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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Happiness is a bag of fresh shiitake mushrooms

  When I lived in the Richmond District, I had several favorite places to shop. There is Village Market on California at 8th, which had gorgeous produce, wonderful scented candles, and organic packaged food products I loved. There is the Real Food Market on Stanyan, technically in the inner sunset, but a pleasant walk across the park, with tomatoes, squash, and peppers that called out to be photographed. And then there was the May Wah. The incredible, infinite, alarmingly-squid-scented May Wah.

I was old school: I had been going to the old May Wah. Now it is the Richmond New May Wah Supermarket, and it moved to a larger location down the street. Though it still smells like squid, it otherwise does put "super" into supermarket. Thai rahmen, Indonesian curry paste, fresh local noodles, fresh local kimchee (including a type without fish sauce!), fresh local gai lan and other cool greens, fresh local pea shoots, exotically photo-worthy fruit, rolled bean curd sheet, every imaginable type of rice noodle, Japanese hard candies, and an incredible selection of tiny bottles of sake...

When fresh lychee is in season, I will do anything to get to this place. ANYTHING.

I know I'm not alone in loving May Wah, or in dreading the creepy aisles of ooo-smell-me-I'm-dead things in the 'recently live but not now' part of the store. The Yelp reviews on this point are a riot ( (This review, from Kristin T, is my favorite.) But I've been visiting in colder weather now, or I've learned to breathe less, or something, and it doesn't get to me the way it used to. Also, I run through that part of the store first, and then travel to the other half, which seems to have a separate ventilation system.

There are many things in this store which are anathema to localvores, having been shipped far and wide. While I am generally a localvore, I'm also a sucker for Thai rahmen and Kobe's regional sake varieties. There is plenty of fresh local stuff in my basket, but I do top it off with a few items that have traveled too far in moments of weakness.

This week's haul:
-choy sum hearts. These will turn up in all of my noodle soups, miso soups, and chili-garlic stir fries this week. The bag is alarmingly large, but I'm sure I'll make it through.
-fresh bean sprouts. For soups.
-shiitake mushrooms. So flavorful! So pretty!
-fresh Shanghai kimchee (made in Fremont). This particular version contains no fish products that I can discern. It contains napa cabbage, daikon radish (which I think breaks some kind of kimchee rule, but it is tasty), green onion, ginger, garlic, salt, sugar, and chili pepper. I'm munching on this right now. I used to pickle my own cabbage: I think I should try making this for myself. Even if it makes my fridge smell funny.
-May Lin China Vietnam-style hot chili garlic sauce. This is a local brand.
-chili oil. My local brand was sold out, so this was made in China.
-frozen steam(ed) buns containing celery, mushrooms with spinach, or mixed veggies. I [heart] vegan steam(ed) buns!
-three types of soba: cha (containing green tea), ume (containing plum), and inaka (whole buckwheat)
-Thai rahmen, the kind that comes with THREE flavor packets: one for sesame oil, one for soup base (with MSG), and one just for chili powder. The noodles are fried: this cures all kinds of fried cravings in its glorious 100 calories of fat.
-Chinese non-fried rahmen, flavored exotically with star anise, cinnamon, and four types of dried veggies.
-Yellow Thai chili paste. Mae Ploy makes red, green, yellow, masamun, and panang chili pastes, but yellow is the only variety without shrimp in it. (Generally, May Wah carries products containing shrimp in damn near everything that doesn't contain squid: READ LABELS carefully.) This paste contains: lemon grass, garlic, shallots, salt, galangal (which is available fresh in the other half of the store, near the fresh lemon grass and fresh turmeric), dried red chili, coriander seed, kaffir lime peel, cumin, cinnamon, mace, turmeric, and cardamom.

I also bought one of the Brianna's dressings (French) that no one else seems to carry anymore. I saved my fruit shopping for closer to home, since I had a long way to haul these goods back to the Ingleside, and didn't want to push my luck.

I'm a happy camper.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:17 PM

Sunday, May 13, 2007

  The corn has ears, the potatoes have eyes, and the greens have names. One of the many pleasures of the farmer's markets and many of our local green grocers is the array of exotic greens available. Many I eat routinely - like gai lon, a sort of broccoli rabe - but many of them have a wide range of names, and so my friends who also use them have a hard time differentiating one kind of green from another unless it's in front of them. Even really fabulous resource sites, like the Asian Ingredient Guide by doesn't necessarily cover every sort of green that is commonly available here. (Though everything they do cover is photographed beautifully, don't you think?)

Luckily, the SF Public Libraries are coming through for me again. I've checked out an illustrated book on Asian veggies, and now know the names of some of my less commonly named favorites. They are:

-choy sum (flowering cabbage). This looks a lot like baby bok choy, with white stems and deep green leaves, but the leaves are a bit more scalloped around the edges, and they are usually sold with obvious yellow flowers.

-gau choy or gau choy sum (flat-leaved flowering chives, which often have a little flower bud at the top of their long, flat leaves). I've used these in soups and salads.

-yau choy (oil seed rape/rapeseed/rabe, aka the plant that makes seeds from which canola oil is made). This is pale green, has long stems, oval leaves, and yellow flowers. I don't like this quite as much as gai lon, but it is tasty. I've mistaken this for young gai lon in the past, despite the more yellow color.

-juk gai choy (mustard cabbage). Here this is often available as "Chinese mustard," but it isn't quite as good stewed as regular mustard for saag.

-tsee geung (stem ginger). Well, I knew this was young ginger each time I've bought it: I just didn't know it had its own name.

-dau mui (pea shoots). I never see these in the farmer's market, but can find them at local stores (just not in my neighborhood). These are extremely tasty, and I love them just rinsed, and briefly wilted in a wok with garlic and a little oil. They are sometimes used to stuff little dumplings, and then are great with a little chili sauce. (This means they're also great with rice noodles, if you think of them as disassembled dumplings.) They must be used right after you buy them, or they lose their tenderness and become a bit stringy.

-bak dau gok (mile long beans). I've cooked these several times, usually with garlic or a black bean sauce. This book notes that they aren't related to our green beans, and I suppose you can tell that from the taste and texture. They take a little longer to cook than regular green beans, and have a more fibrous texture.

The book is also quick to mention that the aversion to raw produce in China is partly based on health concerns, since human waste is routinely used for fertilizer: if you can't find recipes for using veggies like these raw, there is a reason!

I'm amused that I've been buying so many nameless veggies based on good guesses on how they are prepared. In my experience, most greens taste great over rice when thoroughly washed and stir-fried briefly in a small amount of oil with one or more of the following:

-garlic, minced
-fresh ginger root, minced or grated
-scallions, thinly sliced
-soy sauce
-chili sauce (I prefer Vietnam-style garlic chili sauce)
-black bean sauce (a fermented soybean sauce, available in many variations)
-rice vinegar, a splash (especially with slightly bitter greens)
-roasted sesame oil, a very small amount.

Tofu goes well with just about all greens. Mustard and collards have rather powerful flavors, so be careful if you're uncertain what you're after.

It's a shame this book is meat-centered, because I'd be interested in new recipes for some of the featured veggies that I've never tried, like bitter melon, water spinach (not actually a spinach), or bottle gourd.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:58 AM

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