Saturday, January 17, 2009

Treasure Trove

Today, my friend Nina took me to my new favorite food store in Oslo. We went to A, a new Asian market located in Ethnic Town. I've been living in Oslo long enough to know that grocery stores rarely exceed the size of an average convenience store, your local 7-11. I've been living here long enough to know better than to expect that every ingredient I need can be found. I've been living here long enough to make do with vegetables that are far from where they were grown - and they look like it. Or have I?

I did until we walked into A this afternoon. A - I wonder what it could stand for? Asians? Availability-of-near-impossible-goods? Awsomeness? First off, this place was large. At first glance, it looked like the size of a small 7-11 but then you round a corner and there's a whole other 7-11's space to be explored. This market was stocked with the standards - oyster sauces, more than one brand of soy sauce, fermented tofus, black beans, and fish in various jars, and instant noodles in glittery, cellophane packages. That they had these items was nice but what made it great was the variety in brand names for each item- I no longer had to make do with what I could find. They had rows, rows, of fresh vegetables. Fresh, Asian vegetables. True, all the vegetables were neatly wrapped in cellophane bags or in individually plastic wrapped to foam trays but they were there and fresh if not free for me to go through, but beggars can't be choosy. I found different varieties of eggplants, 2 types of ginger, bok choy, gai-lan, choi-sum, and a whole bunch of other vegetables I can't even name! Here's a picture of one of the cases of fresh vegetables. Look at this! It's dao-mieu, the young vines of a bean plant. These vegetables are tender and so lovely quickly sauteed with a little bit of garlic and salt.
I even found this little cherub! This, for those who don't know, is a durian. As you can see, the durian is a large, spiky fruit that is green and unwieldy. What you cannot see from this picture is its unmistakeable smell. Some might even reach so far as call it a stench. I think it smells like garbage. Not fresh garbage; garbage that's been sitting out in warm weather for a few days garbage. However, I am told that if you can get past the smell the taste is wonderful. Something that is sweet and with the consistency of a custard. Despite the fact that there is a fruit that tastes and feels like a custard, I still haven't been able to gather up the cojones to try it. And here it is in Oslo, sitting like a little orphan left alone in its tiny little cradle/shopping cart asking me if I'll take him home. Someday...someday.

After a quick perusal of their impressive noodle collection (I even found fresh egg noodles), I meandered over to the frozen food section. I found a lot of frozen fish, both whole and and cutlets, clams, muscles, tiger shrimp, crab claws, and meat. In a different case, I found premade dim sum items such as this har gao (shrimp dumplings), shiu mai (pork dumplings), and egg rolls. I also found these ground shrimp wrapped around a sugar cane, a staple Vietnamese appetizer. It was a fun freezer case to peruse.
It was a great little trip through the slush down to Ethnic Town. I didn't buy too much, just a little bit of lentils to make dal, some semolina for polenta, a couple of potatoes for aloo gobi, and some vegetables for a healthy week. It was more gratifying to see what was available to me should the mood strike to make an authentic Chinese meal. It was gratifying to see that I had options.

For dinner tonight, in celebration of finding fresh Asian vegetables, was some bok choy and some boiled taro. Taro is a root vegetable that looks completely unappealing. It's small, and dark brown, kind of like poo pellets but hairy. The inside, depending on its variety, can range from purple to paste grey to a pearly white. Cooked, it has the viscosity that okra has when you cut into it. Sounds not so pretty, right? If you like potatoes and all lovely things that are starchy, you will like taro. Taro also comes in different sizes, again depending on its variety. The ones featured here are the small type. My favorite way is to boil them whole, peal and then salt them. Sometimes to switch it up, I dip it into soy sauce - but only on my wild days. I've also had them in an Indian curry and it was so delicious.

Simple Bok Choy
1 bunch of bok choy, washed, trimmed, and cut into bite sized pieces
1 clove of garlic
1/2 cup broth, usually I use chicken but since I had that boatload of frozen ham stock I used that.
1/2 cup water

Smash the garlic and remove the skin. Bring the broth, water, and garlic to a boil. When the water is at a hard boil, add the bok choy and simmer until they are tender. It won't take very long, depending on the amount of bok choy

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