Ethnic markets offer familiar tastes and other goods for those missing the old country

Ethnic markets are far from new in Las Vegas, although the identity of the first one has been lost to the ages. Who knows, maybe it was a market set up by the Spanish explorers who came to the area when the principal population was Native American.

At any rate, the valley’s ethnic markets have shifted along with the population, with those of some cultures disappearing and others evolving into the supermercados that now dot Southern Nevada.

In the early days, the markets seemed to attract primarily members of their own ethnic groups, plus the occasional adventurous outsider. Today, though, as migration and other factors continue to blur cultural borders, you might find a Lebanese expatriate running an Asian seafood market, or a Somali shopping in a market managed by an Iraqi.

The stores offer a blend of the exotic and the familiar — and many of the familiar items are priced better than they are at supermarkets and specialty stores.

Here’s a sampling of the ethnic markets in the Las Vegas Valley.

Aladdin International Market

1775 E. Tropicana Ave., at Spencer Street

“Aladdin” is a clue to the market’s Middle Eastern-Mediterranean orientation, “international” to its varied offerings. Manager Nael Sagmani, a native of Iraq, said his customers tend to be Persian, Bulgarian, Turkish, Egyptian and from other Middle Eastern countries, as well as Greek, Somali and American. While Sagmani talks, one of his regular customers, a Somali man, comes in to buy goat meat, which Sagmani said is one of his more popular items.

The market stocks walnuts and hazelnuts in the shell, bulk lentils and bulgur, fresh Forelli pears and cilantro, Bulgarian feta and nabulsi, a Middle Eastern brined cheese whose manufacturer promises “the taste of springtime.” There’s fresh pita and naan, date and sesame cookies and lavash in several sizes and styles. A deli offers Greek, French and Bulgarian feta, white-splotched pink mortadella and olives — lots of olives, in many sizes and varieties.

There are grape leaves in jars and packages, various types of canned beans, pickled eggplants stuffed with walnuts, boxed falafel and pilafs, candies and many types of produce that can’t be found in supermarkets, such as Persian cucumbers.

Some are products that are imported into Middle Eastern countries and are popular there, such as HP Steak Sauce and some Nestle, Kraft and Kiri products.

Cooking implements such as mortars and pestles, rolling pins and rice cookers are on display, as well as lamp wicks, candles and hair color.

“It’s a huge community now from the Middle East,” Sagmani said of Las Vegas. “They like it because they used to eat this stuff in their country.”

Asian Seafood Market

8826 S. Eastern Ave., at Pebble Road

Naji Assam, a native of Lebanon, has been the proprietor for about two and a half years. When he took over, it was a Filipino market and the clientele, he said, remains primarily Filipino, with some Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Mediterranean customers, since he has added Pan-Asian products, recently started selling halal meat and plans to add kosher products.

While the market does, as the name implies, have a heavy emphasis on seafood, there’s no telltale odor upon entering and not much of one even at the rear of the store, where whole fish are displayed in all their silvery glory on piles of crushed ice, close enough to be examined for the clear eyes and pink gills that determine freshness. There are black pomfret, bisugo, American mackerel, rabbit fish, skipjack and many others. In a nearby refrigerated case are oysters, sardines, head-on shrimp, salmon steaks, salmon heads and more.

The market also offers a variety of hot foods whose crazy-quilt colors fill another case — from crisp-crusted veggie lumpia to crispy pata and grilled tilapia while, overhead, a TV plays Filipino music. A fresh-meat case contains such unremarkable offerings as Korean barbecue and beef sirloin and such relative esoterica as pork front feet, pork ruffle fat and halal lamb spleen. Fresh produce includes banana blossoms, chili leaves, purple yams, Fujian taro, shredded green papaya and much more. Add to that cooked salted duck eggs, numerous packaged and canned goods, food containers and CDs and DVDs, including one of a Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito fight.

Cafe Heidelberg and Market

610 E. Sahara Ave., at Sixth Street

Cafe Heidelberg’s market has, as you might expect, the best of the wurst (sorry!), but also cheese, breads and just about everything else needed to get the old oom-pah pah-ing.

Owner Tanya Brandl said her most popular market products probably are her 30 varieties of deli meats, which include gelbwurst, leberkaese, “the ever-so-sought-after” teewurst and hams. Imported cheeses include Limburger, Tilsit and butter cheese.

You want some quark, that sorta-cheese, sorta-yogurt, sorta-sour-cream stuff that is uniquely German? They’ve got it. They also have black Johannisbeer (currant) juice, spaetzle, teas, jams and fruits.

There are quite a few nonfood items as well, including mugs inscribed for Oma and Opa (German vernacular for grandmother and grandfather), beer steins, imported cuckoo clocks, decorative magnets, perfumes and creams such as Nivea and the Penaten that Brandl said is particularly popular for children.

Her market clientele, she said, is mostly German, Hungarian and Austrian, plus second-generation Americans who associate the products with the “Oma and Opa they grew up with.”

Polish Deli

5900 W. Charleston Blvd., near Jones Boulevard

Walk into the Polish Deli and you’re likely to encounter a couple of women indulging in what may be a rare occurrence: a conversation in their native language.

Above them, a TV broadcasts what appears to be Polish news reports. Nearby, display shelves are stocked with sauerkraut, sauerkraut with carrots, beets with horseradish, jam and jellies, soups, pickles of all description and even Polish spaghetti sauce. A cold case farther back holds pierogi (potato, beef, mushroom, cherry, strawberry, blueberry), beef tripe soup, Hungarian smoked bacon, sausages, butter, sandwich lard and beef-tripe soup. There are sauce mixes, pastas, canned pate and poppy seed, fresh bread, candies, cookies and teas. A meat case holds all sorts of sausages and meats.

In another area is a large array of such nonfood items as magazines, books and greeting cards. A calendar honors native son Frederic Chopin, and there are lotions and other toiletries.

Owner Joanna Pelka, who said the deli has been open for nine years, noted that most of her customers are Polish and European expatriates, as well as native-born Americans. The pierogi and sausages are especially popular in the market, she said.

Rani’s World Foods

4505 W. Sahara Ave., near Arville Street

The sign may say “world foods,” but the emphasis is clear from the time one enters Rani’s and inhales the gentle aroma of incense: This is a place that specializes in all things beloved of the Indian subcontinent.

There’s a large produce case displaying Thai chilies, bitter melons, ridged gourds, Indian eggplant, fenugreek, curry leaves, okra, green mangoes and a “new crop of walnuts” in shells.

There are frozen foods including naan pizza, canned green jackfruit, cookies, chutneys and halal meats. Almond oil, castor oil, coconut oil, mustard oil and ghee. Basmati rice, boiled rice, raw rice in various sizes of bags, and 50-pound bags of barley flour. Hot foods including samosas, whose fragrance wafts gently on the air.

There are a whole lot of things that show the British mark on the country, such as Branston Pickle, Colman’s mustard (and in the coveted large tins), Bird’s Custard Powder, Heinz Spotted Dick, Weetabix, Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Marmite.

And quite a few nonfood items, from webbed folding beds to jewelry, statuary, textiles, candleholders and all manner of cooking equipment.

Rincon de Buenos Aires

5300 Spring Mountain Road, near Lindell Road

Rincon de Buenos Aires is an Argentinian restaurant that, like Cafe Heidelberg, has given over part of its space to a smaller market. Co-owner Renee Noyes said the restaurant and market, which have been in business for 14 years, serve the Argentinian community of about 6,000 in Las Vegas. And most of her customers, she said, are Argentinian.

The market offers Argentinian wines, beers and soft drinks. There are condiments, sauces, olives, peppers, herbs and teas. In a freezer case are meat pies, dough for empanadas, ravioli and ice cream. A refrigerated case displays a variety of fresh and cured meats and sausages and cheeses, layered sandwiches, empanadas and desserts such as flan. There’s also a variety of chocolates, and even vacuum bottles for transporting your yerba mate, which also is available at Rincon de Buenos Aires.

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@ or 702-383-0474.

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