By Xiyuan Sun
Last time we talked about some common Chinese food ingredients and their substitutes, and I’ve received many feedbacks and creative ideas of ingredient stand-ins from our inspirational readers. I’ve also found many interested in knowing which American supermarket is the best one for grocery shopping. To better answer your question, I’ll create a series of guides for grocery shopping in different parts of the States. Here my first guide is for dwellers in Los Angeles.
In fact, one thing you wouldn’t worry about is that you can’t find certain things in Los Angeles. With hundreds of American grocery stores and ethnic supermarkets dot the vast area, almost everyone can find something for themselves. Each supermarket or grocery store here has different features and their own merits. So it really depends on your specific needs. Here I’ll provide some common options for grocery shopping in Los Angeles in different categories and explain what I think the pros and cons of each of them.
Target and Walmart
The first category is supermarkets. Two representatives are Target and Walmart. In some sense, the two competes against each other, with target being the second-largest discount retailer in the United States behind Walmart. Both of them carry general merchandise at a cheap price, but they only have a very small section of groceries. Personally, I’m more of a fan of Target as opposed to Walmart, since Target is more trend-forward, younger customer-based and has a cleaner shopping environment. On top of that, almost every Target includes a Starbuck Coffee!
Ralphs and Vons
When thinking about shopping for groceries, the first choice would of course be – grocery stores. There are several main chain grocery stores in Los Angeles. Ralphs and Vons are two popular ones, which have dozens of locations throughout the city. Depending on where you live, you are either a Ralph’s person like I am, or a Von’s person. I don’t find the two stores have many differences. Both of them are full-service, so you can buy everything including produce, condiments, frozen foods, canned and packaged food, baked food, drinks, cooking equipment and toiletries, etc. You can also find deli counters at both of the stores, where you can get ready-to-eat hot and cold food, custom sandwiches and salad bars. Both Ralphs and Vons have club cards that are free. Club card members can save on certain items when there are specials.
Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s
For those who are healthy foodies and look for specialty items that major stores might not carry, upscale markets such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are your choice. They are usually located in more upscale areas and their prices on most items are higher than other stores. Many people like to go these markets because they have a wide selection of organic produce, vegetarian and special-diet foods and some niche brands and unique products that are hard to find elsewhere. I used to go to Whole Foods a lot since my last work location was only two miles away from a Whole Foods store. I really like the great deli and bakery they offer and I often had lunch over there. Also, Whole Foods has a great selection of organic wines and craft beers, though I’m not a fan of liquor. You don’t need to have club cards or membership cards to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. It’s really a great experience of exploring this type of market, if the price does not matter to you.
Another category is membership stores, which means you have to pay an annual membership fee. The goods offered at these stores are often bulk-packaged and low-priced. So it is very cost-efficient for families and businesses. Personally, Costco is where I usually go to when I need to buy things in bulk such as toilet paper, laundry detergent or bottled waters. Costco’s annual membership fee is $55. It offers great deals on almost everything from groceries, to cosmetics, to clothes, and most importantly their products’ quality is high. Every time before going back to China, I would definitely go shopping at Costco to buy health care products for my families. A similar store is Sam’s Club, but I have never shopped there.
This is one of the reasons why I like Los Angeles. There are ethnic supermarkets all over the city. For Chinese, probably you would be mostly interested in shopping at Asian American supermarkets. From Taiwanese-owned 99 Ranch Market, the Korean-run Zion Market, to the Japanese-centric Mitsuwa and Nijiya stores and the Vietnamese-Chinese 168 Market, you will find all the pan-Asian foods that you can think of. They are places where those in the culture can connect to their homeland. For me, these markets are also a place to relive some travel nostalgia. I fell in love with shopping at K-Town supermarkets when I found they have the delicious banana-flavored milk from my trip to Seoul. If you are in the mood for reliving some nostalgia, don’t hesitate to check out these ethnic supermarkets in Los Angeles.
As a last resort, in case you just want to spare the hassle to physically go to a supermarket, these are some online grocery store options you might want to know.
If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you!
Happy grocery shopping in Los Angeles!