Let’s Go To A Chinese Supermarket!

Recently I became friends with an Amateur Gourmet reader named Peggy who works in T.V. out here in L.A. and who comes from a Taiwanese family. Over the course of our first lunch at Pizzeria Mozza, she casually mentioned that her family frequents the San Gabriel Valley (home of some of America’s best and most authentic Chinese restaurants) and that she’d be happy to show me around there the next time we met up. “We can even go to a Chinese supermarket!” she added and that was like the moment when you pull the handle of a slot machine and all the bells and alarms go off and coins start pouring out. As you all know, I love visiting unfamiliar supermarkets.

So last week, my friend Diana joined Peggy and I for lunch at Mama Lu’s Dumpling House in the San Gabriel Valley where we ate Hot & Sour Soup:


My first beef roll, which I absolutely loved (it’s like thinly sliced beef wrapped up in a scallion pancake):


And, oh, just a few other things:


But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because afterwards, Peggy loaded us into her car and drove us to 99 Ranch Market—a Chinese supermarket that may not look like a Chinese supermarket from the outside, but wait ’til you see what’s inside.


We started by cutting a hard right towards the produce aisle. Before we got there, a table was set up with this Miso salmon lunch and fresh mochi; nothing too out of the ordinary, but not anything I’ve seen at Gelson’s:


First up at the produce aisle was Yucca and other things that look like Yucca that I can’t really remember because the text is too blurry in this picture:


These were beautiful bags of pea sprouts; if I were feeling more cheffy, I would’ve bought them (they’d be pretty on top of a spring risotto, etc.):


What’s Gailan? Sounds like a character from Star Trek!


And what’s Opo? Sounds like a character from Beetlejuice (oh wait, that is a character from Beetlejuice) (oh wait, never mind, that’s Otho):


Dried red chiles galore! And a bargain at $3.99 a pound.


The dreaded Durian, which apparently smells like sewage when you cut into them. Peggy told a story of someone throwing a durian on to her college dorm’s roof; a cruel prank that I’m going to use some day if I ever pledge a fraternity.


Fish balls, for putting in soup:


Plenty to choose from!


Chinese sausage, which I first encountered when Grace Young taught me how to stir-fry for my cookbook; it’s thinner and more dense than regular sausage:


Dried anchovies; not sure how I’d use these—I love oil-packed anchovies, so if I were feeling more cheffy I’d blitz these in a food processor and sprinkle them on a Caesar salad. Where’s my James Beard Award?


Boiled Bamboo Shoots; you’d shoot too if someone boiled you.


A whole wall of Kimchi, which isn’t Chinese but let’s not quibble:


“These noodles are great for dropping into soup,” Peggy explained about these noodles. Apparently they’re bundled into clumps that are for each individual portion.


Peggy also talked about salting mustard greens at home and then we came upon these salted mustard greens, which seem like a nice way to add some green to your diet:


These are rice cakes, which Diana bought up to cook at home. DIANA IF YOU’RE READING THIS TELL US HOW IT WENT IN THE COMMENTS.


Turnip cakes, rice cakes, birthday cakes…juts kidding about the birthday cakes:


Peggy bought these buns and said they’re delicious filled, as they are, with chopped scallions; all you have to do is steam them:


More buns to make at home; this is what Sir-Mix-A-Lot was talking about when he said, “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun.”


Now comes the meat!

When I was younger, and I’d walk through Chinatown, I’d squirm at the site of unfamiliar cuts in the windows of butcher shops. Now that I’ve been schooled by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, I realize that this was a product of my own xenophobia and that using all of the parts of the animal is something to be celebrated, not ridiculed. That said….



Just kidding about that “ewwww.” I’m mature, I swear! See, look, pork stomach… no big deal:


And this isn’t a chamber of horrors, these are delectable cuts that I’d like to cook someday. Who wants to come over for some pork uterus?



Ok, moving on….

Look at all the rice options:


And something I’d never seen before: sugar cane in light syrup. Do you just eat the sugar cane? Wouldn’t that hurt your teeth?


Quail eggs in a can!


Mock duck meat in a can!


Is this fried gluten gluten-free?


Seasoning sauce is the only way to treat your chili turnip:


Preserved Taiwan Seeds… what are they?!?! Anyone???


I believe these are toppings for shaved ice:


“We were doing soy milk before your trendy coffee shop.”


Peggy told us about “Pork Fu” and how her mom would sometimes make her sandwiches of just bread with pork fu sprinkled on:


She also told us about these drinks which she’d enjoy as a kid; apparently the fun part is that when you open the top, a marble floats to the surface and then it’s, like, kind of there while you drink?


There was a whole section of papers to burn at a Chinese grave; if you burn paper money, for example, you’ll give your loved one cash in the next world (can someone burn some for me now so I can have cash in this world??):


It was really hard for me and my brother when our Mung Beans split:


I don’t think you’re ready, for this…


Couldn’t decide, so bought all three options:


This is Peggy’s dad’s favorite dessert:


Crab chips:


Rice cooking wine, which I should have bought because I’m always making Chinese recipes that call for “rice cooking wine” and I don’t have it….


“I’ll fight you if you don’t eat these Haw Pieces!”


Jujube candy:


Now for the fish section:


They’ll actually fry a portion for you that they’ll put in a container and you can eat it for lunch:


And look at these specialty items; no not the lobster tails, the abalone and sea cucumber:


There were some very crowded fish tanks in this area:


And some pretty harsh signs about not washing your hands in the shell tank:


Check out the mollusks:


And these giant crabs and spot prawns:


And the Dungeness crabs (not a bad price):


And these rock crabs:


After washing my hands in there, I studied some of the packaged seafood options:


(How do they get the balls off the fish? Must be painful.)


I’ve never seen cooked clam meat before:


Phew…. are you exhausted yet? Anything else we missed?

Let’s see: tea with real flowers in it.


Say Yes To Noh!


Peggy was super psyched to see Bubble Tea turned into a popsicle:


And that, my friends, is the end of the ride.


Call me lame but I only bought one thing: oyster sauce.


What?! I need it for this beef and tomato recipe in my book. And I promise to go back and buy all of the things.

Peggy, as it happens, bought for us these fruit flakes that we tried in the parking lot:


They kind of tasted like dry, flaky apricot…in the best possible way.

Thank you, Peggy, for being such a great tour guide! Can’t wait to have you over for pork uterus some day.

Other Supermarket Posts:
Let’s Go To An Australian Supermarket!
Let’s Go To A British Supermarket! Then Let’s Go To A German Supermarket!

34 thoughts on “Let’s Go To A Chinese Supermarket!”

    1. Yes! Russian Roulette! Finally someone perfectly described it! You never know whether you’ll discover a great new food, or feel your taste buds squirm in agony! We have a tradition, called Wacky Snack Wednesdays. We send our kids to school with a strange snack from the Asian supermarket. Last week they got a Japanese snack; tiny dehydrated crabs, covered in sugar. They were awful, but oh-so-interesting!!!

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  1. I’ve grown up going to Chinese supermarkets (still squeamish around the pork uterus, though), and it’s so funny/interesting to see what struck you.

  2. I think this is the one near my parents’ house! There is an awesome dim sum place in the same plaza that is always crowded.

  3. The rice cakes are still in my freezer! Thanks for reminding me they are there – think I will stir fry them with some veggies…

  4. Ellen @ CheapCooking.com

    We’ve got two of these near us. It’s fun to browse but a challenge to find some things. I went looking for fish sauce and finally had to ask someone. There were so many different kinds of sauces!

  5. That gailan (gai lan) is Chinese Broccoli…… Goes well with that oyster sauce you bought. The stalks are very good thinly sliced and added when making fried rice…

  6. I thank you for sending me down the path that opens when you Google “pig uterus recipes.” What an interesting world we live in…

  7. Jessica Wagman

    I like to take people to the Seattle downtown Uwajimaya, which is an Asian super grocery store. It’s so big, it has a food court attached, and a huge bookstore. Love that place. Next time you’re in Seattle, stop by and eat there! (Also, they sell roasted peanuts and chestnuts out of a stand out front!)

  8. You are bold! Next to that sign that said Do Not Wash Hands, there was a sign that said Do Not Photograph.The Chinese market police could have whisked you away. Anyway, I wonder why they did not want customers taking pictures.

  9. Is this super market in Arcadia? I have been there and it is amazing, didn’t buy much but looking around was enlightning. There is also one in Temple City near to my parents house which has much of the same, it is also called Ranch Market and has Susie’s Restaurant, with very good soups and other foods also. I do believe the Asian Restaurants in this area are indeed some of the best!

  10. Oh I MISS the Ranch99! One of the few things I miss here in Montana. I lived in Taipei for a winter in my 20s, and the Ranch99 has EVERYTHING. There was one right behind my office. I once bought a roasted duck there, along with aluminum foil and ziplock bags, and wrapped it to bring home after a business trip to my sweetheart (bought it right before leaving for the plane). The TSA agent in San Jose was bemused.

  11. Black soy milk is made from black soybeans, and it has a rich smoky taste compared to regular soy milk. Also, check out if they carry peanut ice pops. Skip the taro flavor, ugh. If you drop some of the grass jelly into iced milk tea, it makes it tastes like Thai tea. I love the herbal flavor. It takes a while to soften up in liquid. then it really becomes like “jelly”. When you pop it from the can it’s hard as rubber. I’m so glad you wrote about Chinese supermarkets, but at the same time I feel like there were a lot of other great stuff that you didn’t get to see. I used to eat a lot of the trashy snacks too, but my tastes have changed, and now I like to buy very different things from Chinese supermarkets. Next time, gotta take you to the big supermarket on Main Street, Flushing called J-Mart. It’s right above the food court that’s always crazy busy. In fact, J-Mart has its own lunch counter which is delicious and such a bargain. There’s a whole world of Chinese home-cooking that you have yet to discover, and I can’t wait for you to discover it, and the Chinese supermarket is a great place to start.

  12. Re: the marble soda, the marble actually is at the top of the bottle like a stopper. You push it down to open the bottle and it sits in a little chamber at the top of the bottle, rolling around as you drink. It’s cute but the drawback is that once you open the bottle there’s no way to close it. The soda itself is delish though.

  13. I loved your post. Just visited two Asian grocers in Los Angeles myself, looking for ingredients to use while cooking from the new THE FOOD OF TAIWAN cookbook. We lived for years in Taipei, and enjoy cooking Taiwanese foods. Can’t wait to visit a Ranch 99 store – heard they are awesome! I visited LAX-C near Chinatown and A Grocery Warehouse in Echo Park: http://www.rvgoddess.com/BLOG/2015/APRIL/041315.aspx

  14. Those dried anchovies is for making dashi, the Japanese (almost) all purpose broth. Don’t to eat them just as it is!

  15. Buckeye conservative

    The pork uterus broght a memory of a “goodby dinner” in Korea. Usually bulgogi was beef muscle but for a special occassion I was taken to a “real” place. No roasts or steak. However lung, spinal cord and uterus were the ones identified for me. God knows what the others were. Still, marinated, broiled and sauced they were fine. Something about rooster testicles that makes me curl up so I don’t think I would go that way.

  16. Great post on Asian supermarkets! We have one (H&Y) here on Long Island, in New York, and it is outstanding. I first found it trying to find fresh Lychee fruit, which was recommended to me by Steven Seagal (that’s another story). Anyway, now I’m hooked; I go back every week!

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  17. I love 99 Ranch. But it’s not (just) a Chinese supermarket, it’s an Asian one. Has a wide variety of products from many countries/cuisines/cultures.

    You left out the hot prepared foods. You can fill a carton with individual items or fill a tray with a full meal.

    My favorite things to get when I drive the hour to get to my closest 99 Ranch (I don’t make a special trip, so I don’t go often) are: pea spouts, snow peas, different kinds of bok choi-like greens, fresh basil (something other than Italian), unusual fresh mushrooms, eggplant (not unusual to find Japanese/Chinese eggplant in stores but these are high quality and cheap), puffed tofu cakes, fresh wild fish, spring roll wrappers, fresh rice noodles, seaweed/sesame candy, and a big mess of cooked food for dinner.

    Oh and my new favorite food: fresh jackfruit! (hint, wash your hands with oil when you’re done)

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