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Mithapheap (was Sontepheap) Market in Oakland

Kasma Loha-unchit, August 6th, 2010

The Cambodian market formerly called Sontepheap is now called Mithapheap and is found in Oakland, on International Avenue at 14th Avenue, is a great Southeast Asian market.

(Note: this blog was updated on 12 June 2012 to reflect the name change from Sontepheap to Mithapheap Market.)

Mithapheap Market

The Mithapheap storefront

Oakland doesn’t have a Thai Town like L.A. Neither does it have any Thai market. Whenever I need the the hard-to-grow and hard-to-find fresh herbs and vegetables I am used to eating and cooking with back in Thailand, I head for Mithapheap (renamed from Sontepheap in early 2012). The store is small but packed with many interesting things. It is run by a friendly couple – Yun (short for Yunita) and Sam, – who both speak fluent English. Usually one of them is there behind the check-out stand and they are more than happy to help new customers find things in the store.


Plants for sale at Mithapheap

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

During the summer and early fall, when the weather is warm, Mithapheap is a great place to visit for people missing the exotic flavors they’ve experienced in Southeast Asia. Sam makes frequent trips to growers he knows in Modesto and brings back a truckload each time of fresh produce seldom seen in other Southeast Asian markets in the area, such as pea eggplants, winged beans, the beloved cha-om (which always sells out within a day or two!), lemon basil, holy basil, ivy gourd leaves (bai dtam leung in Thai) and the very nutritious drumstick tree leaves (moringa or marum, in Thai). The store also carries numerous frozen and bottled herbs and vegetables imported from Thailand, as well as precious items such as salted crab needed for making a delicious som dtam (green papaya salad), the bitter sadao (neem) flower buds that are so good with nahm bplah wahn sauce and grilled catfish, the yummy sun-dried mudfish (blah chon daed diow) and pilot fish (bplah salit daed diow), and one of my favorite ready to cook preserved fish – bplah som – a sour fish made similarly as sour sausages.

Mithapheap Market

Produce aisle inside Mithapheap Market

Moreover, the store sells many freshly made snacks similar to ones found in markets in Thailand, which I love to buy for my students to sample. Below are pictures taken during a recent visit to the store, showing a vast array of exotic Southeast Asian produce and other food items one can acquire there. But because some of the rarer items are sometimes hard to come by, if you are searching for something particular, call ahead and ask if they have it in stock before you make a trip there. It may be there one day but gone the next.

Yun and Jackfruit

Yun cutting a large jackfruit


If you are out that direction, there are two other markets worth visiting: the Lao International Market and Maykong Market. Both are smaller than Mithapheap and just two blocks further down on International Ave between 16th and 17th Aves. The latter is a tiny store, but sometimes I find very fresh herbs and produce there that are particular to Cambodian and Thai cooking.

From International Ave (which is the old East 14th Street), take a jog a street over to East 12th Street and head on to Sun Hop Fat at 5th Ave. Unlike the three small markets mentioned earlier, it is a supermarket-size Vietnamese store that we recommend to students because it carries a large number of fresh produce and packaged food products used in Thai cooking. It also has large freezers carrying a large variety of seafood products and frozen snacks from Southeast Asia.

(Note: I took all the pictures in this article except the first one.)

Sam Behind Counter

Sam at checkout counter


Produce for sale!

Sam (to left) and Yun (above right) are the owners of Mithapheap. The produce in the picture to the right includes, from front to back: galanga, turmeric, ginger, Thai eggplants, Thai chillies and home-made coarse-ground toasted rice in the shadows in the back.

Banana Blossoms

Banana blossoms, kaffir lime leaves

Banana Blossoms

More hard to find vegetables

To the left we see banana blossoms (for salads and dips) and packaged kaffir lime leaves. to the right we see baby watermelon (used as a squash in some sour curries), bagged cha-om and bitter melon.

Winged Beans

Very fresh winged beans

Kaffir Lime Leaves

Kaffir lime leaves

Winged beans are a treat to find: Thais use them in wing bean salads, often of the yum (a type of spicy and sour salad) variety. Kaffir lime leaves, critical in many Thai dishes, are always a challenge to find in the U.S.

Holy Basil

Holy basil

Lemon Basil

Lemon basil

Holy basil is another hard-to-find Thai ingredient. It is used in many dishes, particularly dishes such as Spicy Basil Pork (Moo Pad Gkaprow) (see my recipe for Spicy Basil Chicken(Gkai Pad Gkaprow)). Some dishes, such as Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Stir-fry) just are not the same without holy basil. And Lemon Basil is a real find if you are making a soup such as Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup with Lemon Basil (Gkaeng Liang Fak Tawng) that requires it.

Sawtooth Coriander

Sawtooth coriander

Ivy Gourd Vines

Ivy gourd vines

Two more hard-to-find items. Sawtooth coriander is a great accompaniment to the northeastern salads called lahb (or larb), such as my Northeastern-style Spicy Minced Chicken Salad (Lahb Gkai). Ivy gourd vine (pak dtam leung) is used in salads and stir-frys.

Curry Leaves

Curry leaves

Fresh Baby Corn

Fresh baby corn

Canned baby corn is just no substitute for recipes that call for baby corn!

Drumstick Tree

Drumstick tree (moringa)

Green Papaya

Green papaya

For more information on drumstick tree or moringa, see my blog Moringa (Marum). Green papaya is used to make Green Papaya Salad (Som Dtam).

Green Mangoes

Young tart green mangoes

Green Mangoes

Wild pepper leaves

Young green mango is used to make salads, such as my easy-to-make Sliced Tart Crisp Green Mango with Chillies and Salt (Mamuang Yam Prik Gkap Gkleua). Wild pepper leaves (bai cha plu), used to make Miang Kam (Tasty Leaf-Wrapped Tidbits), are often confused with betel leaves (in the next picture). (See my recent blog: Miang Kam uses Bai Cha Plu NOT Betel Leaf (Bai Plu).)

Areca Nut

Areca nut, betel leaves


Home-made pickles

To the left are dried, sliced areca nuts and betel leaves for wrapping the nut and chewing as a stimulant. To the right are home-made pickles in the refrigerator at the market.

Sour Fish

Sour fish from Thailand

Sour Sausage

Sour Cambodian sausages

Here are two different types of fermented products. To the left is bplah som – sour fish from Thailand (found in the freezers). To the right are sour Cambodian meat sausages.

Sour Sausage

Sour Thai Sausage

Sweet Treats

Thai sweet treats

To the left is another type of sour sausage (naem) from northern Thailand. To the right are some refrigerated sweet treats (kanom wahn). (See Michael’s blog on Thai Sweet Snacks – Kanom Wahn.)


Yun behind counter

Ready-made Meals

Ready-made meals

To the left is Yun behind the counter with an assortment of fresh-made sweet snacks in front. The ready-made meals on the right include kanom jeen rice noodles with salads and curry sauce, and grilled spicy fish wrapped in banana leaves.


Mangosteen on some durian cakes

Shelved Jars

Shelves of various items

To the left are fresh mangosteens in net bags on top of cylindrical packages of durian cakes on the checkout counter. To the right are shelves packed with a large assortment of bottled herbs, vegetables and fruits, such as banana blossoms, tamarind leaves, young green peppercorns, cassia leaves, water mimosa, lotus stems, turmeric, galanga, star gooseberries and more.

Sticky Rice Steamers

Sticky rice steamers

Mortars and Pestles

Mortars and pestles

Here we see sticky rice steamer baskets in the cookware aisle. (See my recipes: Steamed White Sticky Rice (Kao Niow Neung) and Coconut-Flavored Sticky Rice with Mangoes (Kao Niow Ma-muang).) To the right are baked clay and large palm wood mortars and pestles for making green papaya salad. (See my blog on the Mortar & Pestle.)

These are 4 markets in the International district of Oakland where Kasma does much of her shopping.

Mithapheap Market
1400 International Blvd., #C
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 436-3826
Lao Market
1619 International Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 536-5888
May Kong
1613 International Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 261-7630
Thien Loi Hoa
1199 E. 12th Street
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 663-0138

See also:

All photos copyright 2010 Kasma Loha-unchit.

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