At the six-and-a-half acre Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield, things can get really wild.
Have the right gear: A list. A budget. Time. You won’t conquer the jungle by rushing through it. Make provision for food and water. Navigating the jungle on an empty stomach can be deadly.
At the “foodie entrance” you’ll be greeted by an anthropomorphic ear of corn and stick of butter. Establish your position here. If you didn’t bring a Sherpa or compass, grab an illustrated map. Navigation can be challenging due to the unusual fauna, such as an eight-foot lion singing Elvis tunes. Keep walking to the right. Stay focused. It’s easy to get turned around and wander aimlessly, which will wear you down before you’ve reached the halfway point (which is Crazy Charlie’s Live Fish Biopond, by the way).
Your trek begins in American Groceries. It may seem familiar, but don’t let it lull you into a sense of false comfort. Things are about to get weird.
The natives are friendly and knowledgeable. Foraging for olives? Tammy the Olive Lady can deliberate on the flavor profiles of all 50 varieties. Don’t know your Humboldt Fog from your haloumi? The white-coated people know everything there is to know about all 1,400 cheese varieties they carry. That’s right, 1,400 varieties from more than 60 countries. The largest selection…let’s just say anywhere. You are in an alternate foodie universe. Stay calm. Surviving in the jungle requires both physical and emotional strength.
Up ahead are other first-time adventurers. The ones taking photos of the exotic game: alligator; pig and lamb heads. Fresh duck legs (which make the best stock) for $5 a pound. All local (Gerber Farms), antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken (not one leg of Tyson); and housemade sausage.
Follow more experienced hunters past the meat and into the International Produce section. This is one of the jungle’s most attractive features: High-quality fruits and vegetables that you really cannot find anywhere else, including the beautiful purple-streaked Pepino melon from Ecuador whose yellow flesh tastes of honeydew and cucumber, gobo root (popular in Japanese cuisine), and six kinds of bananas.
Pass through the produce, and you’ll enter the Asian section, your gateway to the half-dozen miniature ethnic markets that offer everything from monkey gland sauce for homesick Afrikaner transplants to a selection of insects for the protein-minded. There are more countries, more departments. Patience is key when hunting and gathering.
We hope you told someone where you were going, a cardinal rule when headed into the jungle. In the event you get lost, it’s good to know someone will notice. Just make sure the jungle doesn’t swallow them, too.
Originally published in the July 2013 issue.