It might seem contradictory that a blog primarily dedicated to celebrating local foods and food production would sing the praises of a food importer, but that's what I'm going to do.
Recently, I was belatedly introduced to a Seattle icon and want to share it with all my Puget Sound readers (most of whom will probably wonder how I could have lived here nearly 20 years and been ignorant of its existence). An island friend of mine has the good fortune to work there and graciously squired me around the aisles and through the contents of the freezers.
Big John's PFI is a little jewel tucked into the border between Seattle's downtown and its remaining industrial district, in the shadow of the city's 2 sports stadiums. The old warehouse that houses it is hidden by the higher roads that surround it, so you've really got to know it's there or peer at your map closely. I know this area fairly well and still had to circle 3 times before pulling up to the front door.
Although I am an evangelist for locally-produced foods, I see a clear distinction between traditional imported foods and everyday foods that are simply imported because its cheaper to grow or make them elsewhere and ship them. Traditional ethnic foods from around the world are a door to understanding people everywhere and getting a taste, literally, of their culture. Big John's is a Disneyland for any foodie that is willing to forego marble countertops and uplighting for high quality, low cost bulk and ethnic wares and exceptionally knowledgeable staff.
So, what can find at Big John's? Well, it varies - that's half the fun. But, luscious herbs and spices in bulk - cheaper and fresher than you'll encounter at your grocery store - middle eastern and mediterranean ingredients and packaged foods, frozen delicacies from Italy and Greece, and their signature draw: cheese. Real cheese. Fantastic cheese. Cheese from all over the world that you can't find anywhere else in Seattle.
But, don't take my word for it. It's Friday - figure out what's for dinner this weekend and head down to check it out for yourself. But, don't rush it, because the other half the fun is browsing. Don't forget to ask for samples!