Happy New Year! This past year has been brutal for much of Philadelphia’s food scene, with so many restaurants and bars having been forced to close. That said, our Asian markets seem to at least be scraping by, and in some cases even doing well. The only markets that I know of that closed in late 2019 and 2020 did so for reasons other than the pandemic. I was particularly sad to see some Chinatown markets go, and the Big 8 Supermarket in the Hoa Binh plaza in South Philly will also be missed. On the other hand, we have gained some nice new shopping options as well. This post will highlight some notable openings and closings from the end of 2019 to the present.
Over the past few months I have been venturing out a lot more (at least two market trips per week), and I have made big updates to my Map of Philly Asian Markets. Take a look at that map and let me know if your local go-to market is on it! I’d be happy to hear updates from you. In fact this past year some of you reached out with very welcome news of openings and closings–thank you for letting me know, and please continue to do so!
MARKETS THAT WILL BE MISSED
Asia Supermarket (aka Chinatown Food Market, “the underground market”, 亞洲超級市場), 143 N 11th St, closed since late 2019 (?)
This cavernous store was one of my favorite markets for after-work shopping, and its situation being underground on the corner of 11th and Race made it a fun destination. They maintained offerings of many old school Cantonese staples, and they had a nice vegetable selection. I loved their pots and plates section as well. It was great for a quick stop–they had everything, and the space was so nicely spread out it was so convenient to get in and out. Other markets in Chinatown are often not so convenient.
I only realized this place closed in early 2020, just before Philadelphia businesses went into lockdown for the first time.
The Big 8 Supermarket (and the rest of the businesses in the Hoa Binh plaza) were denied lease renewals after the block was obtained by a developer who is putting up luxury condos in its place. Since 2019 there have been demonstrations by the community (led by organizations like VietLead), demanding the city allow locals and existing business to have a say in the matter. But it didn’t happen in the end (to my knowledge). The Hòa Bình Plaza was the first plaza of its kind to be developed in 1990 by Vietnamese-American entrepreneurs. This plaza model of a grocery store surrounded by shops and restaurants was later implemented several blocks east by other Southeast Asian immigrant community entrepreneurs along the Washington Ave corridor in the Wing Phat Plaza at 12th and Washington and the Maxim Plaza at 6th and Washington. The Big 8 Supermarket had a range of offerings that sustained a very diverse customer base. For me, this was a valuable market because it was the closest market with decent herbs that I could bike to after work from the university for a one-stop-shop. They had most Southeast Asian and Chinese bases covered. There was a great selection of East/Southeast Asian potted plants outside too, and their “utensil” aisle was considerable.
The Great World Supermarket was very handy for me on bad weather days when I had to take regional rail trains back home. Jefferson Station (the last Center City stop on the way back home) is only a few minutes away from this location, and their selection of vegetables and fruits here was considerable. If I had a 40 minute wait on a train, I could easily skip over here for some nice produce. Now there is a Chinese kebab (chuar 串儿) restaurant there called “friendship BBQ” or youqing kechuan 友情客串:
NOTABLE NEW MARKETS
Hmart Philadelphia (aka H마트 or H超市), 6201 N Front St
Over the past few decades Hmart has become a huge chain in the US, and a huge new location was added at 6201 N Front St. making 4 for the Philadelphia region (the other locations being 69th St terminal in Upper Darby, on Cheltenham in Elkins Park, and a location in Cherry Hill, NJ).
While I’m surprised they put in another store not terribly far from the Elkins Park location, I’m happy they did. It is a gem. It is the largest Hmart I’ve ever been in, and everything is so spaced out (which is especially welcome under the current pandemic). The layout and lighting is very inviting. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the store’s planning to make for a very pleasurable shopping experience. See Google images to get a sense of what I mean. There is a food court inside, as well as yet another Paris Baguette store. They also sell alcohol! I think it is the first Asian market in Philadelphia that sells Asian alcohol. They have a growing selection of Japanese sakes and of course Korean soju (though not as many brands as I would have thought). They also carry beer and wine, though mostly mainstream US stuff.
This is one of two new large stores in Northeast Philadelphia that is pretty clearly targeting the existing Korean community in the area as well as the growing Chinese community in the Northeast (notice the Chinese name on the right side).
Hung Vuong Food Market Mayfair 恒发超市 [in Chinese: Heng Fa Supermarket], 6410 Frankford Ave
The other large market to open up in the past year was the Mayfair Market by Hung Vuong Food Market in the Mayfair Shopping Center complex off Frankford Ave (taking the place of a Shop n Bag store. In Chinese this market is “Heng Fa Supermarket” 恒发超市, like the one at 10th and Cherry in Chinatown. But the English name contains the name of a pretty well-known Sino-Vietnamese market at 12th and Washington Ave, Hung Vuong, which seems to have now become a sub-brand of the burgeoning Heng Fa empire, which has grown to well beyond Philadelphia in Allentown and also Cherry Hill, NJ.
When I moved to Philly in 2013, I found three markets that were called “Heng Fa” in Chinese: the B & K Market at Adams and Tabor in near Northeast Philly, and the two King Market locations across the street from each other in Chinatown (where Xun Yu Si Kao and Vivi Bubble Tea are now). It seems like this brand was reformulated in 2015 to the current Heng Fa iteration (also interestingly this is when the name changed in Chinese from traditional to simplified Chinese characters). Not log after the new Heng Fa in Chinatown opened, a limited partnership was established in 2016 with the Hung Vuong Supermarket on Washington Ave (Siêu Thị Hùng Vương 雄王超級市場, named after the legendary rulers of ancient Vietnam). If you paid attention to the Chinese on the signs and bags there, you would have noticed everything changed to “Heng Fa”. I feel like there has also been a noticeable increase in spoken Chinese at that South Philly location. That said, the store inventory has remained largely intact, targeting a Chinese and Southeast Asian clientele.
Here are some recent purchases showcasing some of the specialized and obscure food items that can be found at this market:
This new market in Mayfair Shopping Center is beautiful, and it is nicely organized. While it has a heavy focus on Chinese customers with some very specialized new imports from the PRC and Taiwan, it also covers bases for most Southeast Asian tastes as well (like the location in South Philly). For example, the Southeast Asian herb selection is considerable, and they carry green papayas, etc. Like the new Hmart, this store is spacious and comfortable for shopping under a pandemic.
The Hung Vuong brand of Heng Fa market has also opened a huge new store in Cherry Hill, NJ (I have not yet visited that location, but it looks gorgeous) and apparently also Allentown, PA, according to a news report on 6ABC News in September.
Asianfresh 家和超市, at 144 N. 10th St.
While Chinatown lost two markets recently, it gained a big new one. Asianfresh 家和超市, at 144 N. 10th St. opened in late 2019. It took the space of the closed Imperial Inn, and is a two-storied market with produce, meats, and seafood on the first floor and non-perishables and refrigerated sections upstairs. It’s a pretty nice market and it carries a lot of new imports from China. It can get a little congested at times, though checkout tends to be very fast moving.
Kalaya Market กัลยา พานิช, 922 S. 9th St.
While it isn’t a full-scale grocery store, Kalaya Market appeared this past fall as a store with takeaway prepared food items, and several uniquely Thai non-perishables. At one point this fall they even had kaffir (makrut) limes and calamansi! They also carry some novelties like the Thai Lays potato chip flavors, as well as Thai-style binto lunchboxes. Check out Kalaya Market’s Instagram feed for samples of their offerings and updates.
Do you have a favorite new market, or is your local go-to market closing? Please let me know, and best regards for a great new year 2021.