Finding the right aisle is only half the battle; does it have to be so hard to find these international pantry items?

A living room scene showing the giraffe chair in a sunny corner.


Pantori is an e-commerce website I developed as a student at the School of Visual Concepts. Frustrated by my personal experience buying products like broad bean paste (豆瓣醬) and pomegranate molasses (دبس رمان), I was determined to design a better way to connect home cooks with those unfamiliar-to-them global pantry staples.

Conceptual Project
10 weeks
The Team
Solo Project
My Focus
User Research Information Architecture Interaction Design Brand Building Prototyping

My Role

UX Researcher and Designer

I completed Pantori as a solo project at the School of Visual Concepts.

My work touched on most aspects of a typical UX project, including: user interviews, market research, information architecture, wireframes, interaction design, Figma prototypes, and usability testing.


It's hard for home cooks to find and vet the quality of global food products.

People who love cooking usually love cooking dishes from around the world.

Market research conducted by Sabra found that 76% of Americans are drawn to foods from a culture different from their own. A similar survey from the UK found that 70% of people age 16-35 enjoy cooking international recipes from scratch.

But finding the ingredients to make those global dishes can be daunting. That same UK survey revealed that 37% of home cooks are frustrated they can’t find global ingredients at their local shops. So what's the home cook looking for pomegranate molasses to do? And if they come upon a bottle, how do they know if it's any good?

The story below is a common one I heard during interviews I conducted with home cooks:

Diego wants to make dandan noodles like the ones he tried at a restaurant last week.
Diego Googles recipes for dandan noodles. They all have extensive ingredient lists.
Diego has never heard of many items he’ll need to make those dandan noodles. Maybe he can check Amazon...
On Amazon, Diego is overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite number of options—which one is the right one for him?
After his frustrating experience on Amazon, Diego visits an Asian grocery store in his hometown of Dallas.
Employees at the grocery store aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about the products he needs.
Diego is left wandering the aisles of the store, comparing items on the shelf to pictures he pulls up on his phone.
If only there was a better way...
No items found.


How might we design a better way to shop for those hard-to-find international pantry items?


An e-commerce site for global food products that educates and delights.

Pantori is a website that allows curious home cooks to make informed purchasing decisions about international pantry items.

I designed Pantori to proactively educate users about other cultures and traditions in a way that enriches their cooking experience.

Understanding the Users

Home pantry tours.

To better understand Pantori's potential user, I surveyed 30 home cooks who prepare meals at home at least 3 days a week and expressed an interest in cooking foods representing cultures different from their own.

In addition, I conducted 5 remote interviews with home cooks who met the same criteria. I conducted these interviews as home pantry tours. Participants called in from their kitchens and pulled items from their pantries that they had purchased to prepare an interational dish from scratch.

I used these products as a tool to guide conversations about participants' attitudes toward cooking dishes from global cuisines. With each product, we walked through the complete purchasing journey—from researching a recipe through making the purchase, cooking the dish, and storing and re-using the product.

A selection of items that research participants pulled from their pantries.

Defining the Problem

Insight 1:

Home cooks often think about dishes in regional terms.

Despite a growing call to do away with the “ethnic aisle” in US grocery stores, I discovered in my research that people do think about cooking certain dishes as a regional exercise. 

“I've been making a lot of Ethiopian food at home these days.”
-Research Participant

“I tried dan dan noodles at a Chinese restaurant and wanted to try making them at home.”
-Research Participant

Insight 2:

Home cooks can generally be divided into two camps: the Pragmatics and the Romantics.

Roughly 60% of participants indicated that they cooked mostly out of necessity. These are the Pragmatics. While they enjoy cooking dishes from unfamiliar cuisines, they are mostly concerned with time and cost.

In the other camp are the Romantics. About 40% of respondents cook for pleasure and enjoy learning about the culture and tradition surrounding a dish. These are the folks who collect cookbooks, take cooking classes on vacation, and read a dozen recipes before they settle on the 'right' one.

“I like cooking because it's less expensive than eating out. I just like trying new flavors because I get tired of eating the same thing every day.”
-a "pragmatic" research participant
“I don’t mind spending 3 hours making dinner. In fact, I enjoy it”
-a "romantic" research participant

Insight 3:

Language barriers and indecipherable product labels are a huge pain point.

15 of 35 participants experienced varying levels of discomfort while looking for specialist ingredients. These experiences ranged from frustration with foreign product labels to feeling ignorant shopping at diaspora community grocers.

“Amazon is the absolute last place I go, after I've done my reasearch elsewhere. They don't tell you anything about where these spices are coming from.”
-Research Participant

“I had a hard time with the language barrier finding black sesame at the Asian grocery store. I hate feeling rude and dumb like that.”
-Research Participant

Insight 4:

People buy a product to make one dish, but don’t know what else to do with it.

Several research participants noted that they would buy a product to make one dish, only to let that product languish in their pantry after they'd used it once.

“I bought this tamarind concentrate to make pad thai, but now I don't know what else to do with it.”
-Research Participant

Design Solutions

Idea 1:

Regional product exploration.

My research indicated that home cooks enjoy learning about other cultures and traditions through food. Pantori’s Region Pages are a place where curious cooks can take a deep dive into global cuisines.  

Regional exploration is also baked into the browsing experience.

a phone with a mockup of the Pantori Region Page for Mexico
A mockup of Mexico's Region Page on a mobile device.

Wireframes showing how a user navigates to a Region Page from the hompage on desktop (top) and mobile (bottom).

Wireframes of Mexico's Region Page on mobile (left) and desktop (right).

A wireframe of Mexico's Region Page for desktop, with the top and bottom halves shown side-by-side.

A screen recording showing how a user can filter products by country
Users can filter products by country of origin, even when browsing by category.

Idea 2:

Design for the Romantics.

The Romantic archetype I identified in my research is Pantori’s target customer.

The Romantic values expertise and knowledge. Pantori consults with regional experts to curate the products and content on the Region Pages.

Romantics value expertise when seeking out new products and dishes to cook. They may appreciate reading about the credentials of the experts selecting Pantori's products, as shown in this wireframe.

Idea 3:

A product page that empowers.

Research participants talked about feeling uncomfortable, dumb, or even ignorant venturing into markets to find global food products.

Pantori offers a quick primer and pronunciation audio clip for every product, so nobody feels clueless about doubanjiang ever again.

A screenshot of the Pantori product page with an audio clip
A wireframe showing the product primer and pronunciation audio clip that appear on every product page.

Idea 4:

Make unfamiliar products part of Tuesday night dinner.

So, you bought a jar of tamarind concentrate to make pad thai, and now you don’t know what else to do with it? Pantori suggests recipes and other uses in the kitchen for every product.

A screenshot of a product page with additional uses and recipes
A wireframe product page showing suggested uses and recipes.

A more high-fidelity sample product page exploring branding application and color.



Usability testing: some core offerings weren't meeting the mark.

I conducted usability tests of the wireframe prototype with 5 participants. In general, users had an easy time navigating through the prototype, but there were some hiccups along the way.

The Pantry section of the Region page was the feature that caused the most confusion by far. 4 of the 5 users thought the different Pantry levels referred to their own expertise as a cook—not the obscurity of the products.

To address this, I replaced the three numbered levels with two categories: "The Basics" and "Rare Finds". I also designed a hover state for products site-wide with an add-to-cart button for quick shopping.

The Pantry feature performed poorly in usability testing (left, wireframe). I made revisions to make the Pantry's value clearer to users as the design progressed (right, mock-up).


"I wish this was a real product. I know this struggle too well—Pantori would have helped me out just the other night."

—Feedback from a mentor

“Clicking through all these links is like Wikipedia. I could spend a whole day on here.”

-Usability Test Participant

Success! I've shared with Pantori with some mentors of mine, all of whom have suggested that I seriously explore making Pantori into a real product. While I'm not sure if that's my next move, I'm happy that my work resonates with people.


Pantori is a work in progress.

I'm still refining the wireframe prototype based on findings from my first usability test. In the future, I'd love to run additional usability tests with a revised prototype.

I'd also love to continue refining Pantori's visual identity. I've developed a color palette that references the bold colors used in convenience stores worldwide. The primary colors of blue, red, and yellow reference Pantori's mission of providing the "building blocks" for a global pantry.

A collage of primary colors and convenience store signs.
Some early color exploration for Pantori. The primary colors of blue, red, and yellow reference Pantori's mission of providing the "building blocks" for a global pantry.

Getting Technical

Since Pantori is a speculative project, I haven't assessed every feature's technical or financial feasibility.

For example, what would expert curation of the region pages look like? How would we find these experts—and would they be full-time team members, or some type of consultant? As for the product pronuncation feature on the product pages—where might we source those audio clips? And how would we verify their accuracy?

These are the types of questions I would need to seriously consider if Pantori is to ever become a real business, and the types of considerations that must be front of mind for any practicing UX designer.

"Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life."

Yes, it's a cliché. But in the case of Pantori, I feel it's true. Food and learning about other cultures are my passions in life—anyone who knows me will attest that I plan my vacations around meals.

It's been a true pleasure speaking with research participants and designing a solution to a complex problem we all face. As it turns out, my own struggles buying broad bean paste and pomegranate molasses are more universal than I could have ever known.

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