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Emily L Goes Shopping

February 27, 2019

Where do you shop for food? One of the things I found about life in the Capital Region is that people are rarely neutral when it comes to grocery shopping. My hunch has always been that part of the enthusiasm for new options to buy food in the Capital Region is the duopoly that Price Chopper and Hannaford enjoyed for so long.

All of a sudden, it makes sense to see the throngs of people coming out to the opening of a new supermarket, when you stop to realize that the area was lacking any meaningful competition or innovation for years and years.

One of the bright spots of the Capital Region grocery scene has always been the international markets. These days we’re getting away from the term “ethnic” because truly in this part of the world can you really call an Italian market an ethnic grocery? I’m not convinced. Nor am I convinced that we need to bring our ethnocentrism into our views on food.

That aside, every time I pop into the Asian markets, I’m surprised and delighted by the diversity of their clientele. Yet, I also know that there are always people who resist the new, and are uncomfortable when they don’t know what to expect. Which is one of the reasons why I love the latest guest post that Emily L has written for the FLB.

A Guide to the Asian Supermarket
By Emily L

I often hear folks lament about the fact that the Capital Region doesn’t have a Wegmans or that it only has one Trader Joe’s and one Whole Foods. I challenge them to look beyond the chains. The Capital Region has an amazing amount of small local and international grocery stores with products and produce you wouldn’t be able to find at a larger chain. One of my favorite places to go to is the Asian Supermarket on Central Ave. However, if you haven’t been there before, it can seem intimidating. I want to share a few tips on your first visit there.

  • Park in the back. There is limited parking in the front and large vans often plow in and out of spots. Just go straight to the back where there is ample parking.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes. This grocery store is tightly pack with food speciality items from India to Japan. Because of the tight quarters, things often break or spill over.
  • Wear layers. Because of the large freezers and fish brought in daily, the store is freezing cold. Make sure to bundle up before heading in.
  • Get the duck. When you first walk in on the right, there is a small cafeteria and bakery. The buns are good, but do not miss the roasted duck. Buy it whole for $17 or just buy some of the roasted meat. It’s one of the best bargains in Albany.
  • Load up on produce. Asian Supermarket has amazing prices on produce. They carry everything from avocados to speciality mushrooms. I buy bok choy by the pound here; I haven’t found a single chain grocery store in the area that carries it.

  • Buy the Kim Chee. At $3 a pound, this stuff will soon become a stable in your house.
    Load up on spices, but watch the sauces. Spices are a bargain here, but I found basic sauces like soy sauce and Thai chili paste is actually more expensive than at Trader Joes.
  • Hit up the freezer section and load up on frozen steam buns. Their selection of buns is amazing, from red bean paste to pork, they have it all; most are under $4 for a dozen. Last week, I even picked up hedgehog shaped red bean paste buns.
  • If you are looking for speciality Kit Kats, this is your place. Because they are imported, they are quite expensive at $4.50 a bag, but if you have ever wanted to try green tea or red bean Kit Kats, try them here.
  • Talk with the other customers. Last time I was in, I chatted with a woman from Hunan who told me how to cook some pork I was looking at. If you are stuck or just want to learn more about the food items you are looking at, just ask someone around you. I found that fellow customers are excited to share their cooking tricks with you.
  • Try something new every time you are here. I challenge myself to try a new pre-package dish every time I am in; for $3 or $4, it’s not a big financial investment, but it gets me out of my normal routines. I have had some real misses, but also discovered some things (like “hairy pork”) I never would have tried otherwise.

Capital Region, give me your tips and recommendations for grocery stores off the beaten path. What is not to miss?

Now, more than anything, I want to know Emily’s secret for cooking Hunan pork. And I’ve got a hankering for a whole duck. Maybe we can pick one up instead of a roast chicken for a Friday night dinner.

One thing I disagree about is the sauce aisle at the Asian Supermarket. There are some gems there that you can’t find at Trader Joe’s. For example Spicy Chili Crisp. The sheer variety of oyster sauces is remarkable. The number of Chinese cooking wines is staggering. They have my favorite gochujang. And there are even traditional soy sauces on the shelf that are made in New York!

I’d love to see what Emily comes up with at other small markets around the Capital Region that focus on different international cuisines. Parivar is a favorite. Rolf’s is tiny, but filled with German delicacies. Euro Deli is a new love of mine. Nora’s in Latham is a classic for middle eastern foods. There are Mexican markets for all your dried chili needs. Central Avenue is full of African Markets. If you want to cook Guyanese, there are markets in Schenectady.

Where do you think she should go first?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ryan H permalink
    February 27, 2019 1:06 pm

    Nora’s! I always forget about that place, but it is a favorite. Especially for the warm reception and freshly prepared food. While they’re making it for you, they’ll sometimes give you something else to sample. Get the hummus, get the kufte, get it all. My friend’s wedding reception included a few boxes of stuffed grape leaves from there.

  2. Caitlin W permalink
    February 27, 2019 1:39 pm

    Tay Market across the street from Fairy Sichuan/Fujiya Ramen often sells giant bags of slightly wilted/bruised produce for 50 cents or so, and they’ll sometimes have really fun stuff like persimmons or mangosteens that are almost impossible to get around here.

    Also, it’s not an “International market” per se, but Lark Natural Foods always rescues me when I need something like tamarind paste but want to spend my money at a local business downtown, and the husband-and-wife owners are super kind and lovely to chat with (the tamarind paste led into a nice convo about what we both cook with it!).

  3. ellen permalink
    February 27, 2019 2:33 pm

    Nora’s has the very best hummus and pita! I’ve bought everything from sauerkraut,smoked ham hocks,Canadian bacon and ham to boneless beef short ribs at Rolf’s. All made in house. They will also vacuum seal each item for freezing or transporting:)

  4. albanylandlord permalink
    March 2, 2019 3:12 am

    I’m totally getting the whole duck next time. Thanks Emily!

  5. March 3, 2019 3:12 pm

    If you’re using the Ottolenghi cookbooks, Nora’s has most of the spices, pomegranate vinegar etc you’ll need.

    Re Asian Market, I often struggle to find what I want because the “sauces” seem to be on one aisle categorized by type and brand, but the next aisle over is by region–Korean, Thai etc. I need a skeleton key to find out which aisle and in which position Item x is likely to appear. Emily, can you help? (that was a question.)

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