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Cordova Farmer's Market International: The United Nations of Food In Memphis

In 1916, a grocery store revolution exploded here in Memphis when Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly. Prior to that, grocery stores were full service, meaning that you gave a list to the grocer who had a stock boy gather everything from the warehouse. Piggly Wiggly was self service, meaning you got to pick out the individual goods. This led to innovations in packaging and advertising that are still with us today.

While Piggly Wiggly's advances spread worldwide, it took nearly a hundred years for the world to come back to Memphis. In 2008, we had a different kind of revolution with our first international supermarket. For years there had been small mom-and-pop stores that catered specifically to Vietnamese or South Asian customers, but the landscape was dominated by a handful of supermarket chains that just focused on the mundane Southern/Midwestern diet. It was hard to find a pepper more exotic than a jalapeño, and if you wanted meat that didn't come from the commonly known parts of a cow, chicken, or pig, you were out of luck. Cooking adventurously was difficult, requiring trips to a dozen little out of the way shops or growing your own ingredients to complete a recipe. If someone got some saffron or truffles smuggled in from [REDACTED], that was a cause for quiet celebration among the city's food enthusiasts.

Cordova Farmer's Market

With a changing set of demographics in the River City and a palate stretched by more diverse restaurants, the time was right for the Winchester Farmer's Market, which isn't a traditional farmers market (very little of the products are local) and thus causes some confusion. Yes, you could still buy pork ribs and chops, but you could literally buy every other part of a pig and reassemble it back at home. A ten pound bag of duck feet? Check. Liter of cow's blood? Check. Three aisles of Japanese dry goods and frozen foods with no English labeling? Check check check. If you want to make any of the interesting recipes featured here in Chichi Wang's Nasty Bits series, this is the kind of store for you.

Rambutan and Dragon Fruit

Individual aisles of packaged foods are dedicated to different parts of the world, with a heavy emphasis on Mexico, Korea, and Japan, but there are also aisles dedicated to the Middle East, South Asia, and Vietnam. There's a wide variety of live, fresh, and frozen seafood, loads of different meats and poultry options, and more. The produce section alone is enough to blow the minds of most Americans. (I've taken a lot of people there for their first visit, and most experience sensory overload. Everything looks amazing but they buy nothing. On the next trip, they load up a grocery cart.)

In 2012, a second and nearly identical location called the Cordova Farmer's Market International was established in an abandoned grocery store in my neighborhood on the northeast side of town. All of the photos and foods shown came from that location—within walking distance of my house, and now my primary grocery shopping location.

Winchester Farmer's Market

6616 Winchester Road, Memphis, TN 38115 (map)
901-795-1525 ‎

Cordova Farmer's Market International

1150 N. Germantown Parkway, Cordova, TN 38018 (map)

About the author: Ben Carter is the Memphis Correspondent for Serious Eats. Follow him on Twitter (@benitowine) or visit his blog Benito's Wine Reviews.

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