Let's face it, the Inland Northwest is not exactly famous for its ethnic diversity. On average, people are pretty white around here, being (perhaps) of German or Scandinavian decent. There is no Chinatown in Spokane, no Little Italy or Little Mexico, but that doesn't mean you can't find ethnic food from almost all over the world - that is, if you know where to look.
When I had just arrived in the United States from Denmark, I remember searching (in vain) for the hard dark rye bread and pork liver pate I grew up on. It had been the mainstay of my diet for 25 years, and now it was nowhere to be found. As a comparison, think of an American moving to France and not being able to find white bread and peanut butter. Or you could consider what Nick Grishko experienced when he moved to Spokane from the Ukraine 11 years ago.
"I could get nothing, nothing of the food I wanted," he says with a slight Russian accent. "I couldn't get anything from the old country, from Ukraine or from Russia - even many things from Europe."
A baker by trade, Grishko opened the Kiev Bakery on Francis six years ago.
"But people would come in and ask for all this other stuff, and before you know it, this is what I have," he says, gesturing toward the full shelves of his grocery store. Today, the Kiev Market is located on Nevada and Empire, and it features not only Russian groceries but also a huge selection of European brands and regular good old American stuff like Barq's root beer and Coke.
"I think about 50 percent of our groceries is regular stuff like milk and cheese, things you'll find at any neighborhood store. The rest is international. We want to be international, not just Russian," says Grishko, who still bakes all the bread for the store himself.
But the Russian flavor at Kiev can't be denied, and many labels are Russian only. Here are Prymat peppers of many sorts, powdered soups, sauces and spices, apple-flavored soda and herbal teas which are more like homeopathic remedies in boxes.
"We have many, many teas, some from Poland and Yugoslavia. The most popular is the Czar Nicholas brand from Russia," says Grishko.
The Kiev Market also features a huge selection of smoked fish - mackerel being one of the more popular choices - as well as smoked herring and salted fish from the Balkans.
"We have a big selection of candy imported from Poland and Russia," says Grishko, showing off the colorfully wrapped bonbons and chocolates. He holds up a Laffy Taffy: "And this is imported from Spokane," he laughs.
Business is good. A steady stream of shoppers come and go on this rainy Monday morning, most of whom speak Russian and hum along to the Russian pop tunes streaming out of the intercom.
"We get a lot of neighborhood people here, too. We'll order what you want -- we fill the demand," says Grishko. "And our prices are real good."
Though not all ethnic groups are represented in the Inland Northwest, it's not just immigrant Europeans who can get their taste buds satisfied. Take, for instance, the Bay Oriental Market on Sprague. This is the kind of place you could wander around for days while completely forgetting that you're in Spokane. Large refrigerated cases hold an astonishing selection of ingredients, including fried tofu, fresh noodles, lemongrass wrapped in Vietnamese newspaper, and even whole eels, carp, pig ears and quarts of pig blood. One whole wall seems composed of nothing but instant noodle bowls and packets of ramen noodles, and the aisles contain all sorts of spices, curries, canned ingredients, fungi, and pickled things. Two aisles are devoted to Vietnamese sweets, including wafer cookies, jellied rice cakes and intriguingly packaged candies. And they have pickled duck eggs.
If this is a little too exotic for your palate, you might instead enjoy Cassano's, also on East Sprague.
Carl Naccarato and Bud Saccomanno now run this the flagship of Italian markets in the same Old World style.
"The market has been here since 1922, but we've only had it for four years," says Naccarato. "But it's the same tradition: We do things the same way as they always were done. You can get all you need for a good Italian meal here, from the pasta to the wine and the oil, and we get fresh bread every day."
The shelves at Cassano's feature more types of pasta than you'd think possible, including, of course, De Cecco, a company that has made pasta since 1887. San Pellegrino sodas 'Chinotto' and 'Limonata' can be found here as well as Cafe Lavazza and Italian cookies from Stella D'Ora.
"We grate our own cheese off the big blocks, make our own sausage and cut our own meats. Most popular are the capocolla [dry ham] and the Soppresata [salami] but also our pancetta [Italian bacon]," says Naccarato. "And we have fresh ravioli as well." In addition, the store recently started to do sandwiches.
So is it mostly Italians who shop here?
"Well, it's funny, we get a little bit of everything today," says Naccarato. "It used to be just the Italian families in town, but now we also get the Martha Stewart crowd and people who watch the cooking shows. We can be pretty sure that if there's something Italian on the Food Network, people will come in here and ask for it the next day."