Hidden from the view of most local shoppers is a bustling market where international students shop for what reminds them of home.
BCS Asian Market is the largest international supermarket in the Bryan-College Station area. Located on the corner of Harvey Mitchell and Texas, the humble BCS Asian Market fills a void for many in the international community.
For students like I-Fan, biochemistry Ph.D. student from Taiwan, that void is the limited number of international goods that can be found in College Station.
“This is the only Asian supermarket here, so I have to come here because I just miss some stuff from my home country. This is the only store I can buy stuff like milk tea, or some kind of meat, like pork,” I-Fan said, referring to specific drink brands and meat cuts the market carries.
Bowen Pan, meteorology Ph.D. student from China, said she comes to the store for the similar reasons. Even though HEB and other groceries stores have international goods, they don’t carry everything Chinese people want, according to Pan.
“It’s, like, American international food, instead of real international food,” Pan said. “There are limited choices. For Chinese snacks, there are more options [at BCS Asian Mart], rather than HEB.”
One of the employees at the market, Ping Zhao, came to the U.S. eight months ago with her husband, who is a visiting scholar at A&M. Zhao said it’s difficult for Americans to find the store on their own.
“Many Americans ... come here, and they’ve probably never seen this place before, but their Asian friends introduce them,” she said. “Then they can usually find something they like.”
Zhao, who works as both a cashier and shelf stocker, understands that many Americans might think the store is messy. Keeping everything in order is difficult, she said, because the store is under certain constraints.
“[Americans think] probably that there’s a lot of stuff and it’s pretty cluttered, basically,” Zhao said. “It’s because we don’t have enough workers. Also, because the store is small and we don’t have many shelves, goods come in and we just put them up when we can.”
BCS Asian Market isn’t only a supermarket, but is also home to one of the few Chinese restaurants that can be found in the area, Shun De Mom Express. This two-in-one setup is something Pan thinks gives the store character.
“My previous roommate and I normally eat here, and afterward we just take a walk, relax and buy some stuff,” Pan said. “It’s more like a combination here, which makes this store really special.”
Owner Shun De Ding, a Chinese immigrant who came to the U.S. 15 years ago, said the restaurant has become more and more popular among the American community. This prominence has allowed the opening of a second location north of the A&M campus.
“Sometimes at lunchtime, over half [of the customers] are Americans,” Ding said. “When they come here they’ll say, ‘Everyone is Chinese,’ and they’ll think we’re a very authentic Chinese restaurant.”
Zhao said there’s a need for a store like BCS Asian Market in College Station due to the large presence of the Asian community.
“I think right now it’s very important, because there are many Asian students here,” Ping said. “Visiting students and scholars, from China, Vietnam, also Japan and Thai, many come here. Actually I’ve heard many customers say, ‘Oh thank goodness there’s an Asian market here.’”
Pan said the market, although not exactly like what she would find in China, has been meaningful while she’s been away from home.
“For me I think it’s a pretty important thing,” Pan said. “It reminds me of my hometown whenever I come here, so I always come here to remember Beijing.”
Editor’s note: Quotes were translated by the reporter from Mandarin prior to publication.