As much as I loved checking out the SOWA arts fair, let's be honest here, I really went for the great food in the SOWA (South of Washington Street) area. In a few block radius are 3 of my favorite grocery stores, and they couldn't be more different from one another.
South End Fromaggio is my hand's down favorite for gourmet products in Boston. I never get bored of checking out the speciality meats, jams, honey, cheeses and beans from around the world. Each item is the best of its kind, and they are priced accordingly. That being said, I got a delicious package of sardines from Spain for only $3.95. I also made a delicious dinner of some slices of Serrano ham, Surrey Farms Berkshire Bacon and some Italian Robiola cheese for under $20.
I haven't yet had a chance to cook up my Rancho Gordo beans, but I know they will be as tasty as everything else I can buy here. Finally, the knowledgeable staff alone makes this Fromaggios worth a visit.
Next door is another gem: The Syrian Grocery Importing Company. This store is packed full of products from the Mediterranean. You can find a range of olive oils, vinegars, olives, spices and sauces.
What makes this place so unique, though, is that many are remarkably affordable. I am a fan of the "Roland" brand, which packages high end products under their name. For example, I use their garlic oil on rice or pasta. But they also have items from Greece, Syria and Lebanon.
You can also buy a variety of kitchen supplies, including some great tea pots.
This store doesn't even have a website, which makes it that much more worth a visit.
My last stop on this culinary adventure was Ming's Supermarket. It is just as unassuming. Located almost directly across from Myers and Chang and just down the street from the C-Mart store, you would never realize how enormous this store is from the outside. But once inside, it is otherworldly.
It has hundreds of types of noodles, fish, dumplings, woks, soy sauces, teas, beans, dried fruits and so much more. Unlike C-Mart, which focuses on Chinese products or H-Mart that is a Korean chain, Ming's offers items from China, Korea, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Thailand, Japan and Malaysia. Be aware that most of the workers don't speak English. Most items though are labeled well enough that I was able to avoid dumplings with MSG (which included, well, all of them!), but I wasn't able to figure out one Korean sauce from another.
In the past I have found it helpful to bring cookbooks (such as those of Fuchsia Dunlop or Eileen Yin-Fei Lo) that actually write out ingredients in Chinese or Korean, etc. Ming's is also incredibly inexpensive, making it easy to stock up on hoisin sauce, fresh ramen noodles, chopsticks for my kids, 3 kinds of soy sauce and wonton wrappers for making dumplings at home.
South End Fromaggio, 288 Shawmut Street, Boston, 617-350-6996
Syrian Grocery Importing Company, 270 Shawmut Street, Boston, 617-426-1458