April 2021

to local families celebrating sacred life events—births, baptisms,weddings, religious rites—and some will be bought by top chefs.“People buy this sheep just for the fat in the tail—they use it to flavor soup,”Al says.“This one is going to Juniper & Ivy.” For chefs, local meat is the ideal—not only for quality, but also for the ethics of supporting local food people and systems (farmers, ranchers, fishers). But in San Diego it feels easier to find a yeti than local meat. Ranching in the county is hard for a number of reasons, like the scarcity and cost of land andwater, and the lack of a USDA- approved slaughterhouse (the closest is in Corona, about 80miles north of Poway). Mid-East Market’s shelves are a riot of spices that are hard to find at the average American grocery store (bags of za’atar, ground shiro), favorite drinks adored by various cultures (the berry sodaVimto for Saudis, the salty-minty yogurt drink doogh for Afghans), even popular soaps and hair products (neem oil, blackseed oil) from other countries. They’re one of the only places that presses its own blackseed oil (revered bymany cultures for its healing properties).“I like the challenge of finding the ingredients any of our customers want, from dried fish to snails,”Al says. The clientele shifts depending on what’s happening in the world: He sawmany Afghans during the war; now there are more Haitians,who’ve fled political instability at home. So the inventory of Mid-East Market tells a story about global politics, and local refuge. As I load my groceries at the checkout (lamb chops and stewmeat, a bottle of Vimto, housemade zhug , a container of their famous emulsified garlic), an older man is buying a bag of goat kidneys. Al asks himwhat he’s

“A lot of these places are where elders gather, drink tea, catch up on news from back home,

exchange politics. It helps them navigate their lives.”

going to dowith it.“I’m fromAlgeria,”he explains.“We take a tiny layer of meat, then fat, then meat again, and thenwe smoke it.” He’s eager to talk, and share a recipe fromwhere he’s from. This happens here, a lot. It’s a crossroads of cultural perspectives shared through food. It brings to mindwhat Rahmo Abdi told me about restaurants, and I can see how it applies here at the market as well. “A lot of these places are where elders gather, drink tea, catch up on news from back home, exchange politics,” she said.“It helps them navigate their lives.”



ABOVE: Mid-East Market is a destination for rare spices, international soft drinks, and halal meats.

30 APR I L 2021

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