My favorite thing to do when I'm traveling is to visit grocery stores. They're a peek into the home kitchens of another culture, a way to get an appreciation for what's similar to and what's different from home, and a budget-friendly place to stock up on local food and edible souvenirs. I spent hours in grocery stores during our two-week trip to Germany and sought them out in every port on our Norwegian cruise. In Hawaii, I marveled at the selection of tropical fruit, fish, and instant noodles. In London, I walked to Sainsbury's each morning to buy breakfast pastries and wander the aisles. Even a tipsy grocery store run on our getaway to Arizona included browsing through a selection of Mexican candy.
Similar to the concept of a staycation, Mike and I decided to be grocery store tourists in our own backyard with a date night at United Noodles. (Side note: the fact that I have a life partner who agrees that grocery shopping is a fun date night activity is truly delightful.)
United Noodles is a family-owned Asian market in Minneapolis' Seward neighborhood. It was founded back in 1972, and the 15,000 square-foot store has a dizzying array of groceries from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and Hawaii. If you're looking for a feast for your eyes as well as your stomach, United Noodles is the place to go.
The first thing that catches your eye are the aisles stocked with colorful bags of chips in flavors that you won't find at the local convenience store, like seaweed, shrimp, and basil. There are so many varieties of snack foods, most of which don't have a U.S. analog and all of which look delicious. I lingered in the mochi aisle, trying to decide between taro and red bean—I ended up getting an assorted box and discovered to my surprise that my favorite was peanut. I spent quite a while tracking down one of my favorite snacks from a previous visit—Sena Square Fish Crackers, which hail from Indonesia and are made with mackerel and tapioca flour. Basically they're a fish-flavored, puffier version of a rice cake, and I could easily eat an entire bag in one sitting.
But there's much more to United Noodles than snacks and sweets. There are aisles and aisles of ingredients to cook a variety of cuisines: sauces and spices, canned goods and rice, noodles and dried mushrooms. Aisles are well-signed and shelves are clearly labeled—honestly, I find it easier to navigate than my local Super Target.
What I love most about United Noodles is the sheer vastness of its inventory. There's not a shelf of soy sauce, there's an entire aisle; the same with instant noodles, herbal tea, and rice. The condiment section has highly specific sauces including "spare rib sauce"—I was teasing Mike about his search for "dumpling sauce", but he had the last laugh when he actually found it.
Freezer cases around the perimeter of the store are stocked with dumplings, mochi, dim sum, and more. I was most intrigued by the array of vegan items, including salmon fillets (complete with skin), lamb chunks, spare ribs, Korean sesame beef, and a half chicken. The prices were a bit too steep for me to purchase them on a whim (for example, the salmon fillets were $10.99), but I would love to do some research to see if they're worth trying.
In addition to packaged foods, there's a small bakery section (most of the buns and breads seemed to be sourced from a California-based production bakery) and a full-service meat and seafood counter. The refrigerated section offers staples like butter and eggs, plus an impressive selection of specialty items like tofu and kimchi. Since the tofu and kimchi were a bit cheaper than my neighborhood chain grocery store, I stocked up on both.
Mike was excited to discover a wide selection of udon noodle packets with fresh noodles, and he picked up several to keep on hand for easy dinners. He also treated himself to a package of fresh ramen noodles with a miso base—at $5.49 it was quite a bit more expensive than the instant version, but the package contained two generous servings. It was almost as good as a restaurant bowl of ramen, especially after he added an egg, green onions, and red pepper flakes.
The produce section offers some of the same fruits and vegetables you'll find elsewhere—lemons, tomatoes, lettuce—as well as tropical fruits like dragonfruit, lychee, and jackfruit. Some of the rare-to-Minnesota items, like jackfruit, have helpful signs with preparation and serving instructions.
United Noodles is also home to a counter-service restaurant, Uni Deli (note that while the market is open until 8:00 p.m., Uni Deli closes at 6:00 p.m.) Like the rest of the store, the menu is pan-Asian, and includes small plates and entrees. Although we skipped the deli on this visit, we've eaten there in the past. The ramen is tasty, and it can be made vegetarian or vegan on request.
After about an hour of browsing, we hit sensory overload and wheeled our cart to the checkout. Our total came to $55.76, which included a package of frozen dumplings, several noodle packets, kimchi, three packages of tofu, sweet chili sauce, dumpling sauce, a box of assorted mochi, and several bags of crackers, chips, and peanuts. We ate very well that night—ramen, seared tofu, fish crackers, and mochi—and we're stocked up on snacks for our upcoming staycation and Mike's next game night. There are dumplings in the freezer and noodle packets in the fridge, and we're already looking forward to our next grocery store date to United Noodles.
2015 East 24th St
Minneapolis, MN 55404
This post isn't sponsored by United Noodles—I paid for my groceries out-of-pocket and genuinely believe it's one of the best date nights in the Twin Cities.
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