3175 Sheridan Dr, Amherst, NY 14226
Once the site of a seriously authentic Chinese restaurant - quite possibly the only one in Amherst to offer "frog's legs with foo chow sauce," "assorted sausage bladder skin," "sweet and sour boneless duck hand," and similarly exotic items - Ni Hoowa Supermarket on Sheridan Drive today is suburban Buffalo's epicenter for Asian groceries. While its restaurant half closed years ago, Ni Hoowa's supermarket offers an impressive array of groceries from all across the Asian continent: teas from China and Taiwan, noodles from Vietnam and Singapore, candies from Japan, frozen dumplings from Hong Kong, and spices from Korea. It is, by local standards, amazing. This Buffalo Chow entry isn't intended to be a review of Ni Hoowa, but just a look at what makes it so special relative to other local Asian markets.
In other states with significant Asian populations, completely Asian supermarkets aren't just common - they're sophisticated, packed with imported groceries catering to their local customers, and stunning for first-time visitors. California's Chinese-focused 99 Ranch, Japanese chains such as Mitsuwa and Marukai, and even lesser-known Korean and Vietnamese versions put most of Buffalo's past and present Asian food shops to shame. Ni Hoowa is the closest thing here to those truly super Asian markets, a pan-Asian store that doesn't restrict its inventory to a specific country, or only items that the majority of locals might consider trying.
Thus, the candy and cracker aisles are generously packed with Japan's varied Pretz biscuits and Pocky chocolate coated cookie sticks, as well as Chinese crackers with varied and sometimes funny names. The large freezer section contains frozen Dim Sum of all sorts - ready-to-steam buns, dumplings, and seafood ingredients - plus the inimitable Mochi Ice Cream, a Japanese sweet rice ball stuffed with coffee, strawberry, red bean, or other flavors of ice cream.
The biggest shock to me, having spent a fair bit of time in California's supermarkets, was the presence of not just one but multiple Thai energy drinks. Hidden behind Thai characters but unmistakeable thanks to its logo is the original, uncarbonated version of Red Bull that we've enjoyed in Bangkok, as well as a competitor called Bacchus-D; numerous Japanese soft drinks including the famed Ramune and bizarre yogurt drink Bikkle are similarly on display. All that's missing is the authentic Japanese Boss Coffee - a Buffalo Chow favorite - but there's a Taiwanese wannabe on Ni Hoowa's shelves under a similar name.
For Asian foodies with cooking skills, this is a wonderland, particularly if you've traveled elsewhere or know how to cook with authentic ingredients. The collection of even niche sauces, oils, spices, and dried ingredients makes Wegmans look poorly stocked, which isn't an easy feat these days. Additional aisles, close to the store's road-facing side, contain inexpensive Chinese-style serving plates and cooking utensils, while we spotted Japanese Miso soup bowls, chopsticks, and other kitchenware closer to the entrance.
Let's say you don't know how to cook. There are still simple things, like the teas, which include everything from inexpensive Oolong to the premium-grade Ti Kuan Yin Monkey Picked version. And noodle fans can go crazy in the ramen section, which eschews U.S.-made generics in favor of a wide variety of Southeast Asian imports, stunningly including a Singaporean Mi Goreng, a Korean Bibim Myung, and dozens of others. Did I mention that the prices are eminently reasonable, too? One has to believe that even after the demise of its own restaurant, Ni Hoowa still serves as a stockhouse for others.
We left Ni Hoowa this week with drinks and snacks from four different countries, totaling around $25, and of course we'll be coming back for more. This is precisely the sort of shop we love to see in the area; now if we could only convince them to re-open the old restaurant...