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Published June 17, 2013, 08:31 AM

Ethnic stores bring tastes from across the world to F-M area

FARGO, N.D. - Sergii Melnyk’s favorite item while he was shopping at the European Market this week? “Everything,” said the Ukrainian native. “It’s home food, so everything’s good.”

By: J. Shane Mercer, Forum News Service

FARGO, N.D. - Sergii Melnyk’s favorite item while he was shopping at the European Market this week?

“Everything,” said the Ukrainian native. “It’s home food, so everything’s good.”

“You cannot find this kind of food in a Wal-Mart,” said Melnyk, 27.

Melnyk lives in Detroit Lakes, Minn., but makes it to the European Market at 7 8th St. S. every two or three weeks, he said.

“Let me ask you this. If you were to go to the Ukraine and eat this kind of food,” he said, gesturing at the pile of goods he was purchasing, “would you miss your food?”

After living in the U.S. for years, Russia-born Katerina Berg opened the European Market in October. It’s one of many ethnic grocery stores in town, offering foods ranging from Africa to Europe and Asia to Mexico.

Juan and Amy Espinoza’s La Unica Mexican Market, 2615 12th Ave. S., Moorhead, sells Hispanic specialty goods and food, including homemade tortillas and tamales, spices, drinks, Mexican sweet breads and cookies, among other items.

Amy Espinoza believes her customers appreciate the way these types of food connect them with their heritage.

“It means a lot just in the sense that you could buy the products here and take it to your home here and let your children experience that,” she said. “Food brings family together.”

She said food can take a person to another place and time.

“Your taste buds send a message to your brain. Not only pleasure, but it triggers memories,” Espinoza said.

Immigrants aren’t the only ones who patronize the Fargo-Moorhead area’s ethnic markets.

George Ley, a native of Cambodia, owns the Asian & American Market at 1015 Main Ave. in Fargo with his brother. He said non-immigrants from the area also find their way into the shop.

“More and more, they discover they like Asian food,” said Ley, who bought the store with his brother around 1997.

Donovan Wadholm is the director of the Fargo region of the North Dakota Small Business Development Center. He says that “without a doubt” he’s seeing growth in the number of ethnic grocers in the area.

This growth may point to the increase in the number of minorities. While Fargo-Moorhead is heavily Caucasian, the ethnic population has grown. The 2010 U.S. census listed 2,852 black or African-American individuals (among those listing only a single race) in Fargo, more than triple the 922 in the 2000 census. The Hispanic/Latino population grew by almost 15,000, or about 17 percent, and the Asian population more than doubled from 1,482 to 3,137.

As of 2011, about 9,000 people in Cass and Clay counties claim to be foreign born, a report by a consultant group from the University of Mary shows.

Some of the immigrants making their way to the area are refugees.

Maria Jones, resettlement coordinator for Lutheran Social Services North Dakota, estimates that her agency resettles an estimated 300 refugees in the Fargo-West Fargo area annually.

Netra Ahikari, 24, knows about being a refugee. He said he emigrated to the U.S. from a refugee camp in Nepal, where he lived for 19 years.

Ahikari said there’s “nothing worse” than life in a refugee camp. Owning his own business was something he never dreamed of during those days.

Today, he and three friends own the Himalayan Grocery at 1000 45th St S. in Fargo. The store, which opened in February, focuses on south Asian foods, but he said they’re looking to expand their offerings.

Opening an ethnic grocery store can meet a number of needs for some immigrants, including creating work opportunities. The stores can also address cultural and religious issues. For example, Wadholm said some of the immigrant population is Islamic and this can provide a way for them to have access to certain foods prepared according to that religious tradition.

But starting a business means overcoming hurdles for some immigrants, such as a lack of established credit needed to obtain loans to get started.

“To their credit, perhaps because they have to be, immigrants are very resourceful,” Wadholm said. “They’ll go into their network, through their church or just their community or wherever and raise the funds that they need to start up these businesses.”

In south Fargo, Ismar Fazlovic, 22, helps run Balkan Food at 2233 13th Ave. S., which is owned by his parents, Jasmin and Tatjana. Their store carries food from Europe, including the regions of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.

Most of the shop’s food comes “straight from Europe,” he said.

Big sellers include meats and chocolates. Coffee is also important.

“That’s our regular routine in the morning,” he said. “We’re very big on that.”

“We have constant regulars,” he said. “We know most of the Bosnian and Croatian population.”

Ismar said having the store helps the family stay connected to their heritage.

The connection between food and culture is a strong one. Concordia Language Villages is an immersion language and culture program offered in the Bemidji, Minn., area. Carl-Martin Nelson, the program’s director of marketing and enrollment, believes “food is necessarily tied to culture.”

One of the ways people who move to a new area maintain their culture is to maintain the foods they had back in their homeland, he said.

“It helps them keep their culture alive for their children,” he said, many of whom were born in the U.S. or left their homeland at an early age.

Ethnic grocers in the Fargo-Moorhead area:

• F M International Food 1402 Main Ave, Fargo

• Balkan Food 2233 13th Ave S, No. A, Fargo

• European Market 7 8th St. S., Fargo

• Lotus Blossom 2750 Main Ave., Fargo

• Asian and American Market 1015 Main Ave., Fargo

• Tochi Health Products 1111 2nd Ave. N., Fargo

• African Market 1230 23rd St. S., Fargo

• La Unica Mexican Market 2615 12th Ave. S., Moorhead

• Aladdin’s Cafe 1609 32nd Ave. S., No. 2, Fargo and 530 6th Ave. N., Fargo

• International Grocery and Halal Meat 2512 7th Ave. S., Fargo

• Himalayan Grocery 1000 45th St. S., Fargo, ND 58103

• Barwago Grocery Store 2119 13th Ave. S., Fargo

• Discount Market 2305 Main Ave., Unit B, Fargo

• Fargo Halal Market 855 45th St. S.

• EveryDay Mart 707 10th St. N., Fargo

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734.