A Dash of Culture

How Local Groceries Are Shaping Rochester
by Salma Caamir

More than ever, international grocery stores are available to Rochester residents. With an extensive variety of stores popping up in recent years, these shops are hard to miss, but some remain largely overlooked in our community. The range of spices and foods offered truly gives citizens a taste of the whole world only a few blocks from work or home. 


Rochester prides itself on its diverse community. It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing half the world’s countries represented through its people. No matter the origin story, it isn’t a challenge to meet someone who has a different worldview from yours, and quite possibly this person is an immigrant. 

You can imagine the frustration when said immigrants came to America and realized they couldn’t find ingredients for foods they have spent their lives preparing. That is the most common underlying thread of these grocery stores—that no matter where these people come from, they bring pieces of their culture.

Walking into a metaphorical—and literal—new world can understandably be intimidating. The initial greeting of foreign music, aroma of spices and chattering of an unfamiliar language may seem like a lot for the average Rochester citizen. However, the beauty in these stores is that we get a tiny glimpse of the experience that these shop owners left behind. It’s like a free vacation to a foreign, mystical country. The only difference? You can walk out of those stores and resume your regular routine. In contrast, the majority of these owners put their lives on pause in their home countries to pursue new life in America. For them, this is no vacation.


That story is not a new one. The immigrant narrative is an underlying theme in American history and is deeply embedded in Rochester’s roots. But because of a tightly knit culture, many people feel a sense of anxiety walking into these groceries. Even as a child of immigrants,
I still find myself a bit nervous when I have to run an errand for my mom and go into one of our wonderful Somali grocers in Rochester. With these stores there is no language barrier. There is no culture barrier. Why on earth would I be so intimidated to walk in?

This is a prime example of the mere-exposure effect, a social psychology phenomenon that we often submit to in our daily lives. According to the American Psychological Association, the mere-exposure effect is “the finding that individuals show an increased preference for a stimulus as a consequence of repeated exposure to that stimulus.” In simpler terms, people are naturally less inclined to go out of their way to do something that deviates from their personal norm. For me, growing up more inclined to go to Walmart than Halal Meat made stepping into a store of my family’s origin incredibly nerve-racking. But while finding variety in our lives is a challenge, it’s important to try so we can grow as people.


Consider trying to diversify your food palate. There is an extensive range of international grocers here in Rochester, and each holds a multitude of cultures. Instead of being intimidated by the experience, try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who had to grow accustomed to the feeling of unfamiliarity. Remaining tied in the bonds of fear of what you don’t know limits yourself from making new bonds, meeting new people and trying some great food!