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Shopping in the Hood

March 15, 2010

(originally posted 5/24/2009)

It was a beautiful day; the perfect day to go shopping in the hood for all the things I can’t get in grocery stores in the burbs.

fan tuan made with black sticky rice from Koko Bakery

First, my husband got me a wonderful chai tea latte at Starbucks (I don’t like Starbucks coffee and their espresso-based drinks are awful about 50% of the time but the tea lattes are always good – OH NO! I just looked up the nutrition information on a chai tea latte and a venti has 53 grams of sugar! OH MY GOD! No more of these. Even a skinny carmel latte has 22 grams of sugar.  Oh my.  Coffee at home with splenda from now on)!

Then he took me to my favorite Chinese bakery, Koko, for breakfast where I had a curry beef bun and bought a half dozen fan tuan to take home.  Fan tuan are rice rolls with a filling.  The traditional filling is pork floss, pickled vegetable, and a Chinese doughnut.  It doesn’t sound good, but it so is.  I’ve been told that it’s a breakfast food item.

Koko makes a couple other kinds of fan tuan.  One is just a spicy cubed meat and nothing else, and another one has the spicy cubed meat with the doughnut and pickled vegetable.

Chinese bakery

My kids really love the hot dog buns.  I usually end up buying every hot dog bun they have out in the case.  Those and the fan tuan are the only things that I always buy.  Everything is so good, and there are so many choices that I try to buy different things every time.  This time I tried these pineapple paste biscuits.  The paste was just as thick and lovely as the lotus paste in moon cakes.  Actually, the biscuits were quite similar to moon cakes, the square ones.  Lightly sweet and not too heavy.  It is so easy to go nuts and buy way too much pastry there.  I love that they seal the pastries separately when you buy them.  That way you can buy tons of pastries and not have to worry about them getting stale.  Which is good, and bad.  It’s really good because I don’t go to Asia Town often.  It’s really, really bad because I buy enough pastries to have one or two every day for many days and I don’t need that kind of calories.

Koko Bakery pastries

Koko also has wonderful European-looking pastries.  Many of them are so pretty one almost doesn’t want to eat them (but I do).  However, they don’t taste the same as normal European pastries.  They are not nearly as sweet as European pastries.   I’m not saying that in a negative way.  It’s wonderful.  They are light and beautiful. It’s a bit disconcerting at first because I expect the decadent sweetness but I really like them.

They also have bubble tea.  It’s not the best bubble tea as it’s made from a powder mix, but it’s tasty and fun.  Bubble tea is best when it’s made from fresh fruit, obviously.  But I haven’t found any local places that use fresh fruit.  I haven’t even found somewhere that uses frozen fruit.  All the local places that make bubble tea use powdered mixes for the flavoring.

cakes at Koko bakeryAnother lovely thing about Koko is that they will often give a full-sized sample of something when you check out with your pastry choices.  It usually ends up being something that I wouldn’t have picked to try.  Today was this thing that looked like angel food cake that was covered with pork floss, also called rousong, and green onion.  It also had some other stuff going on, like a creamy substance.  It was really, really good.

I honestly love this place.  It’s great that it’s so far away from me because I’d weigh three hundred pounds if I lived closer.

Last, we stopped at Gallucci’s to pick up seasonings, my favorite cheese (Beemster XO), pepperoni, Castlevetrano olives (perhaps the finest food on the planet), and a provolette.  Unfortunately, they were out of provolettes.

I love the spice selection.  There are so many spices.  I like to cook and I love to play with spices.  I have so many different kinds of spices.  It’s really expensive to have so many spices, unless I buy them here.  The spices are so reasonable priced.  And the selection is pretty good.

I also love the workers.  They are friendly. My kids are always given a cookie from the bakery, and they generally get to pick the cookie too!
Coming to Gallucci’s was a tradition in my family.  It seemed to skip my mom, however.  My grandparents came here several times a year, generally before the three big family holidays (our big three were Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter).  My grandma would come here to buy anise celery (one of my cousins once made the mistake of saying he liked it and so my grandma would specially buy it for him.  He ended up kind of hating it but he’d pretend to be grateful).

Grandma also always bought Torrone candy.  Every Christmas, every household received 2 kitchen towels, a pot holder, and a box of Torrone candy.  I hated this stuff, but now, occasionally, I almost crave it.  I’ve never given in to this craving.  The stuff is really tough to eat.  It’s all hard and tacky.  It sticks to your teeth.  By the time you finish one, your jaw is all sore from chewing. But it reminds me of my grandma.

Also, stale pizzelles remind me of my grandma.  She’d make a big batch of them and, for some reason, she’d “cool” them in her attic.  The end result was really nasty, stale pizzelles.  She’d give me a big plate of them every time I’d visit.  I’d chuck them, one at a time to get some sport from it, out the car window on the way home.  I still won’t eat a pizzelle.  But sometimes I almost feel as though I want one.  I’m sure it has much more to do with missing my Grandma than actually desiring to eat a Torrone candy or a nasty pizzelle.

In addition to picking up spices and cheese, I buy my olives at Gallucci’s.  I’ve developed an intense need for Castlevetrano olives.  I just must have these at all times.  I buy them all the time.  They go great with everything.  I’ve turned two of my three children on to these.  I can’t get my middle child to try them, but she won’t eat any fruits or vegetables, or anything that 1) looks like a fruit or vegetable, 2) once touched a fruit or vegetable, or 3) looks like it might be distantly related to a fruit or vegetable.   She’s picky just to be stubborn.  Brat. Anyway, there is the longest olive bar at Gallucci’s.  Obviously everyone has there personal favorites, but nothing comes close to Castlevetrano for me.  There are all lovely and fresh here.  And they’ll give you  a sample of any of them.

This was such a fun excursion.  And I ended up with such lovely treasures at the end of my journey.

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