Jungle Jim’s International Market is both a multicultural festival and a supermarket on steroids. The Ohio landmark is the brainchild of Jim Bonaminio, who started selling produce from a truck by the side of the road in the early 1970s.
Bonaminio opened his first brick-and-mortar store in Fairfield, Ohio – about 25 miles from Cincinnati – in 1975. The space has been expanded several times, resulting in today’s 200,000-square-foot store and 85,000-square-foot event center. He opened the Eastgate location on the east side of Cincinnati in 2012.
INTERNATIONAL FOOD OFFERINGS
Jungle Jim’s is famous for its vast selection of international foods, and that fame is well-deserved. Both stores stock more than 70,000 items from more than 70 different countries, including a wonderful selection of British and Irish offerings. There are also large Indian, Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese sections, and smaller sections for dozens of other countries. In addition, there’s a great selection of international produce, international cheeses and butters, American foods, hot sauces, gourmet kitchenware, and much more.
Jungle Jim’s is also famous for its kitschy décor. There’s a large diorama with elephants, giraffes, and gorillas frolicking in front of the Fairfield store, and the Eastgate store has a monorail driving through the front of the building. Inside, you’ll find fun flourishes like a singing Elvis gorilla, a giant animatronic can of soup, and Gilligan’s S.S. Minnow in the Fairfield store, and a pirate ship, an animatronic Tony the Tiger, and race cars in the Eastgate store.
CHEDDAR, WENSLEYDALE, AND STILTON – OH MY!
I prefer the sprawling hodge-podge of the Fairfield store, so that’s the one I usually visit. I like to start in the cheese department. Jungle Jim’s stocks more than 1,400 different cheeses, including the best selection of English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish cheeses I’ve seen in the US. You’ll find favorites like Stilton, Red Leicester, Cheshire, Derby, Gloucester, Wensleydale, and an abundant selection of cheddar cheeses.
Offerings may vary, but I’ve been delighted to find Snowdonia Cheese Company’s vintage Red Leicester; Quicke’s oak-smoked, clothbound traditional mature cheddar; Belton Farm’s port wine Derby; Clawson’s Stilton with mango and ginger; Coombe Castle’s Wensleydale with cranberries; Cahill’s Irish cheddar infused with Irish whisky; and Mull of Kintyre’s extra mature Scottish cheddar. With so many choices, it’s easy to put together the perfect cheeseboard for any occasion.
The next stop is the beer and wine department, where you’ll find a great selection of ales, lagers, porters, and stouts from the British Isles, including old favorites like Guinness and Samuel Smith. There are also many lesser-known options, such as Young’s double chocolate stout, Olde Suffolk ales, and St. Peter’s porters and ales from England, and Harviestoun and Traquair ales from Scotland. Many are sold by the individual bottle, so you can try an assortment without breaking the bank.
THE MAIN EVENT
After exploring the cheeses and beers, it’s time for the main event: the international foods section. Jungle Jim’s trademark kitsch has been given free rein in the British aisles. Look up, and you’ll see an immense tree sheltering Robin Hood and his Merry Men, a stash of stolen treasure waiting to be distributed to the poor, Maid Marion riding a white steed, and Little John balancing on a tree branch. If you listen carefully, you can hear Robin praising Jungle Jim’s British offerings, while Marian and Little John chime in.
You’ll find staples like Robertson’s marmalades, Green’s baking mixes, Walkers crisps, Daddies brown sauce, Branston pickle, and Coleman’s seasoning packets. There’s a large selection of Jacob’s, McVitie’s, Cadbury, and Fox’s biscuits; sweets like Milky Bars, Crunchies, and Curly Wurlys; and the largest selection of Tiptree jams and jellies I’ve found in the United States.
There are also freezers stocked with Jolly Posh bangers, and back bacon, Winston’s Irish-style bangers and black and white puddings, Pie Society and Cameron’s meat pies, Donnelly’s Irish-style back bacon, blood pudding, and bangers, and Neptune smoked haddock and kipper filets. You might want to bring a cooler for your refrigerated and frozen purchases.
Don’t miss the Ireland nook in the European Village along the back wall of the international foods section. The shelves are brimming with Irish brands like Folláin and Chivers jams, Tayto crisps, O’Neill’s shortbread, Odlums scone and soda bread mixes, Erin instant soups, and Barry’s, Bewley’s and Lyons teas.
Of course, the selection may vary, depending on availability, but I guarantee you’ll find hundreds of tempting British and Irish goodies for your shopping cart.
In November and December, there are all kinds of festive British treats. In past years, I’ve found O’Hara’s Christmas cakes, Matthew Walker Christmas puddings, chocolate selection boxes, Quality Street toffees, tins of Fox’s and McVitie’s biscuits, and much more. There’s also a good selection of Christmas crackers (the kind that go bang).
Speaking of Christmas, Jungle Jim’s recipe for mulled wine is a good way to spice up your festivities. This hot beverage made with red wine, citrus, sugar, cinnamon, and other spices is a Christmas tradition in the British Isles. You can find out more about mulled wine, mince pies, Christmas cakes and puddings, and other seasonal treats in my column on favorite British Christmas foods.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
Be sure to check Jungle Jim’s website for the latest updates on operating hours and COVID procedures. It’s also a good idea to look at the store maps, so you’re familiar with the layouts. Both locations are huge, and the Fairfield store can feel like a maze. Getting the lay of the land in advance will help you make the best use of your time during your visit.
Normally, Jungle Jim’s maintains a full schedule of special events, including cooking classes, beer and whiskey programs, and the popular Big Cheese Festival. Special events are currently on hold due to COVID, but they may be back in full swing by the time you visit. You can check the calendar on the website to find out what’s going on.
Jungle Jim’s is a fantastic resource for Anglophile foodies. I highly recommend putting it at the top of your travel wish list — you won’t be disappointed!