Chow Bella

Favorite Ethnic Markets: BenChris African Market

This is the time of year when folks in Phoenix head for cooler pastures, and it's time to travel the world if you can. But, if your vacation this summer is a staycation, you can still feed your inner globetrotter by heading to India, Africa, and Russia -- via several of the Valley's interesting ethnic grocers.

Today's Favorite Ethnic Market: BenChris African Market

BenChris African Market 5532 N 43rd Avenue Glendale, AZ 85301 602-915-1045

In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it strip mall on 43rd Avenue sits an undiscovered gem of a grocery store - BenChris African Market. This impossibly tiny and impeccably clean store is run by Christian, who greets every visitor with a smile and hearty welcome. Camera-shy perhaps (none allowed), but friendly none the less.

BenChris has an interesting mix of flavors, brands, and products that you just won't find anywhere else. Like Vita-malt. This grainy, sweet and sour carbonated beverage goes down slow and easy, just like summer. Or Melegueta pepper (a West African spice that's been compared to cardamom), or pilau mix (a sort of West African Rice-a-roni). Jars of a ground red pepper labeled 'Grinded Pepper' line the shelves, and for about $5, it's worth a shot to try them out. There are familiar spices, too, like small bags of whole nutmeg for just a buck.

Check out the basket full of 18-inch-long knobby yams, which are true yams. (The kind you might find at Thanksgiving are actually a type of sweet potato.) These are the real deal, worth a try for a couple of dollars.

There's a frozen meat case with delectable looking oxtails, cut so they look more like short ribs. You'll find stacks of whole dried fish, too, as well as chopped spinach packaged in several sized boxed. In the back, there's plenty of universal starch - rice. Stacked high and in 50 pound bags imported from around the globe, fifty dollars' worth will keep you stocked for a long, long time.

Until the weather drops from blazing to bearable, grab a Vita-Malt, and make a friend. Could there be a better way to spend a staycation?