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….
EWWWWW ROOSTER BALLS!!!
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:
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!”
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.