Last week, I traveled to Pakistan, Mexico, China and Nigeria, without a passport and all in the space of three hours. I didn't get on an interstate, much less an airplane, and the only thing I packed was my notebook, pen, credit cards and sense of adventure.
As recently reported in The Tennessean, the New York-based Modern Language Association has introduced a new service on its Web site that provides maps and data about languages in the United States. The data show that in Davidson County, 51,429 residents speak a primary language other than English. (With those statistics gathered from the 2000 census, it is estimated that the actual numbers are considerably higher.)
English-speaking Nashvillians can experience those foreign tongues for themselves in the ethnic markets, restaurants, cafes and service centers that are popping up all over the city at a pace that has recently outdistanced even Walgreen's.
Twelfth Avenue South between Ashwood and Kirkwood, a.k.a. 12 South, is one of the fastest-growing and transitioning areas in Nashville, with a lineup of commercial tenants that includes hip restaurants and bars, galleries, a yoga studio, a music store, a gourmet market, coffeehouses, a hair salon, a shoe boutique, a catering company, a garden center and specialty clothing stores. Meanwhile, one recently opened business represents the steady influx of immigrants from distant lands.
One benefit of the gentrification process in 12 South is the closing of Choe's, a seedy market on the west side of 12th between Kirkwood and Paris. Given that no one ever really seemed to know the exact nature of the business, Choe's was generally regarded less as a convenience and more as an eyesore, increasingly so as the surrounding businesses spiffed up and the city invested big bucks in sidewalks, lighting and street-scaping. So a collective sigh of relief greeted the market's closing some months ago, immediately followed by a slightly anxious curiosity about what might take its place. Over the course of several weeks, a major cleanup was obviously under way, with most of the contents of the store being dispatched to the Dumpster and, finally, new contents being carried into the store. About a month ago, a large banner announced the grand opening of the Southern Supermarket, which certainly raised my curiosity level. Mountain Dew? Moon Pies? Goo Goos? Grits?
The answer is yes...and no. While Southern Supermarket has a small section in the front of the now very clean store stocked with chips, beef jerky, candy bars and bubblegum, and plenty of sodas in the cooler (though no beer and no cigarettes), much of the floor space is devoted to groceries and products from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and some Middle Eastern countries. Rather than 5-pound bags of corn meal, 10-pound sacks of Zebra basmati rice are on sale, two for $13.99. Cellophane bags of Rose Brand seeds and spices are arrayed in colorful and aromatic stacks; jars of chutney, cans of pureed eggplant and boxes of dry goods are neatly displayed on shelves. Fresh produce is also available, but most importantly for Nashville's Muslim communitywhich worships by the hundreds in the Islamic Center just three blocks awayis the butcher counter, which sells halal meat products. (Halal meat has been slaughtered and prepared according to Islamic dietary law.) Though the setup is not yet totally complete, customers will be able to purchase beef, chicken, lamb and goat. Currently, Southern Supermarket's boneless leg of lamb is priced at just $3.29 a pound.
Friendly manager Ahsan Zaidi is happy to explain the products and their uses, but he was unable to present a clear explanation for why owner Imtaz Udin, a fellow Pakistani, chose to name the store Southern Supermarket. "I don't really know," he replied with a shrug and a wide smile. "Maybe it is because we are in the South now?"
Southern Supermarket is at 2905 12th Ave. S. 292-5488. Open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed on Fridays from 1 to 2 p.m. for services at the Islamic Center.
Traveling down Nolensville Road
One strip center in the 3800 block of Nolensville Road is a veritable UN of food: Apna Bazaar, which stocks Indian groceries, produce, meats, clothing, videos and music, is right next door to Carniceria Dominguez, a growing chain of Hispanic supermarkets. Newly opened in the space next to that is Soldeb African Restaurant, at 3812 Nolensville Road. A printed flyer (there is no menu) says the small cafe specializes in all kinds of African dishes; the owners are from Nigeria. Some of the optionsnot necessarily available dailyinclude fufu (made from yams), rice and beans, plantains and beans, okra soup, fish soup, goat meat and smoked fish. The store, which has three tables, is open 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Phone: 834-2400.
Next door to Soldeb is Hung Hua Mart, a large grocery serving Davidson County's Chinese population, with everything from toilet paper to live fish. While the products in many ethnic markets in Nashville carry bilingual labels, the vast majority of the inventory in Hung Hua is identified only in the Chinese language, which is fine for the 1,385 Nashvillians whoaccording to the MLA Web sitespeak Chinese. But it is a tad confusing for the rest of us. Even so, wandering the aisles, perusing the packaging and pondering the products is an interesting diversion, and it is almost impossible to walk out without purchasing something. I couldn't resist a bar of soap, a tin of tea, a bag of cellophane noodles and a box of taro popsicles. If you are a devotee of Chinese or Asian cooking, any ingredient you may needno matter how obscurecan likely be found here. A large room to one side is devoted to seafood, and several tanks are filled with live fish. Hung Hua is open seven days a week, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
A little farther south on Nolensville Road, in the space formerly occupied by Neely's BBQ (which has moved to MetroCenter), is Super Pollo, opened just this Saturday by Israel Ceja, whose mother Carmen owns and operates the tax and financial service office next door. Super Pollo, as the name suggests, is devoted to chicken, which is grilled over hickory wood and served in sandwiches or as meals. Sides include rice, beans, corn, potato salad, fries, corn and coleslaw. Francisco Alduenda, who is in charge of the kitchen, notes that everythingfrom salsas to tortillasis made fresh in-house. Desserts include bread pudding, carrot cake with coconut, and rice pudding. Super Pollo, at 4023 Nolensville Road, has a large dining area and a drive-through window. It will be open seven days a week, from 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Las Paletas is the wildly popular Mexican popsicle store owned and operated by the fetching Paz sisters in the bustling 12 South neighborhood. A little closer to home for the hundreds of Latino immigrants living in the Nolensville Road area is Lichita. Housed in a cheerfully painted, tropical-blue-green building at 4405 Nolensville Road, the store sells paletas and nieves, the Mexican version of Italian ice. Paletas come in fruit or cream versions, and nieves are available in a half-dozen flavors. Lichita is open seven days a week, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Phone: 834-7488.