Notes and Notices

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Pseudo Anthropology in the Grocery pt. 2

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

A few months ago, I became fascinated with groceries as reflections of local culture. We've all heard the expression, "You are what you eat." If that's true, then perhaps the best way to get an idea of someone's culture is to take a look into the communal refrigerator they call the grocery.

Last April, I perused the Korean supermarket, this time I'm shopping around the more general Asian grocery, Ranch 99. While one can still find Korean items stocked in the grocery, Ranch 99 proved to be more eclectic and adventurous when it comes to produce and meat offerings.

In the produce section, I found some fruits I could only find back in the Philippines like the stinky, porcupine-y Durian and the halo-halo ingredient, Jackfruit. They both look similar on the inside, but once you imbibe it, you'll know which one you got. One is nutty and most definitely pungent. The other has a nice sweet taste perfect for the iconic Philippine treat.

Durian's porcupine-like skin


I also found some other more exotic vegetables, I can only guess at how to cook like the Chinese Lettuce Stems and giant Chinese okra. I have really never seen these veggies grow quite as large as this.

Chinese okra outstrips any okras that I've ever seen.
The produce section was tame compared to the meats. Los Angeles butchers Lindy and Grundy are famed for their snout-to-tail approach to meat. When they first launched, they hoped to teach Angelenos a thing or two about using other meat parts in their daily dishes. Well, from the looks of things, Asians  were way ahead of that game. These meats probably aren't organic, but you won't find these parts easily in the neighborhood grocery that's for sure.

Apparently, lamb balls are seen as powerful aphrodisiacs in China and Serbia. This guy even wrote a whole recipe book around it. Chicken feet are a delightful dimsum dish covered in sauce or just steamed and pork ears usually end up in Filipino sisig, but does anyone know how to cook any of these other meats? I'd actually be curious to give it a try. 

By far, my favorite section was the snacks. While walking along the aisles, I remember my childhood recess periods when my friends and I would share bits of each other's lunch boxes. Potato chips might be a junk food staple in the U.S., abroad Asians found a way for even peas to be yummy fantastic.

The stroll around the Asian market is always a fun exercise in the exotic and familiar. The grocery of course makes efforts to stock all the usual American staples like eggs and milk, but then they kindly filly in the culinary blanks left behind from migration. An Asian market I've found is a little more of a mixed bag than the Korean market, which has beautifully tasteful packaging and an abundance of red paste on shelf. And that's precisely the fun of it. Whenever I get to the grocery, I always wonder what else I'm going to discover.


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