Grocery shopping runs in my blood. My Grandpa Sam was the master of couponry, and could commonly be found sorting through bags of clipped paper. My brother and I would follow him to three stores in one day as he cashed in those coupons, buying things at a fraction of the price and showing us how to pick out grapes. My parents, a part of the industry at the time, also picked up market-busting skills. For as long as I can remember, my mom has had a large recipe box that she uses to separate out her coupons. There are endless categories, with coupons for specific items clipped together. Every Wednesday, they look at the ads, write a list of what they want from each store, and then pull out any coupons that correspond to those items and anything else we need (or want, because it's a staple that is going at a really great price even though we still have some). I've seen many grocery carts full of meat, dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables and a few snacks drop down to a quarter of the price.
I'd say that I, too, aspire to be a coupon master, but I'd be lying. I don't have the patience to cut out coupons and I read my newspaper online. I do, however, know my way around grocery store price tags (please people, if you don't care what brand it is and nutritional value is comparable, look at price per ounce!), product labels, and believe in ads. I can tell you why two similar products have different prices, and why you probably don't want to purchase farmed salmon (it's dyed red). And when I live alone, I look at the ads when it's time to shop. I generally pick the store that has more of what I want on sale if I don't have tons of time, and refrain from purchasing most personal or household items anywhere but Target or Walgreens.
While I don't surpass my parents in their thriftiness and knowledge of generic supermarkets, I do surpass them in my knowledge of ethnic markets and my willingness to just grab random ultra-cheap veggies and fruit and roll with it. So, today, armed with my cellphone camera and a pad of paper with pen, my dad and I went on an excursion past the Orange Curtain. We went to Orange County in search of three markets: Shun Fat, a Vietnamese market; Ranch 99, a primarily Chinese/Taiwanese market; and Freshia, a Korean market. We bonded over indistinguishable varieties of Choy, dead and live sea creatures, and an aisle of soy sauce. Below are some of the things that intrigued or amused me the most.
Quickly, that photo at the top is of a King Oyster Mushroom. They reminded me of something out of Alice in Wonderland, which clearly served as inspiration for the picture. I apologize for the quality of some of the pictures below, as they were taken with my phone. I've found that people aren't too keen on in-store photography.
Dragon Fruit. I ate large quantities of this fruit while in SE Asia. When they are on their sides, they kind of remind me of funky looking fish. My parents were quite surprised to see that it was white with seeds, and that it has a kiwi texture and milder kiwi-like taste.
Hello Kitty fizzy drinks. In the cap, there is a ball about half an inch in diameter. When you open the drink, you push the ball in, and it fizzes up. I personally think Hello Kitty is a diabolical plot to take over the world, so don't mind me.
Jackfruit! I've only had this in Indian curries. It doesn't really have a taste to me, but has a distinctive texture. It is very soft and fibrous. I'm not sure what else people do with it, but I was surprised to find that it is so large.
Live Blue Crab! Large vats of living crabs kind of creep me out.
Look! It has beady eyes and big eyebrows. Totally creepy.
Veg. Shrimp Meat Fluff. Okay, so I get that this is imitation Shrimp Meat Fluff, but what exactly is fluff? Anyone?
So, this is what MSG looks like. Salt flakes. And Chicken Brand.
This I need assistance on. What is grass jelly? Is it made of grass? What does it taste like?
Oh my god. A full aisle of soy sauce. Some flavored, some not. My dad and I couldn't get over it, and a woman laughed at us citing that it is kind of amazing. We asked her what the differences were, and she told us that they have different levels of salt and sweetness and some ferment longer. My dad & I have no shame--we will ask people how to cook something they are picking up or how to pick something out if it sounds interesting.
So, this kind of baffled me. I know what gluten is, as I bake with yeast. I also own some Vital Wheat Gluten for my whole grain breads. However, this wheat gluten was a weird paste-gel sitting in some sort of liquid. To top it off, Peanuts don't have gluten as far as I know. What is this product?
Snails! Lots and lots of snails. I've never eaten one and am not so sure I'd like to. Anyone willing to give me a flavor/texture rundown?
Thai Eggplant, alternatively Green Apple Eggplant, or 'I reflect overhead lights very well' Eggplant. I saw these and decided I wanted to try them. When I got home, I looked them up, finding that most people eat them raw or lightly cooked and with chili sauce. My plan is to stuff them with something.
I would recommend Shun Fat to anyone in California near one. They are larger than most Ranch 99's I have been in, are reasonably priced, and make great food field trip destinations.