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Field Trip to Chinatown

September 8, 2010

Like that similar surge of work and activity back-to-school brings, the last few weeks at work  have been hectic. My blogging has fallen a bit behind and I have had much to write about! Dinners here , and here , and lunch here, shopping here for supper club and making a Chinese feast, as well as making a few other things in my now cooled kitchen. Since Kate is off on another food adventure, the home cooking and eating is down to me. I will make up for lost time to be sure. Soon.

Lets start with my supper club shopping experience, it’s a bit more exciting. This rotation we are venturing out into the world and looking for global cuisine to incorporate into our already growing repertoire of recipes. The theme is vague (ahem, Ashley and Steph) and allows the cook to kind of do…whatever. After my delightful meal at Myers and Chang (a post is coming), I have been craving those savory-salty-earthy umami flavors. While I have experimented with fish sauce, I have just barely dipped a toe into the pool of Asian cuisine; so many flavors and countries to explore! With a bustling Chinatown not too far away, I felt it should be easy to find inspiration and groceries to make a Chinese meal.

Last Monday after work, Margaux kindly volunteered her companionship to go on a little field trip with me to the C Mart Supermarket in Chinatown on Washington street; it was an easy commute from the Seaport District by T to Downtown Crossing. Using her handy dandy iPhone, we blue dotted our way to Chinatown. After wandering down Washington street for a few minutes we double checked the street number, only to find ourselves standing right in front of it. The store front is slightly inconspicuous, but one would only think so in comparison to other shops in Chinatown. The door and sign are low, just overhead, and the windows are a mélange of posters and pictures. Once making our way inside, we were surprised at the size. The entrance is misleading, the store front and entrance make it appear small and the size of a convenience store, while it really stretches pretty far back. We were greeted by small mountains of foreign fruits, roots and vegetables. We must have stood out like a sore thumb as we looked around us bleary eyed and confused; not sure where to go or what to do first. Margaux broke our stunned silence and asked for the shopping list. Ahh, the list! We started with the vegetables; squinting to find the English on the Chinese-printed labels as we were unsure just what everything was. We were able to locate baby bok choy, Chinese chives, bean sprouts, bamboo sprouts, water chestnuts, cilantro, celery and carrots. The selection was large, but everything was very fresh and not picked over, they must restock often because of the high turnover. Success.

With our basket a little heavier and filled with green, we continued on. I needed condiments and sauces galore. We found the brown-bottle lined isle easily, but again, we were not quite sure where to start or which to grab first. I needed the obvious soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha, but also needed to find Chinese black vinegar and Shaoxing cooking wine. While all basic Chinese ingrediants, its easy to find yourself a little lost when faced with a million bottles; varying in size and contents but all looking slightly the same covered in red labels inscribed with beautiful Chinese characters that look more like art than words. We aren’t in the “Asian cuisine” isle at Shaw’s, anymore, are we. Margaux and I diligently crouched to inspect the bottles on the bottom row and tip toed to peer up at those out of reach, and somehow we were able to load each and every neededcondiment into the basket.

We next found ourselves in the noodle isle; every shape, thickness, length, color and texture looked back at as through their shiny plastic wrapping. Luckily this time, we didn’t need to try our hand at translating Chinese or need to inspect every inch of the label to find the English word as I knew what udon noodles looked like: gummy, white, worms (sorry, they are delicious, but that is exactly what they look like). With a quick trip to the butcher counter and the fish counter (I made Margaux ask for the 1/2 pound of shrimp as I was a bit frightened of the turtles and prehistoric fish swimming in tanks below the long counter of fresh sea food) we were finished. I was able to find everything on my list, and while it may have taken a little longer, the inspection and deciphering needed added a bit of fun. Despite the heavy basket, filled with what would have usually been pricy produce and an even pricier array of bottled sauces/condiments, my total was less than half of what I would spend elsewhere. Again, success.

We took the orange line from the Chinatown stop to Back Bay station and made our way home with our laden pink plastic bags of C Marts best, both thinking we may have to return, regardless of what sort of cuisine we cook up next.

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