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Asian Markets – Oakland’s International District

Michael Babcock, Thursday, August 18th, 2011

When shopping for Thai or Asian ingredients in Oakland, California, one of the best areas is the International District, which covers International Boulevard (formerly East 14th Street) and East 12th Street. There are many Southeast Asian and Chinese markets on these two streets from the Lake Merritt end to 17th Avenue. In this blog I’ll talk about the markets where Kasma shops for ingredients, both for her personal use and for her Thai Cooking Classes.

This is a companion piece to last-week’s blog: Asian Markets – Oakland’s Chinatown

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Shopping at Asian Markets (for Thai Ingredients), more often than not Kasma goes to a number of markets on her shopping trips; different markets carry different ingredients and she always tries to get absolutely the freshest ingredients and the best brands of packaged products.

International Boulevard, the old East 14th Street in Oakland, and East 12th Street are intersected by the numbered avenues, beginning with First Avenue. Up until about 17th Avenue, the stores are primarily Asian; after that, the flavor turns more Hispanic. It is one of the two main districts for Asian supermarkets in Oakland, the other being Oakland’s Chinatown situated from 7th to 9th Streets bordered by Broadway to the west. One of the advantages of shopping at International Boulevard is that many of the stores have parking lots.

(Click images to see larger version.)

International Boulevard Asian Markets

Sontepheap Market

Mithapheap Market

Mithapheap (was Sontepheap) Market

1400 International Blvd. (at 14th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 436-3826

I list this market first because it is the market Kasma frequents the most out on International Boulevard. The market is run by Cambodians and is a great source for hard-to-find Southeast Asian ingredients, such as holy basil, kaffir lime leaves, cha-om, bai chaploo and more. Read Kasma’s blog Mitapheap (was Sontepheap) Market in Oakland to find out more. There’s a small parking lot right by the store. The name was changed from Sontepheap to Mitapheap in early 2012.


International Lao Market

International Lao Market

International Lao Market

1619 International Blvd. (at 16th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 536-5888

The International Lao Market, owned by Laotians, gets second position because Kasma often goes there for hard-to-find produce items when they are not available at Sontepheap. The market also carries many frozen, bottled and packaged goods from Thailand, including one of Kasma’s favorite fish sauce brands – Tra Chang – as well as her favorite brand of shrimp paste (kapi) – Klong Kohn. This is one place Kasma’s students can find clay, stone and wooden mortars and pestles. Nearby street parking is usually available.


Mekong Market

Mekong Market

Mekong Market

1613 International Blvd. (at 16th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 261-7630

Although it’s a small store, I’m including Mekong Market here because it is right next to the International Lao Market. The proprietress is Cambodian and Kasma uses this as a back-up for ingredients such as Thai eggplants, holy basil and kaffir lime leaves. Of the Southeast Asian cuisines, Cambodian and Lao foods share the most similarities with Thai and markets run by people from these two countries are more likely to carry the hard-to-find fresh ingredients also used in Thai cooking.


Thien Loi Hoa

Thien Loi Hoa

Thien Loi Hoa

1199 E. 12th St. (at 12th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 663-0138

Also on East 12th Street, Thien Loi Hoa is a fairly large and complete market. They have fresh and frozen seafood in addition to produce and a butcher. In the freezers are also various Southeast Asian herbs and vegetables, like cha-om and sadao (neem). This is the only market in Oakland where Kasma can find pickled garlic from Thailand without preservatives in vacuum-sealed bags in the refrigerated section. In the same section, there’s usually the sometimes hard-to-find salted mackerel from Thailand. Fresh duck eggs are frequently available here, too. The store has a small parking lot; I’m usually able to find a spot.


Lucky Fish Market

Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market

1201 E 12th St. (at 12th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94620
(510) 436-6068

Lucky Fish Market is right across the street from Thien Loi Hoa and is a good place to look for fresh fish, including live ones in the tanks, and other seafood such as crabs and lobsters. They have another market on 8th street in Oakland’s Chinatown. Thien Loi Hoa and Sun Sang (see next entry) also have fresh fish, if you can’t find what you’re looking for here.


Sun Sang Market

Sun Sang Market

Sun Sang Market

751 International Blvd. (at 8th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 891-0298

A fairly large Asian grocery store with produce and a meat counter. Kasma used to go there specifically to buy Lion and Globe Peanut oil in 5 liter bottles but lately they have only the smaller sizes. The store has a large selection of frozen seafood products and also a fairly good fresh fish counter.


Written by Michael Babcock, August 2011

Asian Markets – Oakland’s Chinatown

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

One of the two best locales to shop for Asian ingredients in Oakland, California is Oakland’s Chinatown. When Kasma does her weekly shopping for her Thai cooking classes, she invariably begins at Oakland’s Chinatown. Below are the stores where she shops.

One map I came across shows Oakland’s Chinatown Boundaries as a rectangle bound by Broadway and Oak on two sides and 6th Street and 11th Street on the other two sides. The stores where Kasma shops are all within a narrower area, bounded by Broadway and Webster on two sides and 7th Street and 9th Street on the other sides.

Although it is called Chinatown, it is really more pan-Asian as the stores are run not only by Chinese but also by Southeast Asians such as Vietnamese.

Street parking can be somewhat hard to find in Chinatown, particularly on 8th Street and 9th Street where there are many stores. Double-parked vehicles, including large delivery trucks, are very common on these two streets. On weekday mornings, Kasma can sometimes find parking on Broadway between 8th Street and 9th Street. When I shop here I usually drive up 9th Street (it’s a one-way street) coming from Clay Street and park at the metered-street parking either between Clay and Washington or between Washington and Broadway. Alternatively, there’s a parking lot under the Asian Cultural Center, which is found on Franklin Street in-between 9th and 10th. Drive up 9th (one-way) from Broadway and turn onto Franklin (left only, Franklin is one-way) and the parking lot is underground to your right. It costs the same to park here as on the street, but they charge in hour-long increments.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Oakland Chinatown’s Asian Markets

Wah Hang Market

Wah Hang Market

Wah Hang Market

415 Ninth St
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 268-0358

Wah Hang Market is a small shop just on 9th street between Broadway and Franklin. Kasma occasionally stops here mainly to look for fresh produce; if Khanh Phong is out of a certain item or if the freshness is not to Kasma’s liking, she’ll stroll down here and see what is on display. She’ll also buy certain cuts of pork here, again, if Khanh Phong doesn’t have what pleases her.


Yuen Hop Noodle Company

Yuen Hop Noodle Company

Yuen Hop Noodle Company

824 Webster St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-2698

Kasma comes to Yuen Hop Noodle Company basically for two items. One is the loosely packed bags of fresh-made rice noodles, which are the best rice noodles on this side of the Bay. The other is a snack – Chinese-style mochi (sticky rice dough balls) stuffed with a ground black sesame and peanut filling that is very good and a favorite snack among her students. Both are usually sold out before noon. Although it is called the “Noodle Company”, the store is more or less a typical Asian grocery store carrying a wide variety of fresh produce, dried seafood products (occasionally the hard-to-find salted mackerel), and packaged and canned goods. The cookware aisles are worth a look.


Wing Fat Market

Wing Fat Market

Wing Fat Market

719 Webster St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 835-2318

I’m including this smaller, Asian market just for the sake of completeness. Kasma comes here mainly to look for nino (” baby”) bananas (Thais call them “egg bananas”) if she can’t find them at the right stage of ripeness for cooking that she needs at other stores. This store seems to always have bunches of these bananas hanging from wire hooks at the front.


Best Taste Restaurant

Best Taste Restaurant

Best Taste Restaurant

814 Franklin St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-4983

Kasma stops here to get char siu – Chinese barbecued red pork. Their roast duck and crispy-skin roast pork are also quite good. A good place for a quick, inexpensive lunch.


Old Oakland Farmer's Market

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Ninth St. between Broadway & Clay
Oakland, CA
Fridays, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

On Friday mornings, the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market is a great place to get Asian produce. There’s a large number of Asian vendors, many of them immigrant Southeast Asian farmers including Hmong and other hilltribes. The produce is very fresh and the prices are among the best you’ll find. It pays to get to the market as early as you can as store owners often come early in search of hard-to-find produce for their stores, such as pea eggplants, Thai eggplants, holy basil, lemon basil and chayote greens. Many stalls are ready to sell even before 8:00 a.m., the official opening time. In addition to produce, we come here for very fresh duck eggs; our Filipino mailman swears by the balut we get here. There are also stalls selling ready-made food and a few tables set up for people to eat. See our earlier blog Old Oakland Farmer’s Market.


Oakland Chinatown’s Seafood Markets

Asian seafood markets are very different from what you find in regular supermarkets. Most of the fish is displayed whole, with the head, tail and fins still on; you can have them cleaned to your liking after you’ve made your selection. The best way to tell how fresh a fish is is when it’s still whole and not yet scaled and gutted. (See Kasma’s article Selecting a Fresh Fish.) Kasma prefers to shop for fish in Chinatown because there are three stores within close proximity that have a good selection of fresh whole fish; it is not uncommon for her to walk to all three stores to make sure she gets the freshest possible seafood. All three markets display the whole fish on ice and also have tanks with live fish and other seafood, such as crabs, lobsters, shrimp and clams. (See also Whole Fish Dishes.)

New Sang Chong Market

New Sang Chong Market

New Sang Chong Market

377 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-2018

New Sang Chong Market is where Kasma usually looks for fresh fish first. Although the selection is not as large as Lucky Fish Market (across the street), the fish tends to be fresher. In addition they sell what in Thai would be called gai bahn, literally “house chicken.” These free-range chickens are a much smaller variety than that found in traditional American supermarkets and have a much better flavor. When Kasma was perfecting her Thai Southern Fried Chicken Recipe, she was able to get the result she wanted only from this smaller variety of chicken. The chickens are sold with head and feet on. The market also has a butcher, a good selection of frozen seafood, and fresh produce.


Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market #2

376 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 663-8638

No longer called Lucky, still a fish market.

This is the largest of the three fishmongers on this block. There’s also a Lucky Seafood Market on International Boulevard, the other good locale for markets with Asian ingredients in Oakland – a blog to follow soon.


Yet Sun Market

Yet Sun Market

Yet Sung Market

397 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-3338

Yet Sung Market is the third market with fresh seafood and also the smaller variety of free-range whole chicken with head and feet still on. They also have very fresh produce, well worth a look here.


Oakland Chinatown Bonus Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

388 9th St # 182
Oakland, CA 94607-4292
(510) 268-1288

I’ll include this restaurant because it’s a great place to get jook (or johk) – congee (rice porridge). On the Fridays that we come to the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market we usually come here for congee or for the roast pork or roast duck, both of which you can see hanging enticingly in the window. I often get a plate of the pork and Kasma usually gets congee with pork liver, preserved egg and fish. This restaurant is worth a blog of its own sometime soon. (Prescient words! See Gum Kuo Restaurant, Oakland Congee, from February 2012.)


Further reading:

Written by Michael Babcock, August 2011, updated May 2017

Shopping at Asian Markets (for Thai Ingredients)

Michael Babcock, Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Although shopping at Asian markets in the United States can hardly compare to the wonderful markets in Thailand (see our market picture photos), it is still immensely enjoyable. Whenever Kasma and I travel anywhere in the U.S., we always visit the Asian markets. We then post our impressions on the website, as we did when we visited Savannah, Georgia in February of this year. (See our page on Savannah Asian markets.)

Vendor at Aw Taw Kaw Market

Vendor at Aw Taw Kaw Market

For many people, shopping at Asian markets is a necessity: in order to cook Thai food, you need fresh, appropriate ingredients and they very often are only found in Asian markets.

I’d like to make some suggestions about how to go about finding those Asian ingredients when you need them back in the U.S. 

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

You first need to start with a slightly different mind-set than you use for shopping in a supermarket. Asian markets vary greatly in how much of different ingredients they stock, which ethnicity is emphasized and whether or not they have produce, meat or seafood. When Kasma shops for her classes, she’ll typically visit at least half a dozen markets.

Fish at Manila Market in San Francisco

Fish at Manila Market in San Francisco

She’ll start at her favorite, one that has a good base of ingredients (Khanh Phong market on 9th Street in Oakland, CA). She’ll usually then visit 2 to 4 other markets in the Chinatown area. After that, she’ll head off to the International District where she’ll complete her shopping: International Blvd. has two especially good ethnic markets (Sontepheap Market at 1400 International Blvd. and Lao Market at 1619 International Blvd.) that she relies on for harder to find Thai ingredients, such as kaffir lime leaves and holy basil. Another market that often requires a stop is Sun Hop Fat (501 E. 12th Street) – it’s another very well-stocked market that also sells fish and seafood. She often also makes a special stop at a fresh fish market in her travels, as well.

The reason for all the stops are multifold: maybe a fresh ingredient doesn’t look very fresh at one of the early stores; maybe she needs fresh bamboo shoots and several markets don’t have them; maybe she can’t find the right size of frozen shrimp. And on and on.

Shopping in Oakland's Chinatown

Shopping in Oakland's Chinatown

When shopping Asian, I suggest that you start off realizing that it’s not one-stop shopping, although you may be fortunate and have a fantastic store that has everything you need. Plan on spending a little time to get the best ingredients.

If you plan to cook Asian food on a regular basis, take a day and visit as many Asian markets in your area as you can. Learn which stores have which ingredients.

If you don’t know where the markets are, start with the yellow pages, either the book your phone company gives you or online. Go to the markets page and go through the entire listing looking for names that are obviously Asian: like Hong Kong Market, or Khanh Phong. If you’re going to be cooking Thai food, look especially for markets with Thai names; we’ve also found that Cambodian and Lao markets are excellent sources for Thai ingredients. In many cities, Asian markets tend to cluster in the same area. That’s a good thing because you can visit many more easily

You can also see if there are any markets listed on our website. We have one page for markets in the San Francisco Bay Area and another for markets throughout the rest of the United States. You can also try Thai Table’s Asian Market Locator.

Once you’ve got your list, visit every one of the markets. Take notes: which markets have what ingredients, which markets have meat, fresh fish, frozen foods, and so on. Then you’ll have a good idea of where to go when you need certain ingredients.

Look on it as a fun adventure. When I shop in Oakland’s Chinatown, I can feel like I’m no longer in the United States. I’m often the only Caucasian in a market, surrounded by Asian people and Asian ingredients: it’s the closest I get to being in Thailand when I’m at home.

Market at Oakland Farmer's Market

Vendor at Oakland Farmer's Market

Another good source of ingredients can be local farmer’s markets. We’re very lucky in Oakland to have a farmer’s market right below Chinatown. (It’s on 9th Street at Broadway on Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; about 3 blocks from the 12th Street BART station.) There are at least a dozen farmers with ethnic ingredients ranging from Vietnamese herbs to Thai chillies (prik kee noo) to holy basil to duck eggs – all according to season, of course. If your area does have a farmer’s market, go check it out and see if there are Asian vendors. Even if it does not, you may be able to get needed ingredients there. Kasma often needs cilantro roots for making curries and the only place we’ve been able to find them reliably is at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market on Saturday (Center Street in-between Milvia and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way) where Blue Heron farms always has them. (Blue Heron is also at the Thursday Berkeley Farmer’s market from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Shattuck and Rose.)

Fish Sauce, Source for Salty

Golden Boy Fish Sauce Label

I’d also suggest that you check out Kasma’s list of her favorite Thai brands. (There’s also a one-page PDF print out available.) When you visit the markets, check to see which have these brands. If you are unable to find them locally, consider purchasing them from an online market. Through the years many students have commented how much of a difference using Kasma’s recommended brands made in their cooking: you’ll especially want to make sure you have a good brand of fish sauce (nahm bplah), such as “Scales Brand” (Tra Chang) or Golden Boy (Dtra Dehk). Check out the three markets on our  online market listing.

So do take a day and survey Asian markets in your area. It’s a fun excursion and will set you up for cooking great Thai (or other Asian) food. If you don’t know what to cook, check out Kasma’s recipe index for some ideas.

For some of the various things you’ll find at Oakland’s Chinatown markets, check out Anita Crotty’s Flickr photo set Oakland Chinatown with Kasma.

If you have a favorite Thai market in your area, please contact Kasma and we’ll add them to our list. If you send us your comments and impressions, we’ll hopefully add those as well.


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2009.