ETHNIC CENTERS

QUEENS, N.Y. -- Ethnic groceries are becoming readily available in many supermarkets across the country, and especially in major metropolitan areas like New York -- home to large numbers of immigrants and non-white shoppers.In the borough of Queens, for example, major chains have become veritable cornucopias of food from around the world. SN visited one unit each of Waldbaum's, a division of A&P,

QUEENS, N.Y. -- Ethnic groceries are becoming readily available in many supermarkets across the country, and especially in major metropolitan areas like New York -- home to large numbers of immigrants and non-white shoppers.

In the borough of Queens, for example, major chains have become veritable cornucopias of food from around the world. SN visited one unit each of Waldbaum's, a division of A&P, Montvale, N.J.; Pathmark Stores, based in Woodbridge, N.J.; and Edwards Super Food Stores, a division of Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa., to look at their selection of ethnic offerings.

A newly opened Waldbaum's unit on Union Turnpike in Glen Oaks, N.Y., serves a middle-class neighborhood long home to those with Italian, Polish, Irish, Russian and Jewish backgrounds. The town has recently been revitalized by an influx of hardworking and prosperous Asian immigrants.

To serve this diverse ethnic base, Waldbaum's stocks its international foods aisle with Asian, Hispanic and imported European grocery items.

A vast array of salsas is available in many sizes, flavors and brands, including Newman's Own, Fred Imus's Hot Stuff, Chi-Chi's and Ortega. Salsa is priced from $1.99 to $3.59 per jar.

Ten-pound bags of parboiled rice and other staples of Hispanic cuisine, such as black beans, taco shells, coconut soda, malt beverages and Goya Cafe espresso coffee ($2.69 for 8 ounces), round out the extensive selection. Hispanic groceries occupy about 27 running feet.

On one shelf directly to the right of the Hispanic items is an interesting selection of gourmet imports, such as cucumbers in brine from Poland, German dill pickles and mineral water from the Ukraine. Other specialty items include containers of Exel Fruit, a black currant juice imported from Poland and Razin eggplant paste from Bulgaria.

Across the aisle from the Hispanic food is a wide assortment of Asian foods neatly stacked along 54 running feet, on nine shelves.

Three of the shelves hold plastic bags of spices imported from India. On adjoining shelves is a wide and deeply stocked assortment of teriyaki, soy and duck sauce.

On Hillside Avenue in New Hyde Park, Edwards has opened a 79,000-square-foot superstore in a suburban neighborhood. The store draws customers with Polish, Italian, German, Irish, Spanish and East Indian heritages.

The international-food section in this store is located in an aisle that also houses spices, pasta and tomato sauce. Ten feet of shelf space are stocked with Hispanic staples, like octopus in oil or garlic sauce, and Goya pineapple, passion fruit, pear and tamarind tropical fruit juices and nectars. The beverage selection includes coconut water, 89 cents for 12 ounces.

Also in this section are Goya espresso, $2.59 for an 8-ounce can; Goya champagne cola and pineapple soda, two 12-ounce bottles for 99 cents; and cases of Goya malt beverage.

Bags of rice are plentiful, in many variations and sizes. Ten-pound bags of extra long-grain rice were on sale for $3.29 during SN's visit. There were also medium-grain 5-pound bags for $1.99 each, and 5-pound bags of parboiled rice for $2.19.

Cans of chick peas and pink, red and black beans are stacked neatly on shelves near the rice. A large, stacked display of various kinds of Goya beans is also on an endcap at the head of the international foods aisle.

Edwards' Mexican offerings include more mainstream selections of salsas and dinner kits.

Next to Mexican foods a variety of West Indian and Caribbean staples can be found, such as flavored syrups imported from Jamaica in sorrel, pineapple, grenadine and ginger beer flavors, 25.5 ounces for $2.99.

Also in this section are Jamaica Choice mint tea, $1.79 per package, and such private-label items as a flavored burnt sugar, a West Indian favorite, 8 ounces for $1.69. A private-label beer and iron wine tonic (vino de carne and hierro), packaged in a dark glass bottle, was priced at $3.39 for 16 ounces during SN's visit.

Because Caribbean and Hispanic tastes tend toward the hot and spicy, there are plenty of jars of Costa Rican sliced and crushed hot peppers at Edwards, priced from $1.19 to $2.79 a jar. The store also stocks Jamaican jerk seasoning and curry powder.

In addition to these offerings, Edwards also stocks an assortment of Polish, German and Eastern European foods, including Slippery Jake pickled mushrooms imported from Poland, priced at $2.39 for 4 ounces, and Adro brand Latvian fried or smoked sprats. Also available are jars of Krakus red borscht, 13 ounces for $2.49, and Krakus assorted fruit jams and plum butter.

German apricot, strawberry, sour and black cherry jams, grapefruit marmalade and orange preserves are packaged in short, squat glass jars, 16 ounces for $3.49. A German delicacy, Hussman Hahn cod liver bits, is available in 3-ounce jars for $2.29.

At Pathmark's New Hyde Park store, located in a busy shopping center off Marcus Avenue, Chinese, Mexican, Spanish, kosher and East Indian foods are stocked within 20 linear feet.

About 18 running feet are used to stock mango chutney, mango pickle and chili pickle imported from Pakistan; cans of mango pulp imported from India; bottles of ghee, a non-hydrogenated oil made from butter; and 4-pound bags of Tilda basmati rice, imported from India and priced at $4.69.

Two rows of bins on lower shelves are filled with plastic bags of imported spices, beans and grains such as curry, chili powder and red kidney beans from India, garlic and ginger powder from China and paprika from Spain.

The neighboring shelves are filled with Hispanic grocery selections -- yellow and white rice, jars of Goya guava and papaya jelly and Cafe Bustelo dark roast coffee. In addition to the usual mix of tacos and hot sauces, Pathmark offers its own brand of salsa.