Small stores, big flavor

Explore the secrets lurking in Columbia groceries.

The advent of spring and the fresh produce and vegetables it brings is the perfect reason to break boring culinary habits and hit Columbia's smaller grocery stores. Yes, ridiculous as it might sound, not all food comes from the Walmart tree, and even more surprising, much of the food Columbia-area residents eat comes directly from Columbia-area trees. So whether you're looking to get adventurous with ethnic flavor palettes, munch on something other than your bland, banal snack foods or just looking to supplement your dining-hall intake with fresh organics, you will have no choice but to browse Columbia's local markets and groceries.

Clover's Natural Market

2100 Chapel Plaza Court (Just off Forum/Stadium)

2012 E. Broadway

Greeting you at the door of Clover's Natural Market is the inviting smell of fresh foods, produce and spices that line the walls and shelves of this quaint, small market. Clover's is a showcase of local baked goods from Uprise Bakery, familiar national organic brands, dairy products from local farms and a vast array of bulk foods and dietary supplements. The market prides itself on selling only all-natural or organic products. Particularly striking is Clover's display of bulk spices which, packaged in cute mason jars on wood shelves, range from traditional cardamom and cinnamon to green, energizing spirulina. Clover's also carries in-house snacks and foods (try their delicious Energy Squares in either cranberry lemon or acai coconut, $3). Whether you are new to organic and all-natural foods, an experienced and brave home cook or needing foods to supplement animal or gluten-free diets, Clover's offers plenty to taste and try.

Root Cellar

814A E. Broadway

The Root Cellar, tucked conveniently beneath Maude Vintage and Hot Box Cookies on Broadway, is a store whose claim to fame is primarily its large selection of Missouri-made products, ranging from Columbia-area chocolates, St. Louis-area meats and sauces, to Kansas City-area roasted coffee beans. Just about all the produce is local as well, and the crisp, peppery arugula and plump squash were particularly ready to be the star of a fresh salad or dish. The Root Cellar also devotes a massive chalkboard to the meat and poultry it sells directly from family farms, who uphold all-natural and ethical practices when creating their products. The locally made garlic goat cheese offered as a sample at the counter was especially delicious, as was the Root Cellar's in-house and unbelievably flavorful hummus. Also, don't miss homemade granolas humbly packaged in Ziploc bags and jewelry created by local artists.

Campus Eastern Foods

408 Locust St.

Sitting on the basement level of a building on Locust in a dimly-lit and cozy space is Campus Eastern Foods, offering baked goods, spices, drinks, frozen meals and bulk grain and rice all representative of the Mediterranean region of Europe, Asia and Africa. Showcasing both international imports and locally-made products, this partner store to Casablanca Mediterranean Grill is sure to please the customer looking for a large range of cuisines, or maybe looking to reminisce with old, familiar snacks from back home. Campus Eastern Foods also packages its own bulk spices and grains, ensuring the lowest prices for customers who desire any quantity of spices. In addition to its conveniently packaged ethnic meals — similar to those of Trader Joe's — and imported snacks is a selection of very reasonably priced hookahs and tobaccos, which line the back wall of the store.

Chong's Oriental Market

701 Locust St.

If you are a foreign exchange student missing the flavors and products from back home, or a knowledgeable consumer of Japanese, Korean, Chinese or Thai cuisine, Chong's Oriental Market's massive selection of international imports is sure to satisfy the needs of anyone on any budget. Long shelves in this spacious building display imported fruits and vegetables (the stars include large Korean pears, fresh bok choy and exotic mushrooms), grains and noodles to accompany any meal and ever-popular Japanese snacks and candies. Chong's also includes quite possibly the largest selection of ramen noodles in mid-Missouri, with shelves that stack about 15 feet high. Although almost all the labels are in languages other than English, Chong's is still worth the three-block trip from the downtown area.

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