Today, we went to Manhattan Chinatown for a massage, grocery shopping, and a quick early dinner before our show. Chris always makes fun of me because of how excited I get before our Chinatown treks. He knows that I love grocery shopping in Chinatown, and because he is who he is, he loves to poke fun at me endlessly about it.
What can I say? Lots of reasons exist to get excited about shopping in Chinatown for food: it’s the only place in Manhattan where I can reliably get a good selection of all the Asian vegetables I want (hello, morning glory/kong xin cai, gai lan, amaranth, among a dozen others, while Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s only recognize bok choy; where I can find the freshest in-season “exotic fruit” for a reasonable price (six mangoes for $5 in May? $3/pound for longans in July? $2/pound for rambutans in August? Sign me up!); where I can get freshly pressed and made rice noodles and tofu if I wanted (honestly, I rarely buy these… which I am a bit embarrassed to admit). In addition, once I finish buying all my fresh food, I can move onto things that I can stock up on and store, whether it’s fresh egg or wheat noodles for the next day’s dinner (or our freezer), 100% sesame seed paste, or the best brand of soy sauce available in the U.S. for a reasonable price ($1.95! for nearly 16 oz.!). And after all that, we can get a cheap, tasty, and filling meal at a local restaurant before heading home to fill our fridge and freezer. That’s a pretty productive trip!
While I love shopping in Chinatown here, it also makes me reminisce about all the delicious fresh food in markets we’ve visited in Asia, as well as the meals we ate that were always screaming with freshness. In Vietnam, every noodle dish we had was unmistakably made with freshly made rice noodles… never, ever from dried rice noodles that were reconstituted with water. You could just tell from the bite and the chew of the noodle between your teeth. Fresh herbs and raw vegetables were always neatly assembled and laid out with almost every meal, no fail. They looked as though they’d been just washed and picked. In China, all the dry noodle dishes we ate were prepared with just assembled and tossed sauces. And in Thailand, all the curries and dressings used for our salads were made in a mortar and pestle as soon as we finished ordering. Asia was the Land of the Fresh to me. If freshness is key in food to you, Asia is where it’s at.