Want a quick fix of Filipino foods and culture? South Florida offers few better opportunities than Far East Food & Gifts (Shops at Oriole, 4140 N. State Rd. 7, Lauderdale Lakes, 954-486-6373).
"In this store, if you break it, you'll be happy to pay for it," says a tough-minded sign on the front door. This eyes-on-the-bottom-line approach has kept store owner Suzanne Liu in business for 22 years.
"I'm really a one-stop shop for all Filipino needs in the area," she explains. "I've either got it here or I can get it for you wholesale."
The steady stream of customers -- "all the way from Port St. Lucie," says Liu -- testifies to this fact. The store supplies Filipino products to the cruise ships, decorations for Filipino holidays, six aisles of Filipino foods, a complete line of fresh frozen fish and blue crabs -- so dear to Filipino hearts -- fresh hot or cold taho (soybean pudding), lottery tickets, Money Grams, and a substantial gift section in the front corner of the store with jade products, decorative vases, and tableware.
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Liu's two largest competitors, Oriental Square in Coral Springs and Vinh An Oriental Market in North Miami Beach, don't specialize so precisely in pinoy (Filipino) products. Liu even organizes pickups of company balikbayan boxes -- containers of gifts and goodies that include things like CDs, shoes, lotions, and canned goods, to be sent to relatives and friends back home in the faraway islands.
All the while, Liu runs the show from behind the cash register, pricing products, suggesting shelf arrangements, keeping up a running conversation with customers as she rings up sales at the cash register.
"Don't order that online!" she yells across the counter to two African-American women after asking them where they've been buying a special kind of Filipino face cream. "Too expensive! I can get it for you cheaper."
You'll find Liu at her post and the store open from 10 a.m. till 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. Sunday.