By Miriam Landru
rive down Yadkin Road toward Fort Bragg, take a right on Santa Fe and another quick right into a small shopping center. Park. Get out of your car. From there, stroll into the doors of Sun Asian Market and be transported to any Pacific country of your choosing. Well, maybe only your appetite and palate will embark on the journey.
Sun Asian Market
Victor and Mi Rojas opened their grocery establishment eight years ago because they noticed a void in the Fayetteville/Fort Bragg area. Keeping in mind the area’s sizeable Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander population, Sun Asian Market was born.
The Rojas family is multi-cultural. Victor is a native New Yorker and U.S. Army veteran who is of Hispanic descent. His wife, Mia, is Korean. His twenty-something daughters, Lydia and Linda, both help run the day-to-day operations. Victor believes in quality control with his products. “Our store motto: Treat everyone like your mom and dad…if you wouldn’t give it to them, you don’t give it to the customer!” Products from China, Thailand, Philippines, Hawaii, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Jamaica and more stay in stock. Sun also carries a small variety of Goya products to satisfy the Rojas’ Puerto Rican side. The small, yet mighty market receives inventory from 30 vendors from New York to Los Angeles (who receive their product from all over the world) and supplies 22 restaurants in Cumberland County. Restaurants you probably frequent like neighboring eatery Shila’s (Korean) and pho fan favorite, Grilled Ginger (Vietnamese).
Victor and Mia both do their research on items they put on the shelves. Only the freshest produce and the most popular items from each country apply. “I try to take the best from every country and introduce it here,” stressed Mia. Pocky Chocolate, a favorite in Japan, is the fastest moving item in the store and most importantly, “a new flavor is introduced every six months.” Currently, strawberry and chocolate are in stock at Sun.
Sun carries a vast selection of the best coffee and tea from across Asia, including one particular kind that Oprah Winfrey endorsed several months back: Wulong tea. Always up for a challenge, Victor searched for the tea. “When Oprah says something, every woman wants it and I want to know what they want!” After four months, the tea was found and now it flies off the shelf.
While the Rojas family advocates dining out when wanting to experience international flavor, they also want to help the average customer know that they too can cook ethnic food. “A lot of Americans are not educated on food from other countries. I want to show them they can cook as well as anyone else,” explained Mi.
Super Compare, located on Santa Fe and Morganton Road is perhaps the largest Latin American grocery store in the area. Super Compare has its origin in New York, but has several locations throughout North Carolina. The Fayetteville location has an expansive produce department with exotic fruits and vegetables such as yucca, guava fruit, aloe vera, cactus, chayote, tomatillos and more. It is known to be a fan favorite among foodies and a certain restaurateur named Mustafa Somar (owner and chef of Sherefe downtown) frequents the store most mornings. The entire staff is bilingual, knowledgeable and attentive. “We sell products from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and more,” said Sulay Gonzalez, front manager. Gonzalez, a native of the Dominican Republic, maintained that oxtail is their biggest seller. So, if you’re in the mood for oxtail stew, you know where to buy the rare meat. Super Compare also features a food court and Mexican bakery with fresh empanadas, pastries and baked plantains made daily. It is a must among Fort Bragg soldiers who stop and indulge in Latin cuisine on their lunch break.
Said Odeh has owned and operated Mediterranean Market with his family since February 2006. The quaint Cliffdale Road location has a variety of wares including traditional garb, hookah and skincare products from across the Middle East. However, we cannot forget about the food. Baklava and other desserts are flown in fresh from a popular bakery outside Detroit. Odeh’s inviting and congenial nature are only two of the reasons customers return. “I carry tahini (sesame paste) which is very popular, along with hard to find spices like saffron, turmeric and cardamom.”
Want to try your hand at cooking a traditional Lebanese dish such as tabbouleh? Chances are Odeh has the very ingredients you need. “I have a lot of products from Greece, the Middle East, Turkey and India. A lot of the products are the same, so even people from other countries use the same item, but cook in a different way,” he explained.
Odeh most enjoys meeting people from everywhere who come into his shop. “It’s always a pleasure. I feel like it’s a meeting place here and it’s very exciting.”
Whether you want to try your hand at making Vietnamese vermicelli, Mexican menudo or your own version of hummus, venture to Fayetteville’s international grocers for an authentic, ethnic experience.