|Letter from Los Angeles
||Monday | 13 April 2015
Exploring Asian Grocers in Los Angeles
Angeles, California: A few weeks ago, the highly-anticipated cookbook,
The Food of Taiwan: Recipes from the Beautiful Island,
by Cathy Erway, was delivered to my (RV) door. As you probably know, we lived in
Taiwan for several years when Lisa was very young.
The thing we miss most about living in Taiwan is the
food. Never have we enjoyed such delicious food - day in and day out - from the
fanciest Chinese banquets to 4-table noodle shops to carts grilling skewered
sparrows chicken to restaurants specializing in Peking Duck or
dumplings, to a place that made traditional Three Cup Chicken with rabbit.
Everything was so fresh. Colorful. Fragrant. Attractively plated.
I have several Chinese cookbooks (my favorite is a 30-year-old volume of
The Complete Chinese Cookbook: Over 500 Authentic Recipes from China
that I turn to most often when inspired to cook Chinese food or research a
dish), but none celebrate the foods of Taiwan. Until now.
Excited as I was to begin cooking from The Food of Taiwan, one obstacle
held me back: ingredients. Beyond soy sauce, the selection of Chinese grocery
items in the Coachella Valley is basically non-existent. Every Asian person I
know in the area has said they "drive into the LA area" for supplies every few
weeks. (NOTE TO SELF: 1. Open Asian grocery in Palm Springs. 2. Become
Since we also drive into Los Angeles quite often, this time
I gave myself several hours to tour through a few Asian markets. The first
one, LAX-C (1100 N. Main St, Los Angeles 90012, 323-343-9000) has been
described as a "Thai Costco", as it is a massive Asian restaurant-supply
warehouse. Like Costco, most items can be purchased separately, but nearly
all fresh fruits and vegetables must be purchased by the case. Unlike
Costco, there is no membership fee, it is pretty dusty, unorganized, and
there isn't a lot of customer service. It is so large and so busy, there is
an attendant directing traffic in the parking lot. Don't let the name fool you - it
has nothing to do with the airport; LAX-C is near Chinatown.
From the normal, to the exotic, LAX-C had everything on my list except sweet
potato starch and they carried my favorite brand of Chili Bean Sauce.
Where has this vegetarian oyster sauce been all my life? In The Philippines, it
seems. I also found Macapuno Balls - coconut sport balls - in the Filipino food
area. What the heck? I had to come home and Google coconut sport balls.
Apparently a coconut tree will randomly develop a "sport" - a biological term
meaning "naturally occurring mutation". In the case of a Macapuno coconut, an
abnormal development of the endosperm causes the cavity of the coconut shell to
fill with jelly-like balls (in place of the usual stuff normally found inside a
coconut). The resulting gelatinous "sport balls" are popular and expensive, due
to their rarity - and they do not taste like coconut at all! We also lived in
The Philippines for years and I do not recall ever seeing or trying Macapuno.
Serious Jeopardy answers here, Dear Reader.
"Meat" made from wheat gluten is super popular throughout the world,
especially with vegetarians. I've eaten it quite a bit and find it quite
tasty (usually due to the accompanying sauces). I've never seen this in a
can. Until today.
Clean up crew at LAX-C
LAX-C is massive
And now for something completely different:
Asian-Schmasian. At lunch, I finally convinced
Lenny to try the Pastrami Short Rib Sandwich (slow-smoked pastrami, pecan
cole slaw, jalapenos, pickles, spicy mustard on a potato roll) at
smokes the short ribs in their parking lot. Lenny loved his sandwich.
The Chinese grocery search continued after lunch. I visited the
ambiguously-named A Grocery Warehouse in Echo Park (1487 Sunset Blvd, Los
Angeles, 90026, 213-250-1446).
This establishment seemed a bit seedy on the outside, but
once inside the smells and sounds made me feel right at home. Two women were
"discussing" (in Mandarin Chinese) the price of a bright pink bedspread. A
very aggressive cashier confiscated my reusable grocery bags at the front
door and waved me on. I told her (in Chinese) I did not understand, but she
did not answer - just prodded me into the aisles. I decided the bag
retention is shoplifting prevention, but I think a warning sign on the front door
would be more polite.
mind. I did not steal. I did not find my sweet potato starch either. I did
find DT's favorite peanut snack from Manila -
Nagaryara Cracker Nuts.
Original flavor, his favorite. Dang, I can't even imagine how many packages
of these coated peanuts he downed in three years. Whenever we see them at an
international grocery store, a few bags find their way into our shopping
cart. So delicious.
The rows were neat and tidy. Everything jar perfectly aligned by an
obsessive-compulsive retail merchandiser... or maybe the reusable grocery
bag confiscator? In the back of the store was a small selection of Chinese
restaurant dinnerware and a very good kitchen (if you are cooking Chinese
foods) utensil department. Bamboo steamers, rice rinsing baskets, woks,
spiders, tongs, chopsticks. Everything. Prices were extremely reasonable.
A Grocery Warehouse has a very nice butcher and fresh fish counter with
on-site help to carve, trim and debone as needed by the customers. The fresh
fruits and vegetables were also very excellent (and again, such great
One interesting difference between the two stores I visited today was the
clientele. I was the only Caucasian at LAX-C and nearly every shopper was
Thai. Customers from every corner of the globe were shopping at A Grocer
Warehouse. I heard Chinese, Cantonese, English, Thai, Spanish and Hindi...
There are many, many more Asian grocers to explore in Rosemead and other
towns east of Los Angeles with large Chinese populations. Another day.
Until my next update, I remain, your menu-planning correspondent.
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