The Outsiders

Two of the errands we accomplished yesterday included trips to the International Market (seriously, that’s its name) and Asia 88 (an Asian, primarily Thai, market) in two different parts of town. Denver has a more diverse population than one might think, and if you head out Leetsdale toward Aurora you’ll see a big mosque on one side of the street and find International Market in a strip mall on the other side. Asian 88 is one of many Asian markets mixed in amongst the pho places, Mexican grocery stores, and taquerias on Federal, on the west side of town.

We went to International Market to stock up on spices (Hulk likes to grind his own spices for making Indian food, chili, etc.), and they have the best prices on bulk spices anywhere. They’ve got just about anything one could want – though I didn’t see any saffron; maybe they’ve got it locked up in the back or something, since it costs more than diamonds and high-quality coke combined. Anyhow, International Market is run by some Muslim guys, though I don’t know what country they’re from. The store isn’t just spices – they stock a wide variety of dried bulk foods (rice, lentils, etc.), flours, canned goods, and packaged foods from African (bags and bags of yam flour to make foofoo, for instance), Asian (a whole aisle of Chinese tea), and Middle Eastern cultures (olive oils, nut oils, sesame oils – you name it). In addition to the spices, we bought some teff to make injera, the spongy sour flat bread one eats with Eritrean and Ethiopian food. We also bought some Tasty Bite – like boxed Indian meals with space-age packaging, some filo dough, and a package of homemade baklava. When ringing up our purchases, the clerk asked to make sure we knew what the teff was for – since we were the only people of European descent in the store at the time, and I think he wanted to make sure we knew what we were buying. “It doesn’t match the rest,” he said. “You can’t get teff at King Soopers,” I smiled in return.

Asia 88 was cold and smelled like China, much more so than anyplace else we’ve been since we got back nearly a year ago. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese foodstuffs share ailes with candles, icons, cleaning products, and dishes, and there are only a few fresh vegetables – baby bok choi, bamboo shoots, lemongrass. There’s a whole case with frozen things that have names like “Vegetarian fish balls.” There was an entire aisle of snacks and treats, and I looked in vain for the delicious pignuts (peanuts) we brought back from China. I was tempted to get some mochi and was REALLY tempted by some bottled green tea that was the same kind I really liked in China – but wasn’t willing to pay $1.50 for a small bottle that a year ago cost me 15 cents. But at least I know where I can get it. We bought some spring roll wrappers, some glass noodles, pocky, and fish broth, and by that time I was too hungry to shop anymore so we left.

The customers in those markets very rarely have the same skin tone and features that Hulk and I have. I almost felt like an intruder; we white people have our own crappy supermarkets with our own white people food and maybe part of an aisle dedicated to “ethnic” food with the La Choy canned chow mein next to the jars of La Victoria salsa. But there’s something so delicious about buying the products that really work best for Thai or Indian or Ethiopian recipes and we can’t get those at the Safeway down the street. So we feel like outsiders and we go and buy the good stuff and laugh the next time we’re in our white people market and see the outrageous markups on spices ground and labeled nicely in their little glass jars.

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3 responses to “The Outsiders

  1. I see just as many white and American Black people in our “Asian Market” (etc) joints here … there’s no shame in shopping for the good stuff! I do love the awesomely generic market names. Oriental Grocery being my favorite.Sounds like your veg situation is similar to ours. It does seem like our asian markets are not reliable sources of good, cheap fresh veg. And it’s all stuff I can get at the non-specialty markets, anyway, though one of our ValuMarkets has specifically stocked items that are in high demand in its surrounding immigrant community, which means a fun mix of Latin, Bosnian, Vietamese, Chinese, and Middle Eastern ingredients.Mmm. Pocky. I am in awe of your injera-making skillz. I am not sure I’d ever attempt it.

  2. We haven’t made it yet, but will attempt to do so soon.It wasn’t a matter of shame, just maybe feeling like it feels to be Not White and shop in the local Safeway or something. A little out of one’s element, perhaps. But mmm, that baklava.

  3. I drove down to the Ethiopian neighbourhood so I could buy the shiro powder and the hot powdered spice mix (am not inspired enough to grind it myself). Teff is too much for me though, I’m still working on properly learning how to ferment dosa batter though my parents have been here a couple of times and claim that the air just doesn’t seem to be good for fermentation for idli/dosa in L.A.. We’ve started cheating by adding yoghurt to it. Saffron is locked up 9 times out of 10, or behind the counter, because it’s the one thing most likely to be stolen. The only saffron they’ll leave near the cash register is the tiny tiny little round tins for about $5 or something. eek: if you google “shiro recipe” some chick on a food blog made up a recipe for faux injera.

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