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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Downtown imports purveyors don’t disappoint

    I can still remember the first time I went to the 17th Street Farmers Market. I was an awkward 14-year-old freshman in high school, and had just gone on a double date at Reid Park. After an uneventful meal things went sour when my friend decided to break it off with her boyfriend. When her British stepfather came to pick us up, he took us to the 17th Street Farmers Market for a Crunchie, a British chocolate bar by Cadbury. It turns out imported chocolate is the best cure for a broken heart.

    Hidden away in the Armory Park Warehouse District, the 17th Street Market is hard to find, but worth the search. Inside the old warehouse is a fantastic plethora of imported goods. From brightly-colored, imported Asian candy to locally-grown fruit, 17th Street is full of unusual finds.

    The market’s aisles are filled with every import you can think of. A meat case near the back holds numerous types of unusual meats, including pig’s feet and ox tail.

    But I cannot stay away from the produce. An enormous refrigerator houses so many different types of fruits and vegetables that it’s hard to wrap your head around them all. The colors are vibrant and the scent of fresh, ripe fruit is inescapable.

    “”The best part is the walk-in refrigerator,”” said language, reading and cultures graduate student Adam Schwartz. “”That always really blows peoples’ minds.””

    Not only is exploring the refrigerator a great way to get lost in the market, it is a great way to support Tucson. Schwartz also goes to 17th Street to support local farmers.

    “”It’s got the spirit of a farmers market, but it is totally covered,”” he said. “”I feel like it’s one of the few venues in Tucson where I can directly support local farmers and local business in general. I usually go for the fruits and vegetables because they’re so fresh and local.””

    Schwartz said 17th Street stands out in downtown, because not much exists for UA students south of Broadway Blvd.

    “”That whole neighborhood and 17th Street Market are hard to find,”” Schwartz said. “”There is something really alluring about 17th Street Market by virtue of the fact that it’s so hidden. It’s a hidden treasure, you don’t want it to be too exposed.””

    Tucked away Downtown, the market offers more than local goods and newborn veggies. Stephanie Louie, an undeclared junior, shops at the 17th Street Market for Chinese imports.

    “”The population of Chinese in Tucson isn’t that great, so we have to go all the way down to 17th street,”” Louie said. “”It’s interesting. They also have snacks that are Chinese-related so most people probably won’t know what they are, but they should try them out because they’re pretty tasty, not going to lie.””

    The market also offers imports from Europe, Africa and other Asian countries.

    “”It’s just cool,”” Louie said. “”I guess it’s like one of the most cultural places for Chinese you can go to.””

    The market offers more than food, such as home décor and gifts. Each stack of plates boasts a different color or interesting design. Most are imported; many are handcrafted. There’s even an entire section of the store devoted to musical instruments.

    “”I think it’s one of these places that, when I think of the uniqueness of Tucson, immediately comes to mind,”” Schwartz said. “”I always take out-of-towners – no one’s seen anything quite like it before.””

    But 17th Street Market isn’t the only little-known grocer Tucson has to offer. Roma Imports inhabits a tiny building hidden behind the Comcast complex near where Campbell Ave. becomes Kino Pkwy. Roma is an Italian import provider that is also home to an amazing restaurant. The front of the building holds the store, but as you explore further, you find yourself in the restaurant. The smell of real Italian cooking is the first thing that hits you when you walk inside. You then see the row of large shelves lined with cookies, oils, olives and every type of pasta known to man. On the other side of the store, the deli counter offers fresh salads, cheeses, meats and phenomenal baguettes.

    Before venturing into the tiny restaurant seating area, you must stop by the four giant freezers and fridges. They hold even more amazing cheeses, pre-made sauces that one would assume were flown in from Italy and the best desserts this side of the Atlantic. I personally could devour an entire large tiramisu myself.

    In the restaurant you discover where Tucson’s best homemade Italian cooking is served. Patrick Campbell, a pre-pharmacy junior, shops at Roma for the unique imports.

    “”I really like the atmosphere of Roma Imports,”” Campbell said. “”I think it’s really cool that you can sit down and have a nice dinner and use it as a supermarket as well. You can get handmade products and stuff like that and be able to bring it home. My family, we’re Italian and we really like to make our own mozzarella at our house, so the milk curds and stuff we can actually get (from Roma).””

    My dad started shopping at Roma a few years ago to get the imported canned tomatoes for his marinara sauce. It wasn’t long before he began buying Roma’s pre-made sauces, trying to pass them off as his own. He didn’t fool anyone. The food was just too good to be anything but the homemade cuisine Roma offers.

    From the canned tomatoes that cannot be rivaled by those of regular grocery stores to the imported olive oil, these imports are some of the best around. Beware, though, because some things can be pretty pricey.

    Lilian Spieth owns Roma Imports. An import herself, Spieth was born in India, moved to Israel and traveled the world before settling in Tucson.

    “”(Roma) brings a family atmosphere (to Tucson),”” Spieth said. “”I think that’s what it is. It’s home cooking. We know our customers – we love our customers. People feel at home here…They come in, they can see our kitchen, they can see us cook. They know that everything is being made here. It’s the personal touch and the feeling of home cooking.””

    Not many UA students frequent Roma, but Spieth said there is a special group that does.

    “”We particularly have a lot of customers from the football players, who really appreciate good food,”” Spieth said, adding that the players often come for Roma’s large sandwiches. “”All the guys who come in here are big!””

    Although Roma is small, it has more character than one could imagine.

    Take it from the UA football team: Roma Imports is worth checking out. Grab a beef lasagna, their top selling item, throw it in the oven at your dorm and share some real Italian love.

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