The Best Things You Can Buy in the Ethnic Food Aisle

Don't know exactly what to look for in the ethnic food aisle? You might need this helpful guide to noodles, spices and other specialty products.

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Kung Pao Chicken classic Szechuan Chinese dish
Shutterstock / Olexiy Bayev


Sure, it’s possible to whip up your own Jamaican barbecue or sweet and sour dressing for pork dishes—but you’ll also discover a variety of flavorful sauces in the ethnic food aisle that are packed and ready to go. Instead of playing it safe with soy sauce, be bold with Szechuan sauce.

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Pozole with mote big corn stew from Mexico with ingredients and appetizer
Shutterstock / Tono Balaguer


When you need help making a home-cooked meal on a busy night, opt for soup in the ethnic food aisle. In Asian cultures particularly, there’s a soup or tonic for every type of weather—they’ll drink hot soups in the winter, and cooler soups during the warm summer months. Greek chicken soup, known as avgolemono, has flavors any fan of Mediterranean cuisine will love (they should try these recipes, too!).

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Basmati Rice Spilling from Sack - basmati rice spilling from burlap or jute sack.
Shutterstock / travellight


Lots of cultures cook with specific types of rice, depending on what grows naturally in that particular region. Since it’s tough to pull off an authentic ethnic dish with plain rice, shoppers can (and should!) search the ethnic food aisle for the right kind. Basmati rice for Indian recipes and jasmine rice for Thai dishes are my top recommendations.

Psst: Even if you’re just looking for plain white or brown rice, turn in here. You can get amazing deals on rice in the ethnic foods aisle, too!

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Stir Fried Tofu in a bowl with sesame and greens.
Shutterstock / Oksana Mizina

Frozen & Refrigerated Items

To really give authentic ethnic food a try, venture to the ethnic foods section in the refrigerator / freezer aisle. Some of the refrigerated products will even make meal prep a bit easier. Pre-made empanada shells are a prime example; instead of making your own shells from scratch, grabbing them for your next Mexican dish will save a lot of time. There are all kinds of tofu available as well, which can be added to a variety of dishes—ethnic and otherwise.

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East spices
Shutterstock / piotreknik


Spices are staple items in the world of ethnic food. The right spice—or combination of spices—can make all the difference when preparing a meal. If you want to emulate a dish you had at your favorite, say, Indian restaurant, look here for a jar of garam masala and save yourself time and money trying to invent your own.

The ethnic food aisle contains unique ground spices and pastes from Asia and Africa, but many stores carry whole spices as well. Home cooks opting for the latter can grind their own, which is definitely worth the extra effort.

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Baklava - an arabian sweet made with baked filo, stuffed with crushed nuts and basted with honey or sugar syrup.
Shutterstock / JOAT

Sweet Treats

No meal is complete without dessert! Those who are brave enough to explore the ethnic food aisle can happily find both prepackaged candy and treats, as well as boxed mixes for a handful of baked goods. Brigadeiro from Brazil or baklava, which comes from Turkey, are both good finds. (Have extra time? Make baklava yourself!)

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Healthy smoothie with banana and Matcha tea in a glass jar
Shutterstock / NoirChocolate

Tea and Specialty Drinks

Bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink that has made its way over to the USA, and many ethnic food aisles contain the essentials needed to create it. Matcha powder and other types of loose ethnic teas are also available. Bonus: The teas all boast amazing health benefits.

Another drink you may enjoy? Mogu mogu.

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Asian noodles
Shutterstock / Mikhail Valeev


Like rice-based dishes, it’s essential to cook ethnic food with the right kind of noodles. Whether it’s rice noodles for a shrimp pad Thai dish or soba noodles for your favorite stir-fry, the ethnic food aisle will probably have what you need.

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salad vith fava beans, tomatoes, onions and greens in wooden bowl
Shutterstock / Tanya Stolyarevskaya


For a night when cowboy beans won’t cut it, there are plenty of alternate options to recreate any global comfort food. Often, the types of beans and legumes sold in the ethnic food aisle are not something we’re used to eating in the U.S.! You’ll also be surprised by the affordable prices. Pick up pigeon peas for a Bahamian dish or fava beans for some fresh Moroccan-inspired cuisine.

Taylor Murphy
Taylor is a food, parenting and health writer. When she's not writing about the newest Oreo flavor or her favorite kitchen appliance, she can be found searching for her next coffee fix or taste-testing recipes with her daughter.