Now I know I’m always harping on the many wonderful restaurants of Asheville, but today I’d like to talk about the alternative to eating out. No, I don’t mean starving. I mean cooking.
Perhaps the ol’ pan and spatula are the last things on your mind during your romantic getaway in the mountains and I can’t blame you. But if you fancy yourself a cuisiner fantastique, a true artist of the onion and the blade, or simply find yourself staying at a certain brand of luxury cabin equipped with an all-purpose kitchen, then I’ve got some local lore just for you.
Namely, that Asheville’s best specialty markets brim with every manner of gourmet ingredient, and world-spanning fare. Doing a little food shopping at these hidden gems is your gateway to a cost effective and delicious way to entertain/torment your traveling companions via experimental recipes. Live like a local. Cook the unimaginable.
Longtime readers of the blog will know I’m partial to the Asheville City Farmer’s Market, hosted on downtown’s North Market Street on Saturday mornings. I do love an excuse to go downtown. But that’s not where Asheville’s farm-fresh produce starts and ends. Far from it.
Head on up to the WNC Farmer’s Market complex, just a drop south of West Asheville, and you’ll find a cornucopia of local products, ranging from seasonal fruits and veggies, to baked goods, to jams, to muscadine wine. Sticking to the market stalls should be enough for the purposes of the travelling chef, but if you really want a taste of the local flavor, take a detour to the truck sheds to buy directly from Western North Carolina’s finest farmers.
As an added convenience, they’re open 8am-5pm, all year-round, making it easy to check out this truly special market no matter what else you have planned for the week.
Local Favorites: Spiced apple cider come October. Sourwood honey, the fame of southern Appalachia.
I came across this particular specialty market in Asheville through a cup of Vietnamese coffee—the kind bolstered with sweetened condensed milk—drunken at the Wild Ginger Noodle Bar. A restaurant which I highly recommend, by the way.
Anyway, I asked where they got their coffee, and I was directed just a few storefronts away to Lee’s Asian Market. It was a match made in heaven, and that brand of coffee and I have been going strong for nearly eight years, requiring frequent returns to Lee’s.
This arrangement has given me plenty of opportunities to pick up all sorts of odds and ends at this well-stocked market. And I’ll admit it, usually this means Japanese candy. But from kimchi to lychees, if you’re looking for an east Asian ingredient, you can likely find it at Lee’s in south Asheville.
Now if you’re on the west side of town, I suggest checking out Kim’s Oriental Food & Gifts. Although it’s a little outside of my best-known territory, my friends and informants provide positive reports.
Local Favorites: Matcha pocky. I am a simple man.
Downstairs: lattes and Spanish imports. Upstairs: a casual Iberian café and wine bar, run by the culinary geniuses of Curate. It’s quite the combo, a specialty market the likes of which you’d be hard pressed to find outside of downtown Asheville.
Imagine this: a light breakfast—perhaps composed of an americano and chocolate croissant—which fortifies you for the acquisition of smoked meats and Valencia orange preserve. Or perhaps you’ll come for a lunch—bocadillos and pintxos maybe—which will inspire you to try your hand at preparing paella or a tortilla in the evening.
If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of Spanish food, and here in Asheville, you can’t find any better specialty market for that purpose. Just another excuse to visit downtown.
Local Favorites: Platos del dia, upstairs. Variety is the spice of life.
There’s no shortage of excellent Indian restaurants in Asheville, including a certain nationally acclaimed purveyor of chaat downtown. Growing up here, it is more than easy to acquire an appreciation for this kind of food. The next logical step, of course, is making it yourself.
At Radha Indian Grocers—on the way west out of downtown and the River Arts District—it's as easy as grabbing one of the spice packets near the front of the store (instructions included, usually) and combining it with a block of savory paneer. Don’t forget the rice and the naan, of course, represented here at Radha in every flavor under the rainbow.
It’s a great way to inject some spice to your weekly repertoire, or simply learn to make a new dish. The only thing that can make it better are hot fried samosas, which Radha provides too, of course.
Local Favorites: Candied fennel, aromatic and sweet.
Although Asheville, and the South Slope particularly, may be best known for its beers, I think one and all can agree that regardless of what libation you’re partaking in, it can always be made better with some aperitifs. And, as I so often say, you ought to satisfy this particular yearning with a big old block of cheese.
Imported cheese no less. Or local artisan cheese. They’ve got it all at the South Slope Cheese Company, plus charcuterie, vegan cheese, sheep’s cheese, caviar, wine-pairings, and pre-prepared boxes brimming with some of the most refined beverage accompaniments in all of Asheville.
Yes, a visit here is the perfect way to lay in stock for an evening of fine wine and dining, or, perhaps even better, a romantic picnic on the Parkway. That’s where my imagination goes anyway. Visit this specialty market in Ashville yourself and see where yours takes you.
Local Favorites: Manchego sheep’s cheese, creamy and smooth.
WNC Farmer's Market
570 Brevard Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
Lee's Asian Market
1950 Hendersonville Rd #7, Asheville, NC 28803
La Bodega by Curate
32 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Radha Indian Grocers
813 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28806
South Slope Cheese Company
11 Southside Ave Ste 110, Asheville, NC 28801