By: Laura Sabo Walk into Barbur World Foods in SW Portland and you’ll feel like you found the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s culinary global wonderland.
Barbur World Foods was built in 1936 to serve as a small Piggly Wiggly store in Portland. John Attar is the third owner buying the store in 2004. He also owns Ya Hala Restaurant in Portland, as well as International Food Supply grocery store next to Ya Hala. Attar wanted his store to be one of a kind and key to his concept was offering affordable foods from around the world. Attar says that while Barbur World Foods now is a destination store drawing people from all over the Portland area, it’s important that he continues to serve the neighborhood. “We don’t want to leave anyone out,” Attar says. “Some families have limited budgets. This is their store, and we want them to keep shopping here. We are here to serve our community.”
I first went into Barbur World Foods in search of sumac for a recipe I planned to try. Since then, this store has been a weekly haunt for not only hard-to-find spices but for their vast array of produce, seafood and meat. The local Persian, Arabic and Turkish communities will feel at home with Halal meats prepared in accordance with Muslim rules.
A large selection of rarities are imported from the Middle East, Turkey, Mexico and Greece, with a smaller inventory from India, Thailand, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Bulgaria, Denmark and Russia. They buy in bulk and then break things down into smaller packages. The store carries more than 80 kinds of nuts, including unusual varieties like Turkish and jalapeño pistachios.
The first order of business upon arriving at the market is placing an order for pita bread. You have a choice between white and whole wheat pita that’s baked in a large brick oven while you mull over rosewater and Ajvar. “We don’t bake it until somebody orders it,” Attar says. “It only takes five minutes to bake, and people keep coming back for more.” When your shopping is done, the freshly baked, piping hot pita resembling a soft pillow is ready and waiting in a paper bag on the counter. A true test of willpower is driving home without devouring a steaming pita. I’ve failed each and every time … the aroma of the bread in the small confines of a vehicle is unbeatable.
Another highlight of the market is their deli. It includes more than a dozen vegan dishes and well as vegetarian delectables. Silky hummus, savory grape leaves, salty olives, lemon-rich tabbouleh and outstanding vegetable kibbe and baba ghanoush are made on the premises and are in my basket on most visits. Affordable meals and picnics can be put together with these items. If you have time at the deli, on display is Alice’s Kitchen written by the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, author, illustrator and writer Linda Dalal Sawaya. With more than 125 original family recipes, she’ll put you on the right path with the all ingredients you are faced with at Barbur World Foods.
Across from the deli is the cheese display. Barbur World Foods carries cheeses from more than 30 states and imported cheeses from six countries. My must-have cheeses are the chunky Bulgarian feta cheese and Halloumi, a non-melting cheese ideal for skewers on the grill. With the cheeses you will find creamy Greek yogurt, which has become a staple in my household. This is a cross between plain yogurt and cream cheese with a slightly tart taste. Use it anywhere you’d use yogurt, sour cream or even ricotta.
A selection of over 2,000 beers from around the world and 3,000 wines makes Barbur World Foods one of top places to shop for beer and wine in Portland.
On my next trip, I’ll be trying the handmade pizzas for the bargain price of $2.00. I can’t wait to try both the Lahm B’ajeen – minced beef, onion and tomato and the Zaatar – thyme, sesame seed, sumac and olive oil. I’ll be putting my willpower to the test again, no doubt.
Barbur World Foods - Open daily 7:00 am – 10:00 pm
9845 SW Barbur Boulevard