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Any recs for Chinese specialty food shops in bay area?

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Hi - I'm a big fan of stores like Red Blossom Tea and Aroma Tea Shop in SF, bakeries like Sheng Kee and Kee Wah and newer arrivals like 85C that make (or import) really high quality versions of old Chinese favorites.

Are there are any similar "specialty" or "gourmet" Chinese food shops around the bay area? I'm not asking about restaurants, but rather looking for places that sell snacks, teas, candies, spices and other pantry staples.

Thanks so much!

Wes

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  1. Sunset Super, New May Wah, Ranch 99. These are Chinese supermarkets.

    1. Thanks - I'm definitely aware of the supermarkets. I'm more looking for specialty shops that are selling more craft or artisanal versions of the products you can find more generally at Ranch 99, in Chinatown et al.

      For example, like a shop selling TCHO chocolate vs. Hershey.

      1. You might want to check out Heartland on Irving Street.
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9130...

        5 Replies
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Melanie, thanks again for this recommendation. I visited Heartland today and tagged on a report to your original post. Really fantastic spot and exactly what I was seeking. Now if only I could find a store specializing in Chinese beef jerky and assorted Chinese sweet brittles and candies! ~Wes

          1. re: WesAtRedBean

            The place for Chinese beef jerky is Jackson Market. I have not tried it, been around for years.
            http://jacksonmarket.com/store/

            Wycen also makes beef jerky, besides sausages. It's alright but not so special.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I stopped in at Jackson Market yesterday...after a march up the hill from Stockton St that left me completely out of breath. Wonderful little store -- thanks for the recommendation!

              Made me smile to see the storefront almost entirely empty, except for a jerky-making operation furiously working in the back kitchen. That's focus.

              I tasted the original recipe beef jerky. Delicious, with a very simple ingredient list: beef, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, starch and water. Available for purchase in person and online at the URL Melanie shared.

              1. re: WesAtRedBean

                Ok, so after all these years, your report motivated me to check out Jackson Market. The empty shelves were a surprise, but I guess when you do one thing really well, every thing else is extraneous. And the jerky is good. I bought some of the original and some spicy. The spicy is not that spicy hot, just some heat from red chile flakes dusted on top. I'm kinda sorry I didn't buy some of the jerky bits for a discount price too.

                Parking in that area can be a bear. But conveniently, there's a green zone in front of the cleaner next door. So it's very easy to drop in.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I agree with your assessment. It's tough to categorize the jerky...the preparation isn't 100% traditionally Chinese per se (even though oyster sauce and soy sauce are the first two ingredients) — it's more "Chinese-influenced" in my book. That said, it's good stuff and a fun snack. I polished off my bag in a couple of days.

        2. Mow Lee Shing Kee & Company - 774 Commercial St SF - just below Grant Ave. They are an old establishment that makes Chinese Sausage and other preserved meats. Not many of these left. Old school vibe.

          1. There are several in SF Chinatown listed here:

            http://iacp.com/documents/JoyceJueChi...

            2 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Thanks for the link!

              From that list, Mandarin Delight and Gold Mountain are out of business, maybe more.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Gret resource there. I'll point out that Wycen Foods (which could be considered artisanal) has moved to 832 Stockton, and Gin Wall Hardware, sadly, is gone.

                Also, Dick Lee Pastry has moved to 716 Jackson St. and Gold Mountain is gone.

              2. I like the look of Heartland. Noticed that there weren't any follow ons to the post you referenced, so maybe I'll go today and share a review.

                Thanks for the Mow Lee Shing Kee & Company recommendation. I love makers that continue to use traditional methods like that!

                How about any places down on the Peninsula around Cupertino or Milpitas?

                9 Replies
                1. re: WesAtRedBean

                  Haven't posted about it for a while, but I continue to be a fan of Sogo Tofu in San Jose on the Cupertino border. More here,
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5916...

                  Wes, I've noticed that your posts have been replies to the original post. If you're using web view, Chowhound also has a threaded discussion ability to reply to specific posts. Roll your cursor over the bottom edge of the post by the person to whom you wish to reply and a red reply arrow should appear.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    @Melanie - Ack! Thanks for that information about the reply function.

                    @All - These are all great recommendations! I'm going to get out to see as many as possible in the next couple of days and I'll let everyone know what I find!

                    Wes

                    1. re: WesAtRedBean

                      Cool, I look forward to your report!

                      Wo Chong in Chinatown sometimes has housemade doufu pi (bean curd skin), but you have to ask for it.

                      Kun Wo in the Mission has fresh rice noodles: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5269...

                      It's not an artisanal thing, but if you spot packages of ya cai or heaven facing chilies anywhere, lots of folks would be interested :-). http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/889326
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/690830

                      1. re: hyperbowler

                        Haven't forgotten about my report! I'm hoping to make it down to some of the South Bay places this week. It's been tough finding a window to sneak a trip in and around rush hours!

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      I second Melanie's recommendation of Sogo. the tofu is fresh and tasty, and is free of GMO soy beans because they are organic.

                      we especially like the 'dried' tofu without spice.

                      1. re: ckshen

                        Wo Chong also uses GMO-free soybeans.

                        http://www.wochong.com/

                    3. re: WesAtRedBean

                      I like Vua Kho Bo, which contrary to the name seems more Taiwanese than Vietnamese (based on the Mandarin spoken by the people in the Cupertino store at least). I really like their dried fruit (they have a special dried mango that I really enjoy), and they have a large selection of meat and seafood jerky, snacks (I like the black sesame "candy") and tea. Locally it loooks like the only two branches are in Milpitas and in Cupertino Village (a couple of stores down from Joy Luck Palace).

                      The people are always super-helpful and happy to provide samples of pretty much everything you want, so you can try before you buy. Stuff isn't super-cheap but I think the quality justifies the cost.

                      http://www.vuakhobo.us/

                      1. re: bouncepass

                        Someone was just telling me about Jerky King in Cupertino (the sign on Vau Kho Bo store). Is the jerky the fresh, wetter style? I see that it has pork jerky.
                        http://vuakhobo.us/product_info.php?c...

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I'd describe the jerky that I've sampled in-store as medium wet. Not dry, but not super-moist either. It's pretty close to how my (Taiwanese) family makes it, but that's probably not much help to you!

                    4. That's an awesome list, Robert! Again, I may have to spend a day walking through and then share back a few updated reviews.

                      1. You might want to check out the recently opened Charming Sun Market which promises "Organic Veggie Healthy Foods."

                        Charming Sun Market
                        49 Walter U. Lum Place

                         
                         
                         
                        1 Reply
                        1. re: soupçon

                          Thank you for this suggestion. I stopped in yesterday, the store is located right off Portsmouth Square above the parking garage (which, btw, at $3 an hour still has to be one of the best deals in the city).

                          As advertised, the store does stock veggie and organic foods, but it fell short of being a "specialty" store for me. The natural foods are merchandised alongside more typical Chinese grocery fare like big brand sauces, packaged foods and mixes, which makes it difficult to tell what's all natural and what's not. Perhaps with time, the store will move further in the organic direction.

                        2. Drumroll! Here's my report!

                          I started in search of gourmet Chinese food shops around the bay area, defined as either: a) artisanal producers using quality ingredients and traditional techniques; b) direct importers who work directly with suppliers; or, c) innovators updating old favorites for contemporary tastes. I'm also requiring clearly labeling as a requirement to exclude grocers and a myriad of fresh foods.

                          Your definition may differ, but I thought this was a good starting place. Here is the list of some of my favorites, after having visited all locations on this list:

                          Teas:
                          - Red Blossom Tea Company (831 Grant Ave, SF): Direct importer of premium looseleaf teas from around China.
                          - Ten Ren Teas (Various Locations): Ubiquitous boxed teas, but company stores also stock looseleaf varieties.
                          - Aroma Tea Shop (Clement & Chinatown, SF): A looseleaf tea shop that's a bit more accessible for newbies.

                          Bakeries:
                          - Kee Wah Bakery (Various Locations): Hong Kong-style bakery with fresh baked goods, and many delicately-flavored cakes and cookies.
                          - Sheng Kee Bakery (Various Locations): Family-owned California bakery with great packaged cookies.
                          - Sogo Bakery (Various Locations): Taiwanese Bakery with the best mooncakes on this bakery list.

                          Tofu:
                          - Wo Chong (863 Washington St, SF): All organic, non-GMO tofu.
                          - Sogo Tofu (1600 S De Anza Blvd, SJ): All organic, non-GMO tofu plus soy milk (and amazing steam table).

                          Snack Foods:
                          - Heartland (Sunset, SF, Fremont & Sunnyvale): Organic, all-natural snacks imported from Taiwan.
                          - Jackson Market (1201 Jackson St, SF): Chinese-influenced beef jerky made fresh.

                          Honorable Mention:
                          - Mow Lee Shing Kee (774 Commercial St, SF): Delicious Chinese sausage, but no product labeling.
                          - Wycen Foods (832 Stockton St, SF): Same as above.
                          - Vua Kho Bo (10919 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino & Milpitas): Good looking jerky, but no product labeling.

                          Whew, feels really cool to see a list in one place! That's it for now. Eager to hear your thoughts!

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: WesAtRedBean

                            Yes, very cool list, thanks!

                            I forgot to mention Song Tea (since I haven't been there myself). Peter Luong left his parents' Red Blossom to strike out on his own with a selection of small batch teas. Let us know what you think.
                            http://www.songtea.com/
                            https://www.facebook.com/hellosongtea
                            http://www.tastingtable.com/entry_det...

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Feels good to "give something back" after receiving your awesome suggestions, so...

                              Just this morning in Oakland Chinatown, I happened upon the Green Tea Kit Kats that periodically set off a small online furor. There are two boxes at Won Kee Supermarket at 216 7th St. $4.99 a bag. First time I've seen them in a long time.

                              Hope this helps someone!

                               
                              1. re: WesAtRedBean

                                They're currently at Marina Foods in San Mateo too ... minus one bag :-)

                                1. re: WesAtRedBean

                                  Are they rare? I think I always see them at Easy Foods in Mountain View.

                                  1. re: WesAtRedBean

                                    Woohoo! They are my favorite. When one of my friends went to Japan I requested that he bring back green tea kit kats. They were only available seasonally, so he was out of luck during his July visit. I haven't had one since 2007!

                                    1. re: WesAtRedBean

                                      They're usually available near the registers at Nijiya Market in Japantown and I have even seen them at the Walgreen's on Market and 8th.

                                      1. re: dordogne

                                        Where have I been?! Good to know they are more widely available now. And that I don't have to buy 10 packages tomorrow morning.

                                        1. re: felice

                                          Yeah, I've seen them at a few places lately including Ichiban Kan on Irving and I think at Genki Crepes.

                                      2. re: WesAtRedBean

                                        Two of the markets in SF Chinatown have/had them in large supply by the register the last few months. Can't remember the name..but the one on Stockton north of Broadway (and next to the bakery), and also the one in the basement on Jackson.

                                      3. re: Melanie Wong

                                        Song Tea looks good. I have to say, though, that I love the funky friendliness of Aroma (the one on 6th, I haven't been to the other branch). The owner's combination of hipster cool and passion for tea is really engaging.

                                      4. re: WesAtRedBean

                                        Nam Hai (919 Grant) has an excellent selection of teas, dried culinary and medicinal herbs, three grades of goji berries, etc. Prices much better than Red Blossom.