Sam and I took a trip into Lebanon into an area that the locals affectionately call, “Little Jersey,” to goto the only Asian grocery in the area. I wasn’t expecting much.
Yipings Asian Market
55 Main St
Lebanon, NH 03784
Like many Asian groceries, this was a small space crammed with shelf-stable foods from a multiplicity of Asiatic nationalities. They seemed especially well-stocked in Thai foods, and they knew to keep the nam pla where it won’t accidentally get broken. I saw lots of brown Chinese condiments all labeled “bean paste,” or “garlic bean paste” or “sweet bean paste.” There were few Japanese items like nori (sushi seaweed wraps), but none of the high-end Japanese foods. I suspect they’re just part of the standard asian foods distributor networks.
So the whole reason for this trip, to give some background – I spent much of the day on Thursday craving pan-fried dumplings with sweet thai chili sauce.
“Dumplings” are a fantastic food that my college buddy Gene introduced to me. They’re also known as “gyoza” in Japanese, “potstickers,” or “Chinese dumplings.” Basically, they’re a thin skin pleated around a little wad of meat and vegetables, then steamed, boiled, or pan fried. Gene’s mom would send him back to college with an entire marine chest cooler full of frozen dumplings. We would boil entire bags and pig out. In Madison, when I could get dumplings at Woodman’s grocery store or at Yue Wah, I probably went through 4 or 5 bags a month. Dumplings are one of my favorite breakfasts. Anyone who wants to point out my blatant Locavore hypocrisy is welcome to do so in the comments section.
Thai sweet chili sauce is like “duck” sauce that is at some Chinese restaurants. It’s thick like catsup, not too spicy, and a little fishy-smelling. I finished my last bottle from Yue Wah in Madison about three days before we moved. I couldn’t justify buying a bottle, just to drive it across the country. I don’t like this sauce that much.
But after abstaining for almost 4 weeks, all I could think of was the lovely taste of crispy dumpling skin and Mae Ploy. So, we sought out the Asian Grocery, hoping to find dumplings and sweet chili sauce.
We were able to find three different brands of dumplings, all new to me. I suspect they’re made locally in the big cities like Chicago and Boston and spread out through smaller distribution channels. We also found thai sweet chili sauce, but not my preferred Mae Ploy brand. I think the stuff we got (no English on the label, or else I would give you the name) is a little better than Mae Ploy. It’s thicker and spicier and the sweet is better balanced with fishy.
As for their selection of Japanese goods: I was happy to note that Nishiki rice was $5 less than at the COOP. Yiping’s $19.95. COOP $23.49. I also found bonito (shaved fish used to make clear Japanese soup), wakame (dried seaweed), furikake (a seasoning to put on rice) and ume plums. I was happy to find mirin, a sweet Japanese rice wine that is a staple of our cookery. Unfortunately, when I got the bottle home and had a taste, it was just glucose syrup. After browsing through my favorite japanese cookbook, I discovered there are two types of mirin – with and without alcohol. We had been buying the type of mirin with alcohol and this new mirin had no alcohol. I’ll have to look harder for “hon mirin.”
Ultimately, though, I am looking forward to going to the Japanese markets in Boston to get my Japanese groceries – those things I’ll NEVER find in a mixed-asian grocery store: freeze-dried tofu, sachimi pepper, yama imo powder (youtube), high-quality ume plums, fresh pickles, Yamasa soy sauce, hot mustard, etc…
But I’ve eaten a bag of dumplings already…