roads to the left (you can get to the service road off Westgate Drive; it finally runs into TAFKASS's parking lot) is a island of stores called "Boulevard Plaza." Just to the left of "Adam & Eve" is a small Indian (I think) grocery called "Spice Bazaar." Lots of South Asian food, a few utensils, and... movie rentals. [Edit: please see comments.]
Let's get back to Westgate drive, then head away from 15-501. Turn right into "Westgate Plaza," and head for the southwest corner. Near that corner is a utensil stop: "Tuesday Morning." It's really fun to root around in here looking for discounted kitchen stuff.
If you want to head into TAFKASS, there's a big Ross there. Ross falls in-between regular retailers like Sears and bottom-feeders like Dollar Tree. They sell discounted, close-out merchandise. They also have clearance sections in the store for shopworn and broken stuff. The good news is they have a section of kitchen stuff. You may have to do a little rooting around, and the prices can vary widely, but sometimes you can find some gems.
Ok, keep heading South on Westgate until you get to University Drive, and turn left. On your right are a couple of nondescript strips of stores. There's a higher, smaller group that has Saladelia on the left and Twisted Noodles on the far right. Amongst the other stores in that strip are no less than three more places of interest (from left to right): Lan's Gourmet and Cooking School, Kinstar International Food Store (the sign outside just says "African Store"), and Little India. When I found this group of stores together I nearly lost my mind.
The sign on the window of Lan's says that they have food, but what's you'll see from the window is a bunch of Chinese-looking dishes, pots, sculpture, and clothes. In the back of the store is a small cooking school, so maybe that's where the food is.
To the right is Kinstar, with lots of African food, and... movies. They have meat toward the back. At one time I saw a bandsaw in the back of the store, and I assuming they were breaking down cuts of meat with it, but I didn't see the bandsaw on my last visit. I also thought I'd once seen a sign up that said they were halal, but if it was there this time, I missed it.
Further to the right is Little India, with -- you guessed it: Indian food. And movie rentals. No wonder the VisArt on Hillsborough road is going out of business. :)
Ok, get back on 15-501 South and head toward the Garrett Road intersection. When you pass a decrepit looking building just next to the MLKJ Parkway exit on another little access road, on the northbound side, observe a moment of silence for the Oriental Supermarket, which was the first ethnic grocery store in Durham I think I was ever aware of. I've been hearing for years that the strip of stores there was to be demolished. The last time I passed by, there was a Hertz truck rental place in the strip, but the Oriental Supermarket was gone. I have no idea whether they relocated or just went away. For years even their sign was broken, and just said "Oriental S Market," which is what I still think of them as. And I still have a sake set a friend bought me from there as a gift over 20 years ago. *Sniffle* [Edit: Matt found it! See the comments and updated map.]
Need any more utensils? Ok, when you get to Garrett Road, take a right, and then a quick left into Oak Creek Village. :) Near the western corner is a TJ Maxx. TJ Maxx is a lot like Ross, and they also have a section of kitchen stuff.
I'm tired of driving around in these little shopping malls and culs-de-sac. Let's get on 15-501 North... [drive drive drive] then on 85 North [drive drive drive] and then take exit 177. Take a left onto Roxboro Road. Gee, I could really use a soda. Pull into that little convenience store on Avondale, just south of the Avondale-Roxboro intersection. Yeah, the one that says "R&J Mini Mart." Yeah, it just opened a few months ago. (By the way, we're in Durham's Beaver Pond Business District, named after the huge beaver pond that appeared several years ago.) I'm gonna go in here and get a drink. Maybe there's a Klondike Bar or something in that freezer in back. Um, I don't see any ice cream -- just some frozen meat that says "halal." Wait, halal again? And what are all these cans in the back with Arabic on them? OMG, we're back on the Ethnic Grocery Trail! In a convenience store! And on Highway 501 again, no less.
Alright, one more utensil run, and we're done. No more ethnic grocery stores, except for passing a taqueria, carniceria, or panaderia every few blocks. I want to cook some serious lasagna when I get home -- something like I'd need a hotel pan for. What's a hotel pan? It's one of these. Head north until you pass the Horton/Denfield intersection, then pull off on the right at Herndon Brothers. This is the kind of place that someone from a restaurant will run to in the middle of the day because they need 100 more forks or the like. Yes, they'll take your money and sell you stuff without having to use a secret restaurant-owner handshake. There are other restaurant supply folks around, too, now that you know what kind of place to look for.
Ok, we've run off the end of Utensil Extension North at the end of the Ethnic Grocery Trail. Time to head home. And remember 501 Business for your next ethnic grocery need. :)