Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Visit to Lee Lee's Oriental Market

As the cultures inhabiting this planet migrate toward globalization, the identifying characteristics of a given region as they relate to regional dishes become increasingly intermingled with those from other regions. Globalization is a great big recipe exchange.

In the spirit of adventurous cuisine I journeyed to a supermarket in Peoria, Arizona called Lee Lee's Oriental Market.

It is a sort of United Nations of grocery shopping. My first visit I spent the first hour simply walking through the aisles staring at the products. Most of the labels were printed in languages other than my own native American tongue. I had no idea what most of the stuff was.

Lee Lee’s offers foods from Korea, Viet Nam, Africa, China, Japan, Thailand Brazil, Holland and more. There were jars and jars of sauces and spices and dried foods, boxes and boxes of cookies and candies and cakes, judging from the pictures on the labels. There were fish, both alive and not alive, pigs and ducks still in whole form, and meats of all kinds, including chicken feet. I wouldn’t even know how to cook a chicken foot.

I did get my bearings eventually and began to shop in earnest. I found fresh herbs and vegetables in the produce department. Portions of chicken and pork were negotiated from the smiling Asian fellow behind the meat counter. The labels on the jars and boxes and packages of dried noodles included American translations; I merely had to study the packages to find them.

It is a strange experience, an exhilarating one, for someone like me who has spent her life shopping at supermarkets where the fish don’t have heads and pork is not dangling from the ceiling, and all the labels are printed in English; where the few feet of space devoted to the Spanish foods includes tortillas and salsa and dried chili peppers.

My husband asked me, when I came home from my gathering of foods, if I was the only white lady there. Oh, no, I replied. There are white people and Asian people and Indians. There are Africans and African Americans and everyone is buying foods from all over the world.

And along side all these exotic (to me) foods were boxes of General Mills cereal, cans of Spam, and rock 'n' roll playing over the intercom.

And someday, when I’m a little braver, I may just buy some chicken feet, though I can’t imagine how I’ll convince my family to try them.

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