If Jungle Jim’s huge International Market in Fairfield wasn’t big enough for you, a second location in Eastgate boasts an even larger space at 215,000 square feet. This is the place to get everything from kangaroo meat to hookahs. And if you can’t find, say, the gluten-free eggrolls, either store’s employees will track them down for you.
“We have people who come in and say, ‘We’ve been to China and we used to get long beans (snake beans) there and we really want them,’ ” says Jungle Jim’s PR and Marketing Coordinator Debby Hartinger. “So our produce people go and look there. It just depends what people want and then we look all over for it.”
After strolling through the “Foodie Entrance” portal consisting of a Caribou Coffee, a Colonel De spice store and a small theater projecting a documentary on the store’s founder, “Jungle” Jim Bonaminio, customers are whisked away to the exotic locales of India, Asia, the Middle East, Scandinavia, Colombia, Australia and Hawaii in the store’s International nexus, featuring canned, bottled and frozen foods from those regions. “India” is one of the growing departments in the store and one of the biggest in the U.S. The store attracts people from across the globe who peruse the shelves for familiar foods from their homeland, like chutneys and laddu flour used in making sweet laddu balls.
The aisles are commodious, well organized and color-coded, making getting lost more of an adventure than a burden.
The impetus behind the new expansion was 20 years in the making.
“It’s really just (that) Jungle needed a different challenge,” Hartinger says, though it took them a while to find a suitable location.
“Looking over here, we needed a place that was close enough that Jungle could go to both places, yet far away that we wouldn’t take customers from one location and move them to the other.”
There aren’t many differences between the two stores except that Eastgate doesn’t offer classes yet (they eventually will), Eastgate’s wine/beer section is larger (5,000 sq. feet vs. 1,200 sq. feet) and some foods don’t sell as well at Eastgate as they do in Fairfield.
As for Jungle himself, “What he liked about Eastgate was he got to start at the beginning; with Fairfield it was piece by piece,” says Hartinger.
Though the average grocery consumer shops here for “normal” goods, gastronomes especially will be pleased with items that seem to be catered to them — maple syrup butter found at the cheese shop’s butter bar (you’d be surprised how many types of butter there are), store-made mozzarella wrapped in pepperoni, pumpkin rolls sold year-round in the bakery (pumpkin is the new bacon, after all), Vegemite and 20 kinds of balsamic vinegar.
“Part of the draw here is that we have things you can’t find anywhere else,” Hartinger says. “We have 1,400 different hot sauces here. It’s, like, wow! You can get anything here.”
Some of their hot sauces come from private collectors, including Blair’s 2010 Halloween Reserve that’s priced at a whopping $1,699.
Jungle’s produce department continues with unusual foods: a fruit called a rambutan, with an eyeball texture that tastes like a strawberry meshed with a grape; a four-foot-long Florida sugar cane stick; green in-husk coconuts; Meyer lemons that are sweet enough to make lemonade without sugar; and dozens of different bananas.
The meat department is so huge it’s easy to miss the frozen case labeled “Exotic Meats.” Have a hankering for kangaroo medallions, wild boar, turtle meat (used in real turtle soup, not mock) and duck fat to make duck fat fries? How about South African Boerewors sausage or Biltong, a beef jerky-like delicacy? These things are common for Jungle, not so much elsewhere.
Also not pedestrian is the The Big Cheese, a 7,155-pound behemoth Wisconsin cheese that they’ll (literally) cut in a ceremony called Cut the Cheese.
“What is cool is it doesn’t look that big, but it really is,” Hartinger says. “If you cut off 1 inch at the top that equals 100 pounds.”
A two-hour tour of the store ends at Candy Castle, a playground of Jelly Belly jellybeans, novelties, every color of M&M’s imaginable and displays made from old amusement park bumper cars.
“Don’t you feel like you’re in the Candyland?” Hartinger asks. “The thing I like about Jungle is he makes everything fun.”
And that’s exactly what makes Jungle Jim’s so much better than going to your neighborhood grocery for boring ol’ steak and potatoes.
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