I Went to the Craziest Grocery Store in America, and This Is What I Found
Because I work at a food website, I spend at least 40 hours every week writing about, researching and dreaming about visiting some of the best places for food and drink in the country. While there’s no way I’ll ever be able to visit every single amazing restaurant or grocery store, I have been lucky enough to grow up just a day trip away from one of the country’s craziest grocery stores: Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield, Ohio.
For the uninitiated, Jungle Jim’s has been dubbed “the theme park of food,” and its expansive 300,000-square-foot space makes that pretty dang accurate. You could spend days at this store, exploring one of the largest wine collections in the U.S., browsing the humongous international section or just gawking at the massive meat and seafood section, which features — among many other things — huge tanks full of basically every kind of live fish you can imagine.
On a recent trip home for the holidays, my husband and I took about half a day out of our busy schedule to take a little trip to Jungle Jim’s. Though I had been to this store a few times before, this time, I took special notice of some of the more interesting items this store has to offer. And these 15 notable items are really just a tiny handful of the things this food haven has. Jungle Jim’s has over six acres of grocery items, and we only had a short time to explore it all. But we still had a lot of opportunity to see some truly extraordinary items. Here’s what I found.
If you know just one thing about durian, you know that it’s notoriously stinky. But there are a lot of things you don’t know about durian, like how to eat it. Jungle Jim’s sells this Southeast Asian fruit so people can make chips, ice cream, pie and more with it. Durian is said to taste like a combination of sweet, savory and creamy all at once. If you’re too scared to try that fruit, don’t worry. Jungle Jim’s produce section and international produce section are extensive, and the store features other hard-to-find fresh items such as whole sugar cane, cactus and malanga.
Endless variety of European butters
One of the first things you’ll see when you walk into Jungle Jim’s is the Butter Bar, which features a sizable cooler full of butters from America and Europe. If you always thought there was something special about French butter, get excited; because they have it. Additionally, Jungle Jim’s sells butter made not from cows’ milk. We spotted sheep butter and goat butter in the store.
You won’t just find international butters and cheeses at this grocery store. Their international section is so large you could honestly get lost in it. It seems like nearly every country on Earth has a section, aisle or shelf dedicated to its own regional goods. Trying to sort through all the sauces, spices and snacks is overwhelming, so we just resorted to the countries and flavors we were more familiar with and got pretty excited in the Germany aisle. We bought this curry ketchup, because currywurst is a life-changing dish, and have been dousing our potatoes and sausages in this condiment ever since.
If you’re a fan of red meat but are sick of beef or bison, consider ground camel. While the concept of eating camel seems pretty foreign to Americans, it’s fairly common in the Middle East and Africa. Camel is said to have a mild taste and cooks similar to beef.
Jungle Jim’s is known for its extensive exotic meat selection, and we spotted one lone rattlesnake in the back of the freezer section. Like most meats that are unfamiliar, rattlesnake is best served fried.
Pig tongues and hearts
The standard cuts of pork aren’t the only edible parts of the pig. Everyone kind of knows that, and Jungle Jim’s really knows that. They sell pork tongues, hearts, ears and other organs as well as the organs of other animals, including cows and chickens. Have you ever seen a beef heart? It’s huge.
Seeing animal tongue, hearts, livers and other organ meat on sale at a grocery story is a little peculiar, but it isn’t wholly unheard of. What is a little odder is seeing full-size animal heads on sale by the pound in the meat aisle, just a short distance away from ground beef and chicken breasts. It may seem a bit macabre to the average shopper, but Jungle Jim’s sells pig heads and goat heads in the meat aisle.
Jungle Jim’s unique international items aren’t limited to meat and produce, they also sell regional ingredients. In addition to more traditional flavorings like different curry powders, hot sauces and marinades, they also have a refrigerated section which offers, among other things, beef bile. Yes. Bile. As in the liquid produced by the liver. It’s not commonly used in culinary situations but is a flavoring in pinapaitan, a Filipino stew.
Kangaroo meat is actually fairly common in Australia, where it’s sold both ground and as filets or steaks. While we didn’t spot kangaroo meat at Jungle Jim’s during this trip, we did see some kangaroo jerky. It was in a display right next to ostrich jerky, elk jerky, alligator and more traditional dried meat sticks such as buffalo, venison and beef.
Vacuum-packed duck eggs
Salted, cooked duck eggs are an Asian specialty ingredient that can be eaten basically any time of day. And no matter what brand you prefer, Jungle Jim’s had them in stock. Seriously, we spotted like five or six different boxes of these things, which can be eaten with any meal but are typically placed in porridge or used for extra flavor in stir fry.
Jungle Jim’s beer
Ohio is home to some of the best breweries and best beers in America, so it makes sense that an Ohio-based uber-grocery store would team up with a local spot to make their own beer. Jungle Jim’s and Listermann Brewing Company collaborated for a pair of sweet pastry stouts: Cannoli of the Jungle and Strawberry Cannoli of the Jungle. This rich, milky brew is just the tip of the iceberg on the expansive alcohol selection at Jungle Jim’s, which includes a wine section you could easily get lost in, a massive state store with every kind of liquor imaginable and aisles and aisles full of beer for every palate.
A 27-pound gummy snake
Do you love gummy candy? Like, really, truly love the stuff? If so, you should meet Don, the Party Python. Clocking in at 26.9 pounds and 8 feet long, this sugary gummy snake is almost as big as a real-life reptile. If you can commit to the bit (or know someone who can), this 450-serving treat is available at Jungle Jim’s.
Chocolate-covered potato chips
Chocolate-covered potato chips are one of those foods you’ll only find in the Midwest, and since that’s where Jungle Jim’s is located, you can bet this sweet and salty treat is in the candy aisle. Made from Mikesells potato chips and Esther Price chocolates, chocolate-covered potato chips may sound baffling but are so crazy they totally work. Esther Price is one of the best chocolate shops in America, after all.
Another regional dish you've never heard of, goetta is somewhere between fried cornmeal mush and a breakfast sausage. Brought to the Cincinnati area by German immigrants, this product is fried up and served for breakfast, alongside eggs, toast and other breakfast meats. Jungle Jim’s takes its Cincinnati base seriously and offers plenty of other regional foods, including the notorious Cincinnati-style chili, which you can buy in a can from a number of different brands. Focusing on international as well as local delicacies and a whole lot more is just one of those things that makes Jungle Jim’s one of America’s best grocery stores.
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