When it comes to sourcing what you need to cook the finest of world cuisines, it’s difficult to imagine something the International Food Bazaar in San Jose does not already have in stock. From pink pineapples and halal meats to more than 30 types of canned fava beans, the well-ordered displays are exhaustive in their depth and variety.
And, if by chance, you’re looking for something they don’t carry, owner Edward Atoule wants to know about it—even if it’s something as specialized as Marmite, a fermented yeast extract only a British-born customer like Jill Tindall could love.
“Ed told me a long time ago that if there is anything I don’t see here that I would like them to stock, tell him and he will do it,” she said. “Everything here is just brilliant and they stock a lot of British things. I have a friend who is Armenian and I keep telling her she has to come down here and make me buy some of the things that I don’t know.”
The market was founded in 1979 by Atoule’s father, John, an immigrant from the Middle East, and originally stocked only Middle Eastern foods. Atoule has worked at the store since he was a teenager and encouraged his father to expand the business into the storefront next door.
“In the late 90s we started switching over to a wider inventory,” Atoule told San José Spotlight. “The technology companies were bringing in a lot of immigrants to the area and we were just going with the flow. They were coming from India, Eastern Europe, Greece and we started carrying food for them, too. When people visit for the first time, they want to go with things they know from home.”
The bazaar’s variety is staggering: fava beans from Egypt, Sudan and China, and tahini from Israel and Jordan. They have pastas from Italy, Turkey, Greece, Germany, Ukraine, England and Poland, along with 15 kinds of basmati rice. Local products are welcome as well: San Jose hummus shares space with hummus from Lebanon.
“We have rosewater, in case anyone is looking for that,” Atoule said. “We have the biggest selection of jam, honey and syrups made locally as well as from England, France and the Middle East. We have coffee from everywhere, including coffee from the Middle East and Turkey. And a wide variety of oils, breads, soups and sardines. We try to cover every customer’s needs and make sure they are all happy.”
While the market also offers an olive and cheese bar and a halal butcher shop, for Atoule the quality of the inventory is first and foremost.
“I do all the buying so the salesmen have to go through me,” he said. “If they come in with a new product, I have to taste it to make sure it is good quality. I don’t want to bring in a product that is going to sit on the shelf. I want to have a big turnaround; that’s why customers come from all over the area, from Monterey to San Francisco, because they know that the turnaround means our products are going to be fresh on the shelf.”
While Atoule’s father died earlier this year, his mother, Evelyn, visits the shop regularly to keep in touch.
“I love my customers and they are like good friends here,” she told San José Spotlight. “We want them to feel like they are home, whether they are from Israel, Lebanon, Greece, Turkey or anywhere else. I would always tell my son, ‘Make sure the store is always full and clean as if someone was coming over to your home for dinner every night.’”
Creating and maintaining that atmosphere, according to Atoule, is what keeps him coming in every day of the week.
“I work to make sure the customers and the employees are happy,” he said. “We get new customers all the time—they might have passed us by for 20 years thinking it is a mom-and-pop shop. But if they come in one day, they will discover a whole new world here. It fires their imagination and it becomes like their second home.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected]
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