adventures in Asian preserved fruits
- Thi N. Oct 30, 2003 03:09 AM
So I grew up with these Vietnamese things, that I think are actually Chinese things: preserved plums, with some kind of grainy substance they've been rolled in - intensely preserved-sour, strange-sweet, and sort of savory - simulateously unsettling and good.
I've seen these in markets many a time - in the long rows with all sorts of dried, wrinkly fruit things - and have been tempted, but my one or two adventures proved disasterous - inedibly chemically things nothing like the kind my mom used to buy from the one store she trusted.
But, to the now: I was in post Green Village food daze (gluten puffs: the freakiest texture yet. Sort of like doughnut holes from the planet spooge. But crab and pork dumplings: tasty). Wandering around San Gabriel Square (corner of Del Mar and Valley, megamall).
Downstairs, we notice a new store, Aji Ichiban, some sort of dried fruit and sweet store. My friend Mary sprints in, shouting something about crystallized ginger and her needs.
It turns out, on the inside, to look exactly like one of those mall candy stores, like Sweet Factory: rows and rows of neat little bins. But, instead of gummy things, there was every freakin' kind of Chinese and Japanese dried fruit under the sun. Six kinds of preserved ginger candy. One with prune dust. One sweetened. Etc. Ten kinds of preserved plums. Etc. and etc., on and on.
And, best of all: little dishes on each container, with cut-up bits of the dried fruit inside, free for the taking. We wander for a few minutes, sampling. Some intense flavor bursts. Excellent sweet ginger candies, some truly bizarre stuff that was sort of like fermented plums, some riotously fruity stuff, some stanky stuff, some pure and sweet stuff.
And, if anybody as a kid liked those cheap-o Haw Flake things (they were like cocaine to me; I was a hawhead), this place has a high-class tasty version, and hawthorne in its pure, dried, un-processed-into-flake form.
Anyway, their stuff is fine, and, for those who are, like me, unknowledgeable and a little afraid, the chance to try, for free, every sort of dried fruit snack thingy (did I mention ten sorts of preserved plum? At least) in rapid succession is, well... sort of like being turned loose in a, er, candy store? Asian dried fruit store? Whatever.
It's a time.
Aji Ichiban is one of my favourite chain candy store in HK - went to the one in San Gabriel a few months ago and now there's no need to smuggle their stuff in our suitcases on the way back fr HK.
It has a good mix of traditional asian candies (like plum) to more recent invention (I'm sucker of the cola bottle shape cola flavor candy)
My personal favourite is sesame seeds sandwiched between dry squid strip.
Ya, don't even try those in supermarkets. I couldn't think of anything that's good off the shelf.
I just discovered this store a couple of weeks ago too! My mom was like a little kid buying up snacks that she used to eat as a child in HK. It was fun watching her. Her fav is this fried dough candy which sort of tastes like you're eating Orange Chicken from Panda Express w/o any real chicken in it, and it's not as sweet/sour. Very intersting. The snacks are not cheap but they are very interesting to try!
Strangely we first ran into Aji Ichiban in the 99 Ranch Market mall in the Seattle area, then figured out they had a San Gabriel branch. Another place with a wider variety of dried goods, expanding beyond fruits into things like cuttlefish and vegeterian fish is Munchies House in Rosemead. it's at 3008 S. San Gabriel Bl. They have Thai and Japanese items in addition to the Chinese preserved fruit.
We had a little trouble finding Munchies House because of the way addresses change on San Gabriel Blvd. between the various cities. On Mapquest, it looks like it's at San Gabriel Blvd. and Garvey. We'll try next time were in the SG Valley. Did try Aji Ichiban instead. Quite interesting tastes, and the employees were very helpful.
The past five years or so have seen a proliferation of varieties of haw candies, making the old small haw flake passé. All the large Chinese supermarkets and many small Chinese shops in the San Gabriel valley carry these packaged haw items. These include smooth haw strips covered with crystallized sugar, haw flakes in layers half an inch thick, round tootsie roll smooth haw, and haw mixed with other fruit flavors. The funny thing is that there are few standard varieties of haw candy--different stores carry different types and brands.
my youth was built on haw flakes, white rabbit candy, yakult, and my current and all-time obsession...black currant pastilles.
every six months or so I post this request and no one seems able (or willing) to help. So maybe you can.
A lot of the preserved fruit available here is the Southern CHinese style, with salt, like the Japanese umeboshi plums, the Xiamen/Amoy preserved apricots (with salt) the endless varieties straight out of Hong Kong.
What I loved is the stuff from Hebei, from Tianjin, even Beijing, where they preserve (more like Glacee) apples and pears. (Pingguo Fu, Li Fu even melons). There used to be a wonderful stand in the EastWind (dongfeng) market in BEijing. And I used to see EVERYWHERE here those boxes with hypersaturated photos of apple trees like out of Soviet Life or China Reconstructs filled with preserved apples from Hebei or Tianjin. And Pears as well.
These were the best. Has anyone seen these at all, lately, and does your place carry them?
I was transfixed by the gingers and plums. All the bulk bins had small dark things, which sound like what you described as Southern Chinese. There were many other interesting-looking packages that I kind of ignored; I'll check them for you the next time I'm there, which should be pretty soon.
Stores like this all over SF's chinatown where I grew up. My favorite is the lemon ginger--sweet, sour & spicy all at the same time.