Sometimes recipes call for ingredients that are difficult to find at Meijer, Schnuck’s, or even Common Ground Co-op. In need of some banana leaves? You probably can’t find them there. If you’ve done any type of “exotic” cooking, you’ve probably been to World Harvest. This international grocery store carries thousands of ingredients from a variety of cuisines. In need of some imported Italian pasta? Maybe some fancy jellies or jams? Or maybe you need those banana leaves and some frozen roti. World Harvest has what you need.
When you walk in the store, you may feel a little claustrophobic. There are tall shelves carefully arranged to accommodate all of the dry ingredients you could possibly need or think of needing for any type of cooking. After you enter, on the left you’ll find chocolates, some Italian imported goods, and jellies and jams. On the right, there are teas, bulk goods, olives, relishes, and pickled items. The rest of the store goes back to the right, and after you walk past the cheese and deli counter and the bulk coffee, you’ll walk up the ramp to the back of there store where there are spices, some kitchen tools and supplies, and frozen items, including premade and prepared foods, frozen produce, and local and halal meat.
With so many shelves, and so many items on the shelf, sometimes items will be close to or just beyond the expiration date. I strongly recommend checking the dates on anything you buy — this is just good practice, anyway — because I have unwittingly purchased expired chocolate from World Harvest in the past. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something to use immediately or within a few days, it’s totally worth checking out the 50% off shelves located on the left side of the store, just near the deli seating. It might be that you are inspired to cook an amazing meal by some treasure you find there. And with the convenience of a smart phone, it’s easy to look up recipes for an ingredient with which you’re not familiar.
While I didn’t pick up anything off those shelves on this visit, I was moved to pick up a bag of frozen yuca (which is also called cassava). Fresh yuca — a root found in a lot of African and Caribbean cooking — is just too annoying to break down. Between the peeling of the skin and the coring of the root, it’s simply too much work for a weeknight side dish. But a bag of frozen yuca? Yes, please.
In addition to my bag of cassava, I picked up the vegetarian platter ($8.99) and some baklava from the deli ($1.25 each). The vegetarian platter contained two pieces of falafel (vegan), two dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves), tabouly salad, hummus, baba ghanogh, and two pitas. I got the platter to go, and brought it home for lunch. I also picked up three pieces of baklava: one with pistachios, one with walnuts, and one with cashews.
When I got home and opened up my to-go bag, I was surprised that the pita bread was still warm; it was packaged in a plastic bag separate from the rest of the food. The hummus and baba ghanogh were placed in the small sides compartments of a large, styrofoam to-go container; both portions were very generous. The tabouly, dolmeh, and falafel were in the larger section of the container, which would have been all right had the tabouly not been so wet. The falafel was warm, but not at all crispy. There was a strong taste of chickpea and carrot, but these little patties weren’t quite what I was expecting. They tasted quite good and were well balanced in seasoning, but if you’re looking for a super crispy falafel ball, these aren’t it. The dolmeh seemed more promising: they were tightly wrapped and sufficiently stuffed. The rice inside was citrusy, but I found the use of dill to be too heavy handed. The tabouly contained a lot of tomatoes; these helped to contribute to the wetness that leaked onto the dolmeh and the falafel. The tomatoes weren’t red, though, and they looked just like the cucumbers that were in the salad. There was a good amount of parsley, and that was tasty. As a whole, though, I found the salad to be lacking in some flavor: it needed salt, for sure, and maybe some more acid to brighten things up. It also needed some color—red tomatoes would have made it more visually appealing.
The hummus and the baba ghanogh had nice textures. There was plenty of olive oil drizzled over the top, which was a nice touch on a to-go lunch. The hummus was standard: it was pretty good, but didn’t commit too much to one dominant flavor like garlic, tahini, or lemon juice. The baba ghanogh was more assertive. The lemon juice really brought the components together. The texture was lovely, as it wasn’t too chunky or too smooth. The little flecks of green parsley helped make it look pretty. There was a balsamic vinaigrette in a little container included in the package. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to go with, and it seemed out of place. It tasted good, though.
Of the three pieces of baklava I ordered, I found them all to be quite toasty — as in, literally toasted and browned on the top — and just slightly dry. The pistachio was the toastiest of them all, and the sweetness of the pistachio was prominent against the toasty phyllo dough. The walnut piece was smoother in texture, and I liked it quite a bit. The cashew was my favorite, though. It was sweet, smooth in texture, and just slightly toasted. It was a perfectly sweet way to end the meal.
World Harvest is one of the best grocery resources we have in town, especially if you’re looking to cook something that the average American might deem “ethnic”. There are a ton of imported items, and it’s an easy way to try something new without committing to a restaurant dinner bill. When I was in the store, there were about 10 other people shopping, and there was a steady stream of people coming in and going out with full bags in hand. The cheese counter cannot be overlooked, as there are a whole lot of delicious cheeses ready for you to take home. If you’re unsure about a product, or wanting to try a new cheese, just ask. Or, stop by the store during one of its weekly tasting events. (You can sign up for the mailing list for those here.) Everyone I’ve talked to is super friendly and knowledgeable.
World Harvest International & Gourmet Foods is located at 519 East University Avenue, and is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.