If you have never shopped in an Asian market you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. I no longer crave meat loaf and mashed potatoes, staples of the Midwestern diet! My taste buds have undergone a serious transformation. That was proving somewhat troublesome as the typical grocery stores do not carry fresh pandan or banana leaves, black rice, trasi, ketjap manis…you get my drift.
There are substitutes for some things, but I didn’t want to compromise the flavors that are still so poignant in my memory. When my mouth is watering for Bubur Injin with the subtle influences of pandan leaf and palm sugar, there is no way I want white rice, or brown rice, or wild rice with some other leaf or sweetener! No way! I brought a number of ingredients home with me, but U.S. Customs are picky about agricultural items, green leaves are terribly suspicious. So I needed a local source for quite a number of culinary essentials.
With that goal in mind, I prepared two lists. One had the names of the food items I was searching for, the other had the addresses of all the Asian and Indian markets in the Twin Cities. I decided to begin at the one nearest me. Across the street from the fabulous Quang Vietnamese Restaurant at 27th and Nicollet, is Shuang Hur Asian Grocery. As soon as I passed through the door I knew I had achieved Nirvana. There were aisles upon aisles of wonders the likes of which I had never seen before. My leaves were there, and the black rice and the red rice, and so much more!
After 45 minutes of awestruck wandering, my cart was 3/4 full. About that time a wiry Asian man approached me. “You find everything?” he asked. I pointed to my list and said, “Almost.” He reached out and plucked the paper out of my hand. “What you NOT find?” I had checked things off as I located them so I told him I still needed the items without the check marks. After studying my scribbles for a minute he looked up and said, “I direct you!” With that he grasped the front of my cart pulling it behind him and off we went!
In no time at all he had completed my shopping. I thanked him profusely and told him I just wanted to browse a few more minutes. He agreed that I should do that and disappeared down another aisle. Adding some red bean Mochi and rice noodles to my now heaping basket I headed for checkout. There was a line and I patiently awaited my turn. Suddenly my gallant knight reappeared. Once again he commandeered my cart and whipped it over to a dormant check-out counter. Nevermind the folks in front of me, I had somehow achieved VIP status without knowing it! We chatted away as he personally rang up my groceries. Who was going to cook for me he wanted to know. I would be cooking for myself I explained! Good, good, very good, he seemed pleased. We finished our business and he sent me off with big smiles and an invitation to come back soon.
My daughters will tell you that I have always hated shopping. And cooking has bored me for years. But I can hardly wait to go back to the Shuang Hur market. Grocery shopping has become a treasure hunt and cooking a creative adventure. Not only that, but I have a friendly personal shopper at my disposal there. Community. It happens is the most unexpected ways. A sense of belonging, of shared experience. So vital to happiness.