I have been to the mountaintop. I have seen the Promised Land. I’ve been to Mecca, to Nirvana, to Utopia. I’ve seen the city on the hill. I’ve even been to Paradise (but I’ve never been to Me).
And where is this Arcadia, where the rivers flow clean and pure, where the hills skip like young sheep?
It’s about three hours’ south on I-75.
Jungle Jim’s International Market, north of Cincinnati, might be the most amazing food store ever. It’s a food-lovers’ Disney World. They have everything you could think to ask for, and also everything you couldn’t.
Are you looking for foods from Macedonia? You’ll want to head to the section of the store devoted to Macedonian foods. Indonesian foods are in the Indonesian section. And if you want Chinese foods specifically from Hong Kong, then you’ll naturally want to go to the Hong Kong shelves. You’ll find them close to the shelves with food specifically from Taiwan.
How can they pack so many different items into a single store? It’s easy, if the store has more than 200,000 square feet of space. That’s more than 4½ acres devoted to fresh foods, specialty foods, international foods, beer and wine, and ordinary grocery items.
Yes, a regular grocery is hidden in Jungle Jim’s. If you want Cheerios or tuna fish or Tide detergent, you can get them all. But you can find those kinds of things anywhere. What makes Jungle Jim’s special are the things that are harder to find, such as confit of jasmine flowers.
I bought a jar of it the last time I was there. It was amazing. It tasted as if someone took the scent of jasmine flowers and turned it into a jelly. If you go to the store, you can find it, and many similar delicacies, just over the butter bar. That’s a refrigerated case with dozens, literally dozens, of different types of butter.
If you are trying to find a hot sauce — any hot sauce, really — there is a good chance you will find it there, on the shelves that feature 1,500 brands. That does not count the hot sauces native to certain countries; I found the Shark brand sriracha sauce, which had eluded me for weeks, in the section for Thailand.
The Indian food section alone, I believe, is larger than any Indian store in town. The (non-Indian) Asian section is larger than any Asian store. The Italian section is enormous, but still dwarfed by the Hispanic foods area.
The seafood area has the same comprehensive selection of fish you would find at any well-stocked seafood market — but then it also has tank after tank of live fish. If you want something really fresh, you can actually pick out the individual fish you want to take home to eat.
The produce department is even more extensive, because the store actually began as a produce stand. In the root-vegetable section alone, the yellow yams from Jamaica are next to the malanga coca from Mexico, the malanga lila from Costa Rica, and the malanga blanca from Costa Rica; and no, other than the yams, I don’t know what any of those are.
Naturally, if you want alligator meat, elk, camel, or kangaroo, Jungle Jim’s is the place to find them. True, they are all frozen, but you can’t have everything.
The beer selection is extensive, the wine selection perhaps a bit less so. Tucked away in one corner is a small liquor store. Despite its size, it offers a bottle of Hennessy Richard Extra Cognac for $3,628 (the Louis XIII de Rémy Martin is a relative bargain at $2,662).
Not everything is that costly, of course, but if you go you might want to bring more money that you think you’ll need. Not because the prices are high, but just because you will find a lot more to buy than you can imagine.
And give yourself plenty of time to meander around the store. At least two hours, if not more. You don’t want to rush through paradise.
Jungle Jim’s International Market, 5440 Dixie Highway in Fairfield, Ohio, north of Cincinnati, is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. For information, call 513-674-6000.
Contact Daniel Neman at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.