Going to the mainstream American supermarkets is a pretty removed experience. Outside of a butcher counter (if there’s actually a butcher behind the counter), everything is already sliced up and in identical portions behind glass, so you don’t really get a sense of the actual food. Heck, the chicken packed in plastic wrap and styrofoam is pretty far removed from an actual chicken on a farm (or in many cases in a supermarket, the assembly line). That said for someone who hasn’t lived in an area with a lot of Asian markets, it’s a pretty shocking experience when you go into one for the first time.
For the first-timers and experienced foodies alike, Grand Asia Market on the Cary/Raleigh (1253 Buck Jones Road, 27606) is an eye-opening experience. I went grocery shopping today at a Kroger and I honestly can’t tell you if you could smell anything, not even in the produce aisle! We’ve become a little desensitized to our food, so it’s literally a breath of fresh air (well, maybe not if you don’t like the smell of fish) to go shopping in a place where you can tell that there’s produce and fresh fish. Meanwhile, cakes and delicious glazed meats are being made on the left of you when you enter. Watch out though, there’s always a crush of people there, especially if you come on a Saturday, so don’t stand still for too long. While your nose is getting acclimated to the smell of actual food, there’s already a bunch of people ready to run you over.
There’s a ton of produce to choose from; everything from bok choy, jackfruit, sprouts, and daikon. To my shock, they sell fresh Durian there, the infamous stinky fruit, often described as having the scent of rotting flesh, but loved by many foodies, including the adorable Anthony Bourdain. They’re huge, at least the size of a human head and covered with a spiky rind. If I had more guts (and didn’t live in an apartment where people could complain), I would have bought one and cracked it open at home. Because of this, I can’t say if it’s the real, stinking version or the more subtly scented one that has been bred for other countries. If anyone out there has bought one from Grand Asia, let me know!
The amount of fish and seafood is staggering, especially since a lot of it is still swimming or moving around. There’s always tilapia on sale, with live crabs and lobster available. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch some whole squid, creepy one eye and all.
Outside of the fresh stuff, Grand Asia has so much to offer as far as what you need to cook a good Asian meal. There’s spices and ingredients for Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, and even Indian food. The spice aisle is a thing to behold, so much selection and at an awesome price. I didn’t even know how many varieties of rice vinegar there was until I started shopping there. The meat aisle has great selection of pork and chicken, with different types of tripe, liver, tongue, and various body parts that the squeamish may avoid but make for a great meal. I’m gearing up to cook some liver, so this will be where I pick it up.
The aisle that Tony and I haunted when we first moved to Raleigh and were at our most financially precarious was the ramen aisle. The king of all ramen in my mind is the beloved Shin Bowl. Spicy, flavorful, and rich, with bits of dried veggies and mushrooms, this ain’t your mama’s Maruchan ramen. Plus, a filling meal under two bucks can’t be beat. Send this to anyone you know living in a dorm and watch them be the envy of the hall.
The Joy Luck Club diner is inside, where dishes that are familar to anyone who eat at Chinese-American restaurants, but I urge you to look past the General Tso’s (ugh, the Big Mac of the Chinese restaurant) and go for the noodle and duck dishes. The duck is amazing, I bought a roasted half of a duck last night and was in for a treat. They slice and prepare the duck for you, so you don’t have to recreate the end of “A Christmas Story” at home if you’re wondering. The skin is salty and crispy, the wonderfully fragrant fat and oil coat everything, and the meat is smoky and sweet. If my stomach could expand more, I would have ordered the whole duck. Major props to Twitterfriend @Mary_Eats (trianglegoodeats.com) for the duck suggestion. You made Tony’s and my night with that, plus I always could use an excuse not to cook in 100 degree weather 🙂
If you’re looking for something different to cook, want a good place to pick up fresh seafood, or even just want to experience the many different flavors of Pocky out there, Grand Asia Market offers something for everyone and every different level of experience of Asian Food. You’re guaranteed to find something new each time and who doesn’t like that?