This Grocery Store Is Like Disney World + Epcot for Food-Lovers

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Courtesy of Jungle Jim’s)

The first thing you need to know about Jungle Jim’s in Fairfield, Ohio, is that it’s not a grocery store. I mean, technically I guess it is, and sure, you could get your TP and toothpaste there while you’re shopping in the Cincinnati suburb. But it’s a field trip starring fake giraffes and elephants, safari park monorail cars, and animatronics like a Cereal Band made up of General Mills cereal mascots — not to mention foodstuffs ranging from the obscure to the ridiculous.

Unless I have four hours to explore I don’t even want to go in. This place is … over the top. And I mean that in the best possible way.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Jungle Jim’s)

If your favorite thing to do in a new country is hit the local grocery stores and markets and you also have an appreciation for the bizarre (think: indoor restrooms tucked behind Porta-Potty doors), you’re going to be in paradise here. We’re basically talking Disney for food-lovers.

Throughout the store (measured in acres, not square feet; grab a map when you walk in) are aisles dedicated to more than 70 countries where you’ll find all the little things that so intrigue and delight a food-lover when they’re abroad. There aren’t enough clichés for this place. Love food and travel? You’re going to be a kid on Christmas morning wandering the cavernous store.

And you know what’s extra cool? They’ve been hawking the flavors of the world for way longer than it’s been the thing to do. Not only would it swallow Eataly, but Jungle Jim’s also opened decades before a certain media personality would even cook up the idea. James O. Bonaminio, aka “Jungle Jim,” set up a produce stand in a parking lot outside Cincinnati in 1971, moving on to vacant lots until getting the permanent site for his shop in Fairfield just north of the city in ’75. (A second location opened across town a few years ago, but we’re here to talk about the original — and best in my book.)

Today those pining for, say, France who can’t make it to Paris can duck into the little French nook for their foie fix or those cute little jars of jam. Ingredients from the Philippines to Peru, South Africa to Sweden, and all points in between — 180,000 products from 75 countries — are all found under this one massive roof. The smells alone — I die! The beautiful stench of durian mingles with sultry saffron and the salty pungency of fresh seafood, while a cacophony of noise and frenzied shopping erupts all around you. Seriously, this is not your corner grocery store.

I lived south of Cinci for a few years after college, and since my husband and I were saving for our first international trip we didn’t have much in the way of a grocery (or entertainment) budget. To tide us over until we set out for the trip, we’d spend Sunday afternoons at Jungle Jim’s, dipping in and out of the aisles. Their offerings, like so many spice bazaars and produce markets of faraway lands, were not just free entertainment — they whetted our appetite for the foods of other cultures. We mingled with people from all walks of life and all points on the globe, wondering what they were buying in those mysterious packages labeled in languages we couldn’t read.

And when we returned from that trip, 25 days in five countries that changed the trajectory of our palates (if not our entire lives!), we’d head back to Jungle Jim’s to find the foods we’d newly come to love. It might not sound like a big deal now to have one store selling everything from proper clotted cream to straight-from-Italy pesto, but at a time when a super-center store (which shall not be named) didn’t carry such exotic goods as fennel … yeah, it was a big beal.

Even now, when anything you can’t find at a halfway decent grocery can be ordered easily enough online, there’s no substitute for aimlessly taking in the endless treasures of Jungle Jim’s. It’s an Experience. I mean, how many grocery stores get Trip Advisor reviews? Their fans there are as spellbound as I am.

  • If they don’t have it, you don’t need it!
  • I am not often speechless (just ask my wife) but I really don’t know what more I can say about Jungle Jim’s.
  • A cornucopia of culinary delight.
  • Colossal Food Emporium, Epic Choices!
  • This place is like a circus, grocery store, and museum all in one!
  • The most amazing store in the United States!

And we haven’t even talked about their wine department yet. I generally need an entire cart just for awesome, cheap wines (thinkL Trader Joe’s-like offerings but on steroids). It’s only one department of Jungle Jim’s, and has one of the best selections of any supermarket in the country.

There’s also all the samples! And the cheeses! And the hot sauces! But really, once you know they have a butter bar — a BUTTER BAR — need I say more? And have I mentioned you can book a guided tour or scavenger hunt?

Now that I live an hour-and-a-half away I haven’t been to Jungle Jim’s in far too long. One of the things I may miss most is the sushi. We’d run in just to buy a party platter (which, embarrassingly the two of us could easily polish off) for, like, 25 bucks even though it was agonizing to not take a spin through the whole store.

All right, that’s it. I’ve got to get back. See you there?

Have you been to Jungle Jim’s? What’s your favorite section?