Kroger is widely regarded as the go-to store in Oxford for broke and hungry college students. Its abundance of cheap ingredients and quality foods encourage individuals to shop at the location, whether it’s a first-year buying snacks that are cheaper than their vending machine counterparts or off-campus students simply buying groceries for the week.
However, there is a business across the street that offers a unique opportunity to cook with ingredients and foods that would not be found in any Kroger.
Occupying what was formerly a Family Video, the Asia Market presents a bold and comforting facade to passersby with a large, crimson sign showcasing its English name on one side and its Chinese name on the other. The front of the store is almost completely composed of glass paneling, giving casual observers a glimpse into a world filled with spices, sauces and snacks unique to various cultures in Asia.
Joey Yang is the owner of the Asia Market, as well as the Happy Kitchen and Asian Cuisine restaurants uptown. He described his rationale for establishing the Asia Market, an endeavor he undertook in 2014.
“There’s a need for (foreign) students to buy their home country stuff,” Yang said. “Because of this, I saw an opportunity.”
Because rural Southwest Ohio is not the ideal source of ingredients and snacks from Asia, the Asia Market has to get its products from elsewhere.
“We get our supplies from places like Chicago, New York and Cincinnati,” Yang said. “Our foods include snacks, drinks, meat, fish, dumplings and seafood.”
While it may seem like the Asia Market would struggle when competing with larger companies like Kroger, its unique products set it apart from the traditional supermarket giant and give it a homey appeal to both international students and students that want to experience authentic products from countries like China or Korea.
“Places like Kroger don’t carry a lot of specific things from Asian countries. They might have some, but certainly not enough,” he said.
The question remains: What exactly does the Asia Market have to offer that sets it apart from Kroger or Wal-mart? To find out, I ventured past the boundaries of the university’s campus and took a look around the market.
Upon entry, the first thing I noticed about the Asia Market was the friendly staff. There was one employee working the day that I explored the store, but he was friendly and described why he likes his job so much.
“I can eat everything — it’s my dream,” he said.
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After a short tour, I was left to wander the shop alone. I found a plethora of interesting snacks, such as potato chips meant to emulate the flavor of grilled squid or corn soup and White Rabbit Creamy Candy, a popular treat originating in China.
Amidst the sound of soft hip hop music playing in the background, I discovered the store also had many different varieties of ramen noodles, a staple for college students. It also had more uncommon foods, including Qianjiang crawfish, roasted octopus balls and garlic chestnuts.
The drinks in the store did not disappoint either. The left side of the store was reserved for treats like cartons of coconut milk decorated with a woman advertising the same product, tall coffee cups that turned out to be instant tea containers and vintage soda bottles with non-vintage flavors like pineapple.
While the Asia Market has many peculiar foods to choose from, it has had to deal with a problem that has plagued many small businesses since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic: Due to a reduction of international students living on campus this fall, the store has had a loss in revenue.
“People don’t want to go out shopping,” Yang said. “Having fewer foreign students here has not helped things.”
Despite these setbacks, the Asia Market continues to operate in Oxford, selling its wares to anyone who wants to gain or regain a taste of Asian culture.
Whether you’re an international student with a desire to get a taste of home, an individual with fond childhood memories of picking up candy and snacks at a local Chinese grocery store or someone who wants to authentically experience foods from a different culture, the Asia Market has something for everyone.
As for what to get, I would recommend trying as many things as possible — I have yet to be disappointed by anything sold in the store. Yang recommends the dumplings.