I too have been shopping at ethnic markets, since I lived across the street from a Vietnamese market while in college.
When everyone else went to MacDonald's, I stopped in for a banh mi thit (roughly translated to meat and bread) and would pick up some pate to go with my morning croissant (remember the French had a great influence on Vietnamese culture for a number of years during the early 20th century.
Saturday mornings it was wake up and head out for a bowl of Pho.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I moved to an area of Pasadena, that is close to every Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and African markets you can name.
You’re absolutely spot on about the spices. The thrill of experimenting and finding new combinations that surprise cannot be duplicated with ingredients from the big chain markets. And the choices of seafood and seaweeds at the Japanese markets truly rock.
Shopping ethnic also allows me to rub shoulders with great, hard working people from every where on this planet. Food and food shopping have done more to open my eyes to the similarities between us all than any political movement… period.