by guest blogger Rich Baringer,
Recently, the Bucks County Chapter of the US Personal Chef Association took a field trip to Assi, an international (mostly Asian) supermarket in North Wales. Yes, I know it sounds a little goofy for us to visit a grocery store, but believe me, it was an interesting place and we had a lot of fun. That’s what us food people do.
Assi is full of produce and ingredients that you just can’t find anywhere else in our area. There were plenty of ingredients that were a little bit familiar from cooking Asian foods–things like fish sauce, oyster sauce, various noodles (there was a whole aisle of noodles), etc. But there were also plenty of things that were way out of our realm of familiarity.
For many of the packaged items, we had to read the ingredient list to have some idea of what the product was. Things like dried anchovy fillet with sesame seeds, boiled silkworms, dried white fungus, basil seed drinks with honey (they looked like lava lamps), and much more. Sometimes the ingredient list didn’t help much. For example, there was “Dried Vegetable” in a bag. It looked like steel wool, so I checked the ingredients to find out what was in it. It said, “INGREDIENTS: Dried Vegetable.” That was helpful.
The meat section was a little more familiar. Despite a number of pork innards, black chicken, chicken and duck feet and the like, the meats were mostly what you would find in your supermarket. Most of it looked really wonderful–dark red and marbled beef, fresh looking poultry, and pork.
The seafood section, however, was not typical for an American grocer. Familiar fish like cod, striped bass and flounder (including live ones) were offered. But so were things like sea squirt, cuttlefish, large squid and more exotic fish. Many creatures were either frozen or dried (or both) as well as fresh. Most of the fish was sold whole, although they did have fillets of some.
The frozen section had all sorts of things from frozen bonbon-type sherbet coated in sweet rice dough to octopus, meat-filled buns to big bags of “mixed frozen seafood.”
Probably the neatest part of the store for me was the produce. In addition to the usual stuff, there’s just a load of unusual and exotic things. Fresh turmeric, banana flowers, bitter melon, fuzzy squash, huge jackfruit, alien-like dragonfruit, yard-long daikon radishes, all sorts of tubers, fresh sugar cane, unusual greens, and fresh and dried mushrooms.
Oh, to top it off, they have a small food court that has really great food. We shared a Spicy Seafood Soup, Spicy Kimchi Noodle Bowl and Korean BBQ Beef. All of them were really tasty and made to order. I just need to work on my chop stick use. I tried to hide my plastic fork from the Asian folks sitting near us.
It’s definitely worth the trip just to see some of these interesting foods. But if you’re in need of Asian ingredients–even more common things like soy sauce, fish sauce, curry paste–the prices are great. It’s sort of like an Asian Costco for many products. And if you need something more unusual, I’ll bet that they have it in stock.
OK, maybe you don’t need to spend 3 1/2 hours there like we did, but you’ll be sorry if you don’t stop in just to look around for a while sometime. And to get some lunch.
1222 Welsh Road
North Wales, PA