There is a sense of being in a foreign country when wandering the aisles of the Many Lands store in Provo. The dimly lit aisles of unusual groceries often have unpronounceable foods not tasted by the typical American palate.
For the more commonly known items, such as soy sauce and tea, the price of getting authenticity includes the cost of importing such delicacies. There are foods from over 20 different countries at Many Lands, but they specialize in Asian foods since Peter Smith served an LDS mission in Asia and later married an Asian woman.
Over 15 years ago, the store included a Chinese café referred to by Smith as the “great mistake,” since both store and café were too much for the couple to take on themselves. Perhaps it is this desire to keep things manageable which maintains their status of being such a secret in the area and having no online presence.
The secrecy is sad for those who crave the rich variety of imported goods at Many Lands. There are groceries like Swedish Knackebrot (rye cracker), spices and sauces from several countries and cuisines, many types of tea, drinks such as passion fruit juice and many unfamiliar canned and frozen items.
There is also a variety of Asian candy such as the popular Hi-Chews which taste similar to Starbursts and gummy candy with flavors such as mango and kiwi. They have an unusual variety of German, Swiss and Russian chocolate, too.
Any Asian or foreign dish with an ingredient your typical grocery clerk has never heard of will likely be found in this store, in addition to actual dishes, cookware and gifts. There is an extensive selection of woks, Asian cookbooks and different styles of chopsticks.
Like shopping at most Mom and Pop businesses, the unique personal interactions with the store clerks are often the highlight of the experience. At a major chain, a customer deals with several workers and often has the same experience as the customer before him or her. At a small business such as Many Lands, however, you can talk politics or any other subject, often for several minutes, and feel like you have made a new friend.
Check out this hidden gem at the corner of 500 West and Bulldog Blvd in Provo.