On Al-Buhtori Street, the shelves are as diverse as the shoppers

A bustling store in Jabal Amman caters to the city’s significant East Asian communities

Asian Market (2)
Products from across East Asia are stacked and assorted neatly in Jabal Amman’s Asia Market on Al-Buhtori Street in these undated photos. The store caters to the city’s large East Asian community. (Photos: Natascha Tahabsem/JNews)

AMMAN — Wesam Abu Jreas ascended the four steps to his office on Al-Buhtori Street in Amman, Jordan.  The sleeves of his baby blue sweater bunched around his elbows. He was framed by iridescent palettes of packaged dessert lining the shelves of Asia Market, Jordan’s top supplier of East Asian products since 2018. اضافة اعلان

Abu Jreas sat by his desk, where receipts, pens, and crushed paper cups mounted, and yanked out a karaoke microphone, speaking directly to the scurrying figures on his surveillance screen.

“Hey, help the lady in the Thai section,” he said to one of his employees between sips of Nescafé. “No, no. The one in pink.”

Lines of shoppers — a mix of the Kingdom’s East Asian community and Korean drama fans — thronged his store, their clanging steel baskets filled to the brim. The office chair creaked underneath him to a T-Pain beat from the early 2000s as he surveyed the screen for any signs of dismay or confusion.

According to his rulebook for supermarket success, customers should never be left unattended — even during a pandemic.

Abu Jreas opened Asia Market four years ago in order to offer Jordan’s large East Asian community a feeling of home. The idea stemmed from his earlier business endeavors, where he stocked a precursor to Asia Market with Chinese and Thai products to cater to East Asian communities in Al-Karak, a city in southern Jordan.

“As time went by, our customers started asking us for products we had never heard of before,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “So we did our research, expanded our selection, taught ourselves a couple of things, and now here we are, making our own firm tofu and growing our own bean sprouts.”

Abu Jreas’ customers have introduced him to over 5,000 products since he founded Asia Market, from curry pastes, fish cakes, and spicy Korean rice cakes to coconut pulp juice, Maxim coffee sticks, and rainbow tapioca pearls. He also found personal pleasure in tapping into the Korean and Filipino snack markets.

“I just love how natural they taste,” he said. “I keep grabbing Korean corn chips and Filipino dried peas from the snack stand. As a Jordanian, I never knew my taste palette would become this sophisticated.”

Yuri, one of Abu Jreas’ regular Filipino customers, had been disheartened to learn that her favorite supermarket was taking a break during the government-imposed lockdown, which spanned March, April, and May of 2020.

These days, she shops at Asia Market at least once a week.

“I’ve been coming to this store since it opened,” she said, balancing a bag of air-dried fish on top of her basket. “Their prices are so reasonable, and it’s just like the food we have back home.”

A stranger with a platinum bob in a red tracksuit brushed shoulders with Yuri, and they engaged in friendly conversation. Then a black-clad employee of Abu Jreas’ walked over and asked if they needed any assistance with their shopping.

“See? They’re just so nice to us here,” she said. “They treat us so well.”

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