GratiTuesday: International Markets

I’ve written before about how much my husband and I enjoy visiting the local marketplaces when we are traveling. The colors, tastes, and smells provide a treat for the senses and the energy is exhilarating. I love to discover produce and prepared food items that I have never heard of. Even if I’m not always brave enough to indulge, it’s a fascinating window into another culture.

We are fortunate that, here at home, we can enjoy a similar experience by visiting the many ethnic markets that dot our various neighborhoods. Within easy driving distance from our house, we have at least one Mexican market, two Middle Eastern markets, and two Asian markets. Drive a little further and the choices expand considerably.

Sometimes I like to visit these markets just to look around because the inventory is so different from what is available at a plain vanilla supermarket. Where our Ralphs or Vons might have a few feet of shelf space devoted to spices, the ethnic markets will often have a whole aisle. And, not only do they offer spices that I recognize, they stock even more that I don’t. The jams and jellies are made of fruits I’ve never heard of and the meat departments often offer cuts not displayed in most “regular” grocery stores.

While visiting Oaxaca, Mexico this past spring, my husband and I became quite fond of an iced tea made with dried hibiscus flowers or jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kah). When we returned, we missed the taste and wanted to be able to make it ourselves. After some searching, we were able to find small packages of the dried flowers at one of the local Middle Eastern markets (the Mexican market – which is much smaller – didn’t carry it). Just today, I discovered the other local Middle Eastern market carries the flowers in bulk. Yipee!

This package contains two cups of dried hibiscus flowers

If you are interested in trying jamaica tea, here’s the recipe. If you don’t have an ethnic market, you might be able to find the dried flowers online.

Jamaica Tea

1             cup of dried hibiscus flowers

0 – 1      cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your tea)

4              cups of water

Add sugar and water to a pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the flowers, turn off the heat and steep approximately one hour or until cool.

Strain the tea into a bowl with a lip. Press the blossoms to extract as much water into the bowl as possible, then toss (the tea should be a lovely, deep red).

Pour the tea into a pitcher and add 4 additional cups of water. Stir and refrigerate.

When my husband and I pour ourselves a glass of jamaica tea, we often cut it further with bubbly water from our SodaStream (about 3 parts tea to 1 part bubbly). That way, if we’ve used the full cup of sugar when making the tea, the final product is much less sweet.

The taste of Oaxaca in a pitcher

I am grateful for the interesting and diverse food shopping choices we have in our city. I’m also grateful that I can instantly transport myself back to Oaxaca just by sipping a tall glass of chilled, ruby-red, jamaica tea.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

38 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: International Markets”

  1. Hi, Janis. I share your love for ethnic markets, farmers markets, international markets and local ones! I am now on the look-out for dried hibiscus flower so that I can try out your Jamaican Tea recipe. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  2. Wonderful Jan, as you already know we also love visiting the local markets. The people, the food and the hive of activity! Then returning to home base to eat some of the new found goodies, yummy!! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to try out your recipe as I haven’t seen any here in Portugal.

    1. Sometimes you can find them in bulk, sometimes in seasonings/herbs, and sometimes in the tea area. But, even if you never find it in Portugal, knowing the two of you, pretty soon you’ll be in a country where you can!

  3. There’s no shortage of different and interesting things to try out from different marketplaces. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed hibiscus flowers though … but then again, I wouldn’t have been looking for them 🙂
    On a hot, humid day like we’ve been having lately, a glass is sweet iced tea would be perfect!

    1. I remember seeing a ton of ethnic markets in Toronto so you must love exploring in your own backyard. I looked all over the store for jamaica, before asking a clerk who took me right to them, so you might not see them on your own. I hope you get to try the tea (maybe next summer)… let me know what you think. It is supposed to have lots of health benefits too.

      1. I’m not a big tea drinker and I definitely don’t like tea with hibiscus in it. I find it tart and it actually makes me feel thirsty … which kind of defeats the purpose.

  4. Sounds delicious. One of the disadvantages of living in a small town is the lack of specialty markets. Must be so nice to have options.

  5. We, too, are into shopping at “different” groceries and markets. That’s where the fun is, both when on the road and at home. The next time I get to our region’s largest international market, I’ll look for dried hibiscus flowers. That tea sounds like something we’d enjoy.

  6. That Jamaica tea sounds and looks interesting. I’d be up for trying that one day. I had no idea you drink it cold either. Ethnic markets can easily transport you back to their countries of origin. Nice to be able to do that in your own neighborhood. Mark and I visited an Indian Market in Sunnyvale not too long ago and enjoyed looking at all the different spices and chutneys. And, the produce was much cheaper than in regular grocery stores.

    1. We have found that the produce is of good quality for the most part too. Fortunately, even the mainstream grocery stores are starting to stock more and more ethnic choices – probably a reflection of the surrounding communities and the fact that so many of us are traveling and learning about different foods. You reminded me that we have one or two nice Indian markets fairly close to where we live too… I love curry!

    1. My husband recreated a watermelon/mango/pineapple/cucumber salad we had in Oaxaca that came out pretty well. I was thinking of including that recipe, but it’s “a little bit of this and a little but of that,” so it is hard to come up with instructions that are easy to follow.

        1. Just some lime juice and then its sprinkled with Tajin (which is a Mexican seasoning that I’m starting to see in mainstream grocery stores now). I’ll try to get my husband to write down the ingredients and I’ll send you that and a photo of the finished salad.

  7. A visit to an ethnic market might be the next best thing to international travel. I am happy you were able to find your Oaxacan tea, so that you can feel like you are visiting Mexico every time you make a pot.

      1. As you well know, the drink selection in Mexico is incredible. I think I have seen Jamaica tea, but have not tried it yet. I have tried Jamaica ice cream. It is a deep red color, flavorful, and not too sweet. We have not experienced any aftershocks, but saw some horrific damage today. The efforts of the volunteers and rescue workers are unrelenting and inspiring amid the devastation.

          1. Yes. We walked to the collapsed school today. The efforts of the rescuers and volunteers was focused and energetic. Everyone was pitching in. We stepped into a human chain to help transport water and other supplies across the site. The unifying goal of everyone there was to find a person alive, and to help save them. It was heartbreaking indeed, but inspiring to see the outpouring of volunteerism and concern for our fellow man.

  8. Less access to ethnic marketplaces is one of the disadvantages of living a more rural or small town area such as the part of Vancouver Island that we recently moved to. Of course, the city of Vancouver is only a ferry ride away. When I visit Vancouver (and when I lived there years ago), I have always enjoyed the ethnic diversity– especially the markets and restaurants.


  9. Great post. I forwarded it to my wife to read because she loves all different kinds of teas. We’re just starting to discover the different ethnic markets in our new city, plus even more to the north in Jacksonville. At one intersection in Jacksonville, we went specifically for a middle eastern store but there is an Indian, Mexican, and “European” one all right next to it. It’ll make future jaunts there fun to do. – Marty

    1. Wow, an international intersection! That would be so much fun to explore. I hope your wife is able to find the hibiscus flowers and try the tea. It’s supposedly very healthy (if made with not too much sugar) as well as yummy.

  10. We have a wonderful “international” store about 15 miles north that is over 200,000 sqft with over 180,000 items… many in aisles marked by region or country. There are aisles of food from India, Thailand, China, Germany, Greece, Italy, Africa, and Mexico, and more – even an aisle from Norway! Many items have no English on the labels…I buy my German mustard & Chinese soy sauce by sight (hope they never change those labels!). There are aisles devoted just to hot sauces, mustards & ketchups, or cajun seasonings. A fresh fish section (tanks!), an on-site bakery, a charcuterie (anything you want to try?), huge selections of olives, butters & cheeses, fresh fruit/veggie sections with all kinds of local and international items, and aisles of beer & wine & ciders. I have to plan on 3 hours when we go (once every few months), it is so much fun and I always buy too much! After my Africa trip, I found mango chutney and golden syrup – I enjoyed both on our travels. I’ll have to look for hibiscus and try that tea. The one bad thing, now that we are retired, is the bakery only makes their “special breads” on weekends…but the store is so much easier to navigate midweek. My waistline is probably better off anyway for not consuming those yummy breads.

    1. Wow, that store sounds like a terrific community asset. I can imagine that it would take you more than an hour to explore all that they have to offer. It’s fun to try to recreate the unique – and sometime exotic – tastes we experience while in a different country. Shopping in these international stores reminds us how limited our western tastes are… there are so many more flavors out there!

  11. Your post reminded me of a jar of hibuscus flowers I brought home from Oaxaca on my last visit. I’m going to find it and brew some tea this weekend. In Istanbul last year, our tour group was frequently welcomed with a dark red tea, but I never realized it might be the same type until reading your post. I bought a freeze-dried pouch of the leaves at the Spice Market in Istanbul and brought it home. Also delicious!

    1. Hi there! You were smart to bring some hibiscus flowers home with you, they can be challenging to find here at home (and expensive if you find them). It would be interesting to know if the Oaxacan tea and the tea from Istanbul are both jamaica. There are so many wonderful tastes around the world!

  12. Hi Janis! I too love to go to Markets just to see all the colors and smell the smells. And so glad you had a good experience with “local tea” in Oaxaca. When we were in Mexico city I decided to try a local beverage in a Farmer’s Market and it didn’t go well for me. Of course, if you make it yourself you know where it all came from right? The tea sounds lovely and maybe we’ll try some when you are in town???? ~Kathy

  13. I felt transported to the markets reading your post Janis. We recently went to a market in Mazatlan, Mexico, and I felt much the same way. I hadn’t even thought of looking for similar markets closer to home. I will now. Thanks Janis.


    1. Hi Christie. Thanks for your comment. We love to try to recreate tastes that we’ve discovered when we travel and are fortunate that our city has a number of ethnic markets that carry the unique (to us, anyway) ingredients. I hope you are able to find a few of these markets in your area. They are so much fun to explore.

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