Oh, how time flies and one forgets. I don’t think I’ve done one of these grocery shopping glimpses since I moved to WordPress in 2009, which means I’m long, long past due. I remain an enthusiastic grocery list maker and home menu planner, typically letting local, seasonal produce and farmers market picks guide my dinners. And inevitably (but gloriously), being much more of a budget shopper these days, I nerd out even more with my cookbook studying and market wandering. More time at my favorite farmers markets means less time at the actual grocery stores where I restock on grains, beans and specialty odds and ends, like New Seasons, Peoples Coop, Food Fight!, maybe Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, and Kruger’s Farm Market (because life calls for bowls of lemons) on SE Hawthorne, to name a few of my haunts.
One place I keep in my rotation no matter what is Fubonn, an Asian supermarket on SE 82nd just south of Division, because inevitably, I find the need for lemongrass, coconut milk, fresh tofu and kaffir lime leaves in my life. Among other things.
The one big reason J. Legume can be convinced to visit Fubonn: Guitar Hero
Two out of those four lovelies are a very rare sighting at farmers markets and perhaps, pricey options found now and then at my normal grocery stops, but Fubonn reliably sends me home with a bag of goodies for $20 or less (you know, unless it’s a special occasion and I’ve decided to cook a Cambodian feast or buy new pho bowls or something). The one thing I’ve pretty much stopped buying at Fubonn is actual produce, with the exception of those fresh herbs, limes, perhaps hot chiles or tiny Indian eggplants and bamboo, when they’re looking good.
It’s happened more often than not that a plastic bag of yu choy or gai lan is indeed, rather wilted and home to bugs that appeared to have past on ages ago. It’s depressing and not very appetizing for more than one reason. I issue the same complaint to Trader Joe’s: who wants, or needs, all that packaging?!
As much as I obsess over Asian cuisines and groceries, something about plastic-wrapped greens that cross a continent or two that doesn’t often meet my Portlandy, farmers market-spoiled standards.
I’m obviously more than happy to stick to picking up my local, seasonal produce from Portland’s abundant farmers markets, where I can pair fresh picked baby bok choy, savoy cabbage, multi-colored carrots, long beans (seriously) and bitter melon (really!) with the building blocks and spices I semi-routinely head to Fubonn for. I used to routinely make stir fries, fried rice and scrambled tofu with all the random, glorious vegetables I didn’t quite know what to do with from the market, and they still occur, but it’s now from-scratch, regional curries that inspire my dinner table (with Chiang Mai-inspired Jungle Curry in progress for this very evening).
The recent Anatomy of a Grocery Trip via Fubonn, which started out with fresh tofu and restocking rice vinegar in mind:
The rough breakdown, since my receipt seems to have wandered off:Fresh Bui tofu (made in Portland) $1.89 Fresh turmeric root $1.49 Holy basil (on sale from $0.89)$0.69 each Fresh lemongrass stalks (on sale)$0.79 cents/lb Can of young coconut juice $0.79 Firm Tacoma tofu $1.29 Bulk ginger Fresh Kaffir lime leaves $1.49 Galangal root $1.59 Rice vinegar $2.29 Canned coconut milk $1.19/can Mi Chay ramen multi-pack $3.79 Thai tea $3.69 (a request from my sister in Brooklyn for her next, eventual care package) Singha ale $2.99
The first place I head to, quickly checking for great looking exotic fruits and fresh greens on my way, is the back of Fubonn’s produce section. I then peruse the bird’s eye chiles, turmeric, fresh ginger, fresh Asian herbs (including shiso, mint, holy basil, cilantro and others I cannot name), the size of the galangal (often called ‘Thai ginger’, it dries out quickly) and nearly always pick up a pack of Kaffir lime leaves whenever they’re available. My next stop is considering to restock sesame oil or soy sauce, coconut milk, dried spices (in both small and GIGANTIC food service bags), tea, noodles and ramen (really, I dig having instant ramen on hand for a cheap meal now and then, blame the salty MSG-led nostalgia) and then to the tofu and if I’m feeling crazy, some vegan ham tube. It’s been forever, but surely, I’m not the only one with an old soft spot for Tube’s ridiculous Professor Nanotear sandwiches.
One thing I’m constantly on the look out for are the fabled fresh green peppercorns: They will be mine.
With the help of Fubonn + the farmers markets, I’ve been steadily making my way through Curry Cuisine, my go to cookbook these past few months. I was trying to think of a summer project last month, and the other day it struck me….It’s the summer of curry.
Night-time lighting is a tricky thing in my little apartment: Cambodian tofu with homemade Kroeung, Cambodian herbal paste
Simmering the makings of Kelia Itik, a rich Indonesian duck curry, which we made with tempeh in the Heartichoke test kitchen…
Which became this:
Cocktail inspiration at Fubonn
Singapore Chow Fun (which is really not from Singapore!) with a previous trip’s Thanh Son fried tofu
Other places I like to pick up fresh tofu in Portland include the aforementioned Thanh Son Tofu on NE 82nd, Bui Natural Tofu off of NE Glisan, People’s Coop, Alberta Co-op, and Ota Tofu, conveniently located right around the corner from the vegan mini mall, who gives its little neighborhood the warm & enveloping aroma of soy. It’s a good thing.
If you know of another place, do tell.
I’ll be sharing my very favorite farmers market and more local sights next time around.