BIG PINE KEY WELCOMES NEW ASIAN MARKET
By Anthony Guntert
Toward the west end of Big Pine Key, nestled in the middle of a small strip of shops, lies an unassuming store that subverts all possible expectations. Tindahan (the Filipino word for “store”), is bursting at the seams with a colorful and surprising offering of products from Asia and the Pacific Rim. Owners Lhanli “LanLan” and Manuel “Manny” Perez are kind and warm with an obvious passion for what they do.
“We want to make our store efficient for someone who’s working a full day,” said Manny. “They don’t want to go to a restaurant and pay 20, 30dollars for a meal. I want them to say ‘Hey, there’s delicious soups and ramens and curries over here.’ They can add a little bit of rice, maybe some other quick ingredients and make it a meal.” Manny said the store’s low prices, coupled with quality goods, are growing a happy base of return customers.
Manny and Lhanli greet customers and also give tours of the store, including detailed and hunger-inducing descriptions guaranteed to make even the most picky eaters open to trying something new. (Tip: ask for a tour of the fridges and if they’ve recently gotten a shipment of ube cakes; they sell out fast.)
Tindahan carries branded frozen foods and pre-made meals, plus sauces, spices and unique snack foods. Manny said Gyoza dumplings and hearty green Thai curries are perfect for busy Floridians who want to eat exotic without giving up their precious free time. For the more adventurous, Manny urges a snack-sized bag of black garlic cloves. (Trust us: the small, husk-wrapped snacks possess a uniquely raisiny and nutty taste, the texture of a fig, and a surprisingly subtle note of garlic at the end.) Just like most of the diverse offerings at Tindahan, these tiny flavor bombs can be used in a variety of different ways, from a garlic butter to a welcome addition in any pan sauce.
Tindahan is her idea. After eight years of traveling to the mainland to shop at Asian groceries, Lhanli said, “I think we should just make an Asian store in the Keys.” The shop has been in the planning stages for years — through Irma, through COVID-19 — but the couple never gave up. In fact, the sales started out of a spare bedroom until local demand became so great that the Perezes were able to open for business in their current storefront mid-November of 2020.
“This island, it’s got a unique type of people that just have your back,” said Manny. “For me, the most beautiful experience is seeing our customers, who are also my friends and my family, come over and be very happy with all the items we sell.”
Tindahan is located at 33 Ships Way on Big Pine Key and the phone number is 786-747-2353. The store is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Monday.