I love food. I love shopping for it, preparing it, playing with new ingredients, and travelling to far-flung places across the country and globe to try the ‘best’ of this and the ‘tastiest’ of that.
This year, given I wasn’t travelling any further than the local shops, my palate needed ‘tickling’ to make up for cancelled overseas trips. I now travel through the local mini-marts, Asian grocers, and suburban IGAs to explore their secrets.
Tucked in a corner of the Dickson shops near the butcher and the health food shop is the Saigon Grocer, the home to some of Canberra’s best Vietnamese treats and a variety of fresh groceries.
“Our shop specialises in Asian groceries, but not like the others who stay in one particular region. We try to stay in the middle and have a fusion Asian shop so you can find every little thing,” said Kent Tran, manager of Saigon Grocer.
Here you’ll find fresh bunches of morning glory ready for a hot wok’s kiss with garlic and ginger; handfuls of perilla leaves (or shiso) to roll into homemade rice paper rolls; a selection of tropical fruits including green mangoes and papayas, as well as the ripe versions to be used in the classic Viet/Thai/Singaporean sticky rice dish.
“We have a little station just for Japanese things, Korean things, kind of everything from Asia.
“We also responded to customers asking for more vegan products,” said Kent, noting that “the vegetarian restaurants nearby are popular, so we decided to try selling vegan products.”
The huge vegan selection, along with ready-made sweets, cakes, drinks fresh from Cabramatta markets, and locally made mung bean sesame balls make this place well worth a regular visit.
Heading out to Belconnen Fresh Food Markets, I find Deli Cravings. Now, this isn’t really a supermarket, but I can’t go past this shop whenever I’m at the Belco Markets (or Bunnings.) The cheese fridge is spectacular, but what I come here for is everything else.
Pickled herrings and pumpernickel bread, trout roe paste and blinis, ajvar (a spicy capsicum and vegetable relish, delicious on toast or plopped in a sandwich with a fat wedge of cheddar), freshly sliced deli meats and salami, whole pickled cabbages and the melange of jars, cans and packets lining the walls and walkways through this gourmet’s delight. Go for the cheese, leave with Mexican cola, Latvian riga sprats and Spanish pickled anchovies.
Civic has a vast array of supermarkets, including the East Row IGA with its vast bins of fresh veg in the bus interchange; Tiantian Supermarket and The Corner Market both catering to ANU students, the All-In-One Super Market, not to mention, of course, Coles and Aldi.
But, if you’re after Gochujang, fish cake, frozen rice cakes and a dozen kinds of kimchi – all the perfect ingredients for your own home attempt at the Korean classic one-pot Tteokbokki – head to EMart in No Name Lane. They stock the largest daikon radishes and wombok cabbages for your own homemade kimchi (deceptively simple) and even pre-peeled garlic for when you’re feeling lazy.
The chips selection here is epic (personal favourite is the fried egg on toast flavour!). They also have a colossal variety of condiments and sauces – from soy sauce to rendang paste, red chilli flakes to togarashi, plus an array of vinegars, oils and dried spices. The selection of frozen momos, mandu, jiaozi and bao buns to cook at home is impressive, and if you are looking for a new frying pan or special pot to make Budae Jjigae (Korean Army Stew), this is the place you will find it.
No matter what you’re cooking, frequently the freshest and finest ingredients are in your locally owned neighbourhood shops. Take a basket, consider downloading a translate app and wander through your local mini-supermarket. You’ll find inspiration, salivation and hopefully, it might lead to your own homemade degustation.