Back in June, I started a series called 99 Things at 99 Ranch in which I aim to collect 99 fantastically interesting things at Asian supermarket superstore 99 Ranch. That first post gave you Things One through Nine; today’s edition gives you – can you guess? – Things Ten through Eighteen, all from my recent trip to the Cerritos branch of the market. There will be cheap produce, the fruit of the dragon, and math. Naturally.
[For entries 1-9, see my earlier post here.]
10. $1.99 for 3 pounds of Clementines
Look at that. While Ralphs, Vons, Albertson’s, and even Trader Joe’s offer three pound bags of sweet, seedless Clementines for upwards of $4.99/bag, these are less than $2. Sure, a few of them are a little too green, a few either too hard or too soft, and I have no idea where these came from. But, bad apples (oranges) aside, you simply can not beat this.
11. Dragon fruit
Do you know why an apple is called an apple? Well, I don’t know either, but I do know why a dragon fruit is called a dragon fruit.
If you think that looks exotic, see what it looks like when it is cut open! Sort of like a kiwi.
Dragon fruit is often an ingredient in Asian-style salads. Food blogger Wandering Chopsticks has a cool pictorial of the life cycle of the dragon fruit here.
12. Black chicken. Not blackened chicken. We’re talking black-no-suffix chicken.
As I pointed out in an earlier photo where pork feet was called pork feet (i.e., not trotters), we don’t euphemize our experience when it comes to eating. Dragon fruit is called dragon fruit because that is exactly what Puff, Norbert, and Smaug would eat before smoking weed, biting Ron Weasley, and battling Bilbo Baggins, respectively. So, while American markets may call these “Silkies” (the New York Times even wrote a story on Silkies here), at 99 Ranch and other Asian markets, it’s more aptly labeled black chicken. Because that is what it is. And we are not afraid of what it is. Chinese cookery uses black chicken as a base for complex soups.
13. Marinated bangus
In the open-air refrigerated section of 99 Ranch, you’ll find all sorts of different dried and marinated fish, including this one – bangus, also known as milkfish. I’ve only had this dish, salted and fried, sometimes salted and smoked, at Filipino restaurants. It’s almost always filleted like above; if you flip it over, you’ll see each of the fish’s eyes staring at the other. Eating this, then, is a strange 2-D experience.
A few months ago, before he was one half of the totally awesome Filipino food truck, The Manila Machine, Burnt Lumpia wrote up a great explanation of the fish, with a recipe to boot.
Coagulate soy milk until you get curds, press the curds into blocks and, voila, tofu. Fresh tofu can be soft and luxurious or firm and strong. 99 Ranch, like all Asian supermarkets, sells an enormous variety of tofu. You kind of have to stumble through each brand until you find the one you like the best (same goes for egg roll wrappers). Asians of all stripes use tofu in everything – we fry it, we flavor it, we soup it. We don’t, take note, ever cook it and call it something else. Like meat. Tofu is not something you need to dress up in a chicken suit. It’s perfectly wonderful swimming in curry or sauteed with asparagus.
15. Dried mushrooms
Dried fungus – in strips or in clumps – are bagged and sold at 99 Ranch, and you can smell these from aisles away. These smelly bags are used in an awful lot of Asian cooking – my mom, for example, always soaked dried mushrooms in water before chopping them up and mixing it with pork and other ingredients for her egg roll filling.
16. Soy sauce
There is more to soy sauce than the one bottle with the red cap. Like balsamic vinegar, soy sauce has gradations and variants, and its origins can greatly affect its taste. Chinese-style, there’s light soy sauce used mostly as a condiment, and there is the deeper, more complex dark soy sauce that is used during cooking. Japanese-style, you have shoyu, which is the type of soy sauce you want for your sushi. And then there are soy sauces with flavors added (i.e., mushroom). So many soy sauces, so little time.
17. Lychee flavored fruit drinks
Lychee is a squishy little fruit that grows on trees; you peel its thin dark red flesh to reveal an opaque little ball of sweetness. I’m a little surprised that American chefs haven’t yet experimented with the fruit; it’s grown predominantly in China and Northern Vietnam, but I’ve seen lychee fruit trees randomly sitting peacefully in San Francisco and Echo Park. Until chefs and cocktail mixologists wise up, you can find lychee-flavored fruit drinks at your neighborhood 99 Ranch.
18. Geometric pastries
Going back to our general theme of calling it like it is, here are Square Cookies and Cubic Pastries. There’s probably some Asians-are-good-at-math -joke here that I don’t want to make, so I’ll just show you the picture instead.
That’s it for this edition. Next time: Things 19-27!