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All Hail Asian Markets

I am so obsessed with food that one of my favorite things to do on my days off is discovering new places to shop for it. In this food-crazed town, there are a lot of places to go. Unfortunately, I live in a part of town more crammed with clothes boutiques and art galleries than anything else. We don’t even have our own market.

I have known about a market on Spring Garden, not far from me, but given the apparent dodginess of the area between my neighborhood and the next one, I assumed it was a cheap, dingy place full of soda, chips, and Tasty Cakes. Yelp recently straightened me out. It’s an Asian grocery store, reportedly pretty new, and reportedly cheap with good quality meats. Now, thanks to the reality of what things cost, I have nearly forgone meat altogether just so I can have all the imported cheese, rare vinegars and $30 mustards my little heart desires. I could live on wine, cheese, bread, tomatoes, and olives.

After an early afternoon of completely wasting my time of trying to get rid of some clothes I no longer want to wear (more on THAT later if I can find the energy to entirely piss myself off again by writing about it), I decided to go up there and give it a shot. What was the worst that could happen?

Well, it was a pleasant, pleasant surprise. It’s clean, bright, comprehensive, and the reviewers on Yelp weren’t lying when they sung the praises of the meat and seafood departments. Sure, everyone who worked there is Asian, speaks little English, and the market itself is geared to the Asian customer. I did see some peanut butter and a few Tetley teas, but other than that, most things are covered with Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese writing, sometimes accompanied by amusing English translations.

Sure, I will not find fine sherry vinegar from Spain, a huge cheese section presided over by South Philly Italians, or aisles full of every conceivable pasta shape. I don’t cook Asian food at home. I don’t speak Chinese. I never will. I walked down every aisle and admired the numerous incarnations of soy sauce but didn’t buy any. I probably never will. You have to understand food to make it and any of the Asian cuisines are not part of my DNA. But the store is clean, bright, and stocked full of everything it carries. You could conceivably get by just shopping there if you had to. A really nice surprise were the few Latino products strewn throughout, from Guatemalan pastries made by a bakery in North Philly to lentils packed by the Spanish chain Goya. I picked up a can of mangosteen since I’ve been dying to try the fruit and have yet to find it fresh. I grabbed a 99ยข package of peeled and cooked chestnuts, raw materials for any use I chose for them. I bought a little box of tamarind candy from Thailand. It was delicious. I love tamarind and haven’t eaten it in years. I looked at all the noddles and rices but didn’t buy. I didn’t even know what they all were. The dairy section was small but could get you through in a pinch with Lancaster county milk and goat cheese and cheap eggs. I believe some eggs there were duck eggs, but they were unlabeled and crammed into boxes meant for strawberries. Wonton wrappers took up an entire shelf. Mochi was kept in a cold case, too. It’s good but I skipped it this time. I was still in the front of the store and wanted to get to the meat section.

Meat and produce are the entire back half of the store. There are two large sections of precut and plastic wrapped products and then two huge vats of frozen in the middle. I picked up a small 3lb chicken for less than $4. Ever since when does chicken cost just over $1 a pound??? I examined it thoroughly. It was fresh. There was no doubt about it. A steal. I looked into the rest of the cold case and there were duck legs, pig’s feet, chicken feet (called “paws” on the package), entrails, pig’s ears, even a tray of pig’s blood. Everything looked like it had been running around the barnyard not two days ago. The blood would be the first to show age, I would guess. Though I’ve never been in the market for pig’s blood, I would imagine that if I were, I would have found it satisfactory. I looked into the butcher’s case and the unbelievable prices continued. Unfortunately, I didn’t see more interesting animals like lamb and squab, but I adore duck and this is where I will come from now on to get it.

The seafood was all on ice and looked like it had been hauled in that morning. And what seafood. There were whole octopus, heads and all, various shrimp, fish still swimming in large water vats, a lot of things with tentacles, mollusks etc etc etc. The produce section is small and I had read reviews about things here being less than fresh but most things I saw looked good enough to buy though the market I regularly go to has the better prices. There were boxes of figs but they looked wet and unripe. There were durian and dragonfruit but no mangosteen. I got some bananas.

I had gone up there for meat but I was tricked into getting a bunch of other things that looked cool like Latin American pineapple empanadas, sugar for the biscotti I made this afternoon, two different kinds of tea, the chicken and the other things I’ve mentioned.

As I walked back to my condo, trying to pry the tamarind candy box open, I thought about what a great discovery this thing was. Clearly, I won’t go there every week, but it’s only 10 minutes from where I live and they have meat. A lot of it. At unbelievable prices. This place may have rescued me from forced vegetarianism. Way to go Asian markets!

Now if I could just find a Latino grocery somewhere…

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