Monday, March 18, 2013

In Praise of the Asian Market

Today, I realized a minor dream I've had to make bubble tea, homemade.  Luckily, I had an unsuspecting group of young, eager snack-takers this afternoon at our Creative Writing "Club" at school.

I should have taken photos of what turned out to be an overly complicated and messy set-up (typical me!), but I'll have to get the finished product photographed next time.  Suffice it to say there were many Mason jars and an empty sour cream container of various teas, homemade blueberry syrup, homemade pineapple syrup, syrup-preserved tapioca balls, a drippy can of condensed milk, and a slowly melting bag of ice.  Luckily, I did manage to include the huge customary straws and clear cups so we could see the pretty tapioca pearls at the bottom.  My students loved it despite mixed reviews on the flavor and texture of tapioca pearls. I felt like a genius, even though I suppose the Asians invented bubble tea.  My choice was pineapple syrup in the Tazo mint tea.  Genius.

Anyway, running to the store for the tapioca and giant straws ($6.99!!!) reminded me that I have been wanting to honor our little Asian market 'round the corner.

Apparently, it has not always been our little Asian market 'round the corner.  According to my friend Deva, who has been Chinese American her whole life, and from Tucson or Marana during much of her life, G&L Imports used to be one of the largest, most respected Asian markets in town.  I read somewhere else that it is one of the oldest. Now, times are a bit slower I suppose.  It shares an aging strip-mall with Desert Pet (another store I really like) and a martial arts studio.  The Hong Kong Dim Sum advertised outside is nowhere to be seen, but if you need your nails done there must be at least 20 different Asian nail studios advertised with simple white fliers stapled up outside the front doors.

Inside, G&L is an adventure.  I don't consider myself extremely adventurous culinarily, but if I was there would be plenty to work with here.  The Asian servingware, cooking utensils and kitsch is fun to shop, also.  You never know what will be in-stock or out-of-stock.  Finally, after months of peeking in, I scored myself some Asian soup spoons.

Although it smells a bit funky and the refrigerators never really feel quite cold enough, the discriminating shopper can find some good produce deals:  Shallots for $.99/lb (if you can handle a few moldy ones in the mix), pre-peeled garlic for a good price, fresh scallions, cilantro, limes, lemongrass, ginger, etc. at good prices and with good quality.  I always pause to peruse the various types of greens available, with at least three varieties of bok-choy and many other choys which I'd like to try someday (I was told by the proprietor that "choy" means "vegetable")  They also have great prices on various chiles and those little baby eggplants and that kind of thing.  Occasionally the produce is not the best quality, but most of the popular items are very fresh.

And then, of course, there is an entire aisle of rice, and an entire aisle (and then some) of noodle products.  I certainly would not know what to do with 90% of what they sell, but I have been happy with everything I have ventured to buy there.  The baby bok choy has become a staple of my pho and other dishes, and I enjoy my little adventures into new flavors at G&L.

G&L Imports   4828 E. 22nd Street, Tucson, Arizona

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