I was trying to buy, and they were just giving it away ...

You would think, food being critical for our life's pleasure (not to mention survival) that figuring out how to shop for food in Hong Kong would be the first thing I would have mastered, right up there with electricity and where to buy chocolate. We have never gone hungry, certainly, and with modern supermarkets and 7-11s on every corner there might not even seem to be anything to master. Oh, but there is, friends, there is. And I am still mastering, still working on not being annoyed by my American expectations, still discovering wonderful quirks.   

For instance--green onions and cilantro. It literally took me months to figure out where I could buy these simple, commonly used items. Used in almost every Asian cuisine, I might add--so you wouldn't think it would be so hard to find them. I searched every grocery store in our neighborhood and beyond, I went to wet markets, I even resorted to looking online, all to no avail. I was tormented everytime we ate out, eating scallion pancakes, getting cilantro with my pho--being served a dish that was garnished with scallions felt like an affront. 

Finally one day, buying some bok choi (no problem finding this anywhere you look) at the wet market just across the street instead of the grocery store I usually frequent, the saleswoman stuck some green onions in the bag with the greens. Excuse me? All this time I've been searching, willing to pay any price, and here they are, for free? I tried to ask if I could buy more, but she just looked really puzzled and then stuck another bunch in my bag. 

I experienced the same thing with cilantro at a different market, except this time, she made me pay for the extra I pantomined wanting. And then finally I discovered that yet another market, only a few blocks away, has several Thai-run stalls that sell the cilantro and green onions in bunches, like I'm used to buying (except they only cost about .20!) (This market, by the way, is my new favorite. They separate the food onto different floors, with the meat, seafood and poultry on the ground floor and the fresh produce above, which pleases the chef in me. At most other places they butcher the pig--the whole pig, snout to tail-- and kill the fish right next to the lettuce and apples, and I know how that juice can fly. Besides, this market also has an indoor air conditioned playroom, and if that won't make a cranky baby and mama happy, I don't know what will.)Marble Street Market

As happy as I was to have my own source of scallions and cilantro, it still puzzled me that I couldn't buy these items in the grocery stores. Until, one day, I could. Last week, I bought some fish at our neighborhood Park-n-Shop (grocery store names are the same, everywhere you go.) Fish is something I actually feel OK about buying in the wet markets, though I steer clear of both poultry and pork. (There are just still too many incidents of Avian Flu and contaminated pork for me to feel comfortable buying those products without a label. I do realize that every time I set foot in a local restaurant or eat my beloved pork dumplings, that's exactly the meat I'm getting. But we all play games with ourselves sometimes, right?) Anyway, I don't usually buy my fish in the grocery store, since I can get it so fresh at the market:

[caption id="attachment_375" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="nice cigarette, huh? "]nice cigarette, huh? [/caption]

All of which is to explain why I hadn't yet learned that the grocery store gives you scallions with your fish. Wow. Once again, I was trying to buy them, and they were just giving them away. I haven't yet tried to go to the seafood counter and just ask for the onions without the fish, but I'll keep you posted.   

And what, you might ask, do I do with these lovely herbs now that I've found them?  Well, for starters, scallion pancakes. Matt and I have been known to finish off a whole batch of them for dinner, standing right in the kitchen, not even making it to the table. Here is my former colleague's method--she doesn't give ingredient amounts for the dough, but I think I use 2 cups of flour to 3/4 cup water, and often we double it. Oh, and I put chopped cilantro in with the scallion/salt mixture. Once it's a bit warmer in your neck of the woods I'll tell you about our favorite new Vietnamese salad--we ate it at least twice a week our first few months here, when it was so hot the thought of turning on the stove wasn't even a thought. It uses both the scallions and cilantro to great, cooling effect, along with fresh mint and basil (for which I did not have to search since it's growing on my balcony! Hooray for fresh green things you can grow in a pot!) But for now, do try the scallion pancakes.  It looks a bit labor intensive, but it's really not bad.  Make the dough, let it rest for 15 minutes while you chop the scallions, then fill your pancakes and pop them in the fridge until you're ready to cook them--they can sit there the whole day if you like.  And then, after a long day of meetings and emails and wordy blog posts like this, you can satisfy those salty, greasy cravings with something you made yourself, which makes it all about a billion times more satisfying.


ps--those lovely photos are both chip pics.  Be glad I spared you the pictures of the butcher stalls.  Though fun to look at for those of us who are into that sort of thing, they are a bit raw and intense if you are just sitting down with a morning cup of coffee ...


Chip said...

Yum! Thanks for the link to the pancake recipe. I know what I'm doing this weekend now.

I'm glad you are using the pictures. Hong Kong is a great place to visit for someone learning to be a photographer. When I come to visit you guys next year, I'll be much better. And speaking of pictures of butchering, did you see my pictures from our game night at St. Andrews?

Marcy at Life is Good said...

After living abroad for 1.5 yrs, upon our return to the US one of the things I looked forward to the most was grocery shopping here. Not that I really thought it was that great of an experience, but just to know exactly where I could go to get any one particular item again, to have access to my favorite, usual foods again, etc. Supermarkets in Europe were actually quite similar to the US, but so much still felt so different and it felt like it took forever to get any sort of feel for how things worked... and I can't imagine how much more so that sense must be in a place so much more foreign!

sally said...

Hey you---

wick and I read your website every week...I really think you belong on NPR or maybe VPR (Vermont Public Radio)---you are gifted---you are welcoming to life and change and accepting....you are an amazing writer--you bring it home and write about what we live and then connect it to poetry or the bible or something else////// ok...so if you need a reference for our next job let mein the mean keep writing so beautifuly from the soul....you've got us as our audience.

love you three forever