I love shopping at Asian grocery stores with their riot of colorful products and the low murmur of languages I strain to understand. But even after three years of daily food shopping in China, I’m still vaguely intimidated. The first time I enter an unfamiliar Asian market, I always feel like the new kid at the junior high. I’m convinced I’m going to ask a stupid question and betray my own cluelessness.
At East West market on Belleville Avenue, however, I can forget my worries. The people are nice. They speak English. And their food selection rocks.
You’ll find East West in a small shopping center on the left side of the street as you’re heading east on Belleville Ave., just past Davey St. (about two minutes east of Broad St.). They stock foods from all over Asia, and there’s a fish market, butcher counter and produce area (offering crisp bok choy and fresh lemongrass). You’ll also find an odd smattering of Western items like Smucker’s jelly, Ricola drops and Snapple.
Among the cool stuff I found on a recent trip there:
— A great selection of teas and rices. Some bags of rice are restaurant-sized (up to 25 lbs.), but look around and you’ll find 5 lb. bags of Thai jasmine rice.
— Lots of jars of shrimp pastes, crab pastes and chili pastes. These are wonderful in so many dishes — mix in a dollop with any meat or fish you’re stir-frying, or add just a bit to a few raw eggs before scrambling them or cooking an omelette.
— A full range of Lee Kum Kee sauces. These are pretty commonly available even at non-Asian grocery stores. The flavors are fairly authentic and the labels are in English. LKK’s sweet chili sauce is great on chicken or tofu and the black bean sauce is great on shrimp (marinate raw shrimp for a few hours in the sauce and a dash of oil, then throw them on the grill.)
— Tons of instant ramen noodles from various countries. (I know, I know. This stuff is loaded with MSG and the pulverized ingredients in the “flavor packets” are often a mystery. Cheap imported ramen might be one of the least healthy things you can buy. But it’s yummy, convenient and may inspire memories of your college dorm room.)
— Several varieties of rice seasoning. Just a tablespoon adds great flavor and texture to steamed or fried rice. A small jar, which runs about $3, will probably last you a few months.
— A small selection of housewares, including tea pots, strainers and soy sauce decanters. (Fine china it ain’t, but most of it appears reasonably well made.)
If you decide to check it out, or you’ve already been there, let us know what you think of the place. Has it inspired any culinary masterpieces?
And has anyone tried the bakery or the two Asian restaurants in that shopping center?