Tawa Supermarket Inc. was established in 1984 by Mr. Roger H. Chen. As the Asian immigrant community grew in Los Angeles, so did the appetite for quality Asian food products. Sensing the demand, Mr. Chen opened the first Tawa Supermarket store in Westminster, California (Little Saigon). For more than 20 years, Tawa has satisfied the needs of Asian immigrants by providing them with their hometown flavors. Today, Tawa [also known as 99 Ranch Market] has grown from an individual supermarket into a grand diversified organization. We now serve customers from all over the world.
– excerpted from 99 Ranch Market’s About Us page
99 Ranch Market is known, simply, as 99 Ranch to those of us (mostly AsianZ) who make the market on our usual rotation between Vons, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. I took a friend of mine here recently, and, having never had the great pleasure of setting foot in a 99 Ranch, she was totally blown away by the differences between 99 Ranch and, say, Ralph’s. And so, I bring to you an abbreviated version of what she experienced: 99 things at 99 Ranch. Today, items 1-9. Ten through ninety-nine will come at you over the course of an 11-post series. Allez cuisine!
A 99 Ranch trip does not properly begin without dodging newspaper pages swirling around the parking lot like tumbleweeds. The newspapers usually are in a variety of languages – English, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mandarin, Korean – which reflect the ethnic make-up of the shoppers. I never have been able to figure why there are so many newspapers, why there are so many in the parking lot, or where they go to die. Certainly not the recycling bin.
2) and 3) “Exotic” fruits and veggies
Number two on the top is jackfruit; number 3 on the bottom is opo. As one can imagine, there are certain items, particularly fruits and vegetables, that most American grocery stores do not carry. These two are perfect examples: we Vietnamese make jackfruit salad, often with shrimp and pork (Cathy Danh over at Gastronomy Blog has a great pic of a traditional jackfruit salad in Vietnam). Opo is sort of like an Asian squash, and is often used in our soups.
4) Strict return policies
In the course of 28 years, I have returned a few things to Safeway, Ralph’s, Vons, and Whole Foods. The vast majority of these returned items are fruits and veggies that were deceptively ripe on the outside, grossly rotting in the inside.
I have never, ever returned anything to 99 Ranch.
5) … but you can buy pork feet that has been cut.
You may call them trotters, but we don’t do euphemisms. It is what it is. Pork feet. Cutted.
6) A trip to the aquarium.
There’s a joke about someone’s uncle taking his nephew to the aquarium, and ending up in the seafood department at 99 Ranch. It’s not quite Monterey Bay, but you do get to see all sorts of exotic, tasty sea life.
7) Free steamings
99 Ranch is a one stop shop: after buying crab or lobster, you can have the butcher steam it for you for free. This is real customer service. The downside is that you don’t get to go home and poke the crab or lobster with a chopstick. (I understand that this is incredibly mean, but old childhood habits die hard.). (The importance of putting the lobster headfirst into boiling water and other tips on cooking the shellfish from the master herself, Julia Child, here.).
99 Ranch dedicates an entire aisle to rice the way American markets dedicate an entire aisle to toilet paper. Like the staggering amount of varieties between toilet papers, you really are confronted with a tough decision in the rice aisle: Calrose, Texas long grain, new crop, last week’s crop, 5 pound bag, 20 pound bag? Oh, America, land of the too-many choices.
9) Descriptive desserts
It was right.
Next up: Things 10-18. Preview: down the hall and to your left at this supermarket aquarium is a very hands-on exhibit, full of all sorts of lively sea monsters to poke, prod, and play.