I love shopping at Asian grocery stores with their riot of colorful products and the low murmur of languages I strain to understand. But even after three years of daily food shopping in China, I’m still vaguely intimidated. The first time I enter an unfamiliar Asian market, I always feel like the new kid at the junior high. I’m convinced I’m going to ask a stupid question and betray my own cluelessness.
At East West market on Belleville Avenue, however, I can forget my worries. The people are nice. They speak English. And their food selection rocks.

You’ll find East West in a small shopping center on the left side of the street as you’re heading east on Belleville Ave., just past Davey St. (about two minutes east of Broad St.). They stock foods from all over Asia, and there’s a fish market, butcher counter and produce area (offering crisp bok choy and fresh lemongrass). You’ll also find an odd smattering of Western items like Smucker’s jelly, Ricola drops and Snapple.
Among the cool stuff I found on a recent trip there:
— A great selection of teas and rices. Some bags of rice are restaurant-sized (up to 25 lbs.), but look around and you’ll find 5 lb. bags of Thai jasmine rice.
— Lots of jars of shrimp pastes, crab pastes and chili pastes. These are wonderful in so many dishes — mix in a dollop with any meat or fish you’re stir-frying, or add just a bit to a few raw eggs before scrambling them or cooking an omelette.
— A full range of Lee Kum Kee sauces. These are pretty commonly available even at non-Asian grocery stores. The flavors are fairly authentic and the labels are in English. LKK’s sweet chili sauce is great on chicken or tofu and the black bean sauce is great on shrimp (marinate raw shrimp for a few hours in the sauce and a dash of oil, then throw them on the grill.)
— Tons of instant ramen noodles from various countries. (I know, I know. This stuff is loaded with MSG and the pulverized ingredients in the “flavor packets” are often a mystery. Cheap imported ramen might be one of the least healthy things you can buy. But it’s yummy, convenient and may inspire memories of your college dorm room.)
— Several varieties of rice seasoning. Just a tablespoon adds great flavor and texture to steamed or fried rice. A small jar, which runs about $3, will probably last you a few months.
— A small selection of housewares, including tea pots, strainers and soy sauce decanters. (Fine china it ain’t, but most of it appears reasonably well made.)
If you decide to check it out, or you’ve already been there, let us know what you think of the place. Has it inspired any culinary masterpieces?
And has anyone tried the bakery or the two Asian restaurants in that shopping center?

26 replies on “Life Beyond Whole Foods”

  1. the filipino egg rolls from east west restaurant are quite possibly the tastiest around. if i order a tray for a party they usually disappear really really fast. i have yet to try any other dish however have been assured by my filipino friends that the food is very good.

  2. They are very nice in there. You don’t feel out of place if you’re not asian. We go for wasabi peas and jasmine rice. I’m off the ramen since college. But I’ll have to take a longer look next time we go. We could always use some new sauces.

  3. I shopped at east west a couple times a few years back (I no longer live in the area). I recall a decent selection, and I never felt too out of place there. The fish market always smelled, and that kind creeps me out, but packaged foods were fine with me. I did used to love the Vietnamese restaurant in the same shopping center– can’t remember the name, but I assume it’s one of the asian restaurants you’re referring to. Good pho, and spring rolls, but never had the chance to fully explore the menu.

  4. I’m serious about the ramen. That MSG high keeps you coming back. It took me a twelve step process to finally shake it completely.

  5. I do sometimes shop at East West, but the smell is a big turn off for me. I much prefer Top Quality on Rt. 46 in Parsippany just beyond the Arlington Shopping Plaza and Subzi Mani, an Indian vegetarian store a little further out on the east side of 46.
    The Vietnamese restaurant in the East West shopping center is great! On weekends, the bakery brings in dim sum from chinatown.

  6. What a cheery and helpful post. Who is this Melissa Rayworth? And how, Barista, did you persuade her to leave China?

  7. I was just at Stop and Shop looking for an ingredient called “rice paper” to make a recipe for something called “summer rolls”. They didn’t have them so I have to check the market on Belleville tomorrow.
    A few times I’ve needed exotic ingredients and found them at East West. The bakery in the plaza is nice, I’ve bought a few things there that were good.
    The shops remind me of NY Chinatown & I really enjoy them.

  8. Stop being afraid of MSG. Be afraid of everything else in the ramen though…
    If this is the same shopping center I’m thinking of, there’s a bakery a few doors down that makes some pretty awesome pork buns.

  9. A much better place in on Route 10 in East Hanover behind Loehmann’s. I have gone to East West for many years and still do for some things if I have to but remember when they were closed by the Board of Health.

  10. Hi luv2eat
    I buy rice paper wrappers at East West. There are a few different sizes. I make summer rolls often. Good luck with them…they are a little tricky but keep trying. It’s important not to oversoak the wrapper.

  11. PS- The market behind Loehmann’s is called Kam Man and is the same as the one on Canal St. It is fantastic and worth the trip.

  12. I’m with Wally. The smell of East West is just too much. I bought some packaged food there. When I got home, I saw that it was very much out of date and I threw it out.

  13. I used to shop there, but haven’t been back for a few years. Great people. BUT how can you check ingredients when you don’t speak the language. And some of the stuff from China? And their (lack of) food safety? PASS. If they can stuff lead in a Thomas the Tank Engine or toothpaste, no telling what’s in these products.
    Sorry, but I’ll take Whole Foods anyday.

  14. Once you get past the fish smell, East West is a fun place to look around. Do check the expiration dates, I picked up a few things I put back because it was out of date. I like the tea selection the best. I purchased something like 100 bags of Ooolong for 2.99 vs.
    20 @ Whole Foods for ? 5.99?
    It’s a fun experience, just be discriminate. I didn’t see the black bean sauce, I’ll have to check that out on my next visit. Happy Holiday everyone!

  15. I’m Kosher, and I can give you reviews on many Kosher Delis and eateries, where – trust me – you will not get sick and never get out of date product, where everything is cooked in store, that day. Ask, and I will tell.
    This stuff from China is risky, and I am being kind.
    Who is watching over their sanity conditions and what they are using and storage conditons and freezer settings and and ….. you get my point.
    I’ll go Italian and American fare, anyday, with little to no concern. I swear by Star Tavern & Pizza in Orange.
    NEVER EVER had a bad meal. There IS a reason the line goes out the door, Fri, Sat & Sun eves. Moo Sho Glue I gotta take a pass…..

  16. If you are willing to drive, Mitsuwa in Edgewater is the real deal Asian market. It is a supermarket-sized store with a food court. Most of the shoppers are native Korean and Japanese (many in NYC travel across the river to go there.) Definitely a cool experience to shop there. Looks and feels just like Japan.

  17. May i suggest another great Asian Market, Masagana Enterprises, on 80 Franklin Street, Belleville, down the street from the Havana Sandwich place. I refuse to go to the East West Market unless i am press for time. Being Asian, i know what a good asian market has to be. I was just at the Masagana Enterprises store over the weekend, and me and my husband tried the Filipino Breakfast compose of garlic fried rice, fried eggs and sweet slices of beef. They have other asian cooked foods and i always order my catering for asian foods from them. The grocery part is very clean and it never smells fishy.

  18. I see them frequently at the W.O. Shop Rite in Essex Green. “Frequently” yes … All the time, everytime I go? “No” Not everytine, but yes, frequently. If you wanna call, I think they’ll check and let ya know over the tele.

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