Last week entailed a ‘search the shopping cart experience.’ No matter. It was warm. It was sunny. The lot inspired energy in the air, exhilaration almost. Folks filling the center black top between the white lined car spaces each kept a keen eye, dashing with delight, a rapid quick step, near sprinting to gain the prized possession, one greyish shaped open holed box hinged atop metal rolling wheels. Once captured, the golden ticket prize, entry to the Plaza, the Assi Plaza, that is. Like a burst of oxygen, a breath of fresh air, a sigh of relief.
The International Market also coined in English that is, Asian Market, Korean Market, just Assi, finally, and in grand style, re-opened its North Wales location after a recent fire. Not a big fire, but damaging enough to close its doors in what seemed like forever for required repairs.
Shopping on re-opening day seemed like some delightful and indescribable celebration of sorts. A quick glance around at those who had earlier secured their carts would indicate that numerous pantries representing what seemed like half of most every type of culture in the world had dwindled as much as mine in this dreadful interim, perhaps even more so. It was stock up time.
There were many stacked orders with twenty pound bags of rice. Long grain, short grain, sweet rice, Japanese, Korean, Indian basmati, jasmine, Spanish style medium grain, brown, red, and plenty more grain styles where that came from. Backtracking then to the produce and fresh seafood areas only separated by a variety of homemade specialties, emerged freshly prepared and wrapped, kimchi pancakes, spicy seafood soup, Korean noodle dish, japche, marinated beef bulgogi and galbi. Searching the area twice it appeared the vegetable kimbap (a version of Korean sushi) had yet to appear on the long makeshift folding table so I texted Alex to let her know that amongst her list of anticipated treats this would not be forthcoming on the day’s visit. Next time. Tomorrow.
Why such a bustling place can also feel so warm and comforting is difficult to pinpoint but when you are a person that really appreciates a diverse variety of really fresh ingredients, well, being at Assi is probably similar to the expression, like being a kid in a candy shop. Mostly, outside of basic staples, you don’t really need to make an advance meal plan. You just rip about twenty plastic bags off of the vertical paper towel style contraption and proceed, literally, buying whatever it is that looks really good, and on re-opening day that was pretty much everything.
Which brings me to the whole service concept at most Korean owned businesses, the value reward system. There was no ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ sign welcoming back customers at re-opening, the welcome back and thank you was in the quality selection and signs of massive sale prices. No more suffering limp, flimsy, bunched scallions at one dollar each at other local supermarkets, no, at Assi, the reward, five fresh bright green and white bunches of scallions for one dollar. Not one bunch. Five bunches, one dollar. You see my glee here? I love this place.
The added re-opening bonus with the day’s receipt was the ‘Event Ticket.’ Now the event ticket, with its matching number is what you put into the toy sized shape Korean style house on your way out the exit behind the sliding doors after filling out the thin white square paper with your name, phone, and email to win first, second, third and so on prizes in large sums of Assi Gift Certificates. I was feeling lucky with lots of number eights on one of my chances over a few day period but it now looks like my rewards continue in the delights of great products and prices, no complaints here.
4 one and a half pound wild USA lobsters at $5.99 each was like a gift, a celebration meal, and on this occasion I’ve prepared today’s Asian Style Lobster Salad, Lemongrass Infused Mayonnaise. Served with Pickled Napa Cabbage Slaw the balance between these two dishes complemented well. Easy to prepare, then leaving time for the pickling flavor to kick in overnight, the pickled slaw packs lots of great flavor and serves well in a variety of side dish combinations, I’ll share this recipe next Monday.
At Assi there is no plastic membership for best quality and great prices, hence matching the stores theme, ‘no passport required.’ Plus, there are those times after your cart filled purchase you even get presented in that lovely Korean custom, a gift for shopping. No matter that it may be twice your hand size rubber gloves, or, a small bottle of soy sauce needing shelf removal, hey, I look at it as neighborly, if you can’t use it, then give it to your neighbor who will finish it up by the expiry. Its all in the kindness of the giving.
After nodding or saying Hello to those familiar throughout the produce and prepared foods area while busily collecting ingredients and supplies I made my way to the check-out counter. It seemed everyone was happy about the day, including the woman in line in front of me. As she began chatting, it was then I spotted from the corner of my eye one of the special packages I had earlier searched for Alex, colorfully presented and all tightly wrapped in clear plastic, vegetable kimbap. Where did she find it, I inquired. Had I realized it had been the last remaining package in the store I wouldn’t have mentioned it. But I had.
I felt a little badly for I knew she was Korean. Now if you are familiar with Korean people, they are very, very stubborn in their generosities and so insisted that I absolutely must have the last package while firmly pushing it smack into my piling order on the rolling belt. Yes, precisely that way Korean women let you know they mean business. There was no point to negotiate the point. I know this from experience. A Korean woman will even get into a struggling match with you to insist you have the gift, near topple you if they planned to pay the lunch check. So, I graciously accepted, thanked her for her kindness, before sharing that my Korean daughter at home would be so very appreciative. She had been so looking forward to vegetable kimbap from Assi since returning home from college. Really, she inquired? Yes. Mannerly kindness to happiness, oh how she laughed, I laughed. Another fun moment at Assi Plaza. Bidding our good byes, I pushed my emptied cart up to the cashier. Anyoung haseyo, Hello, never sounded so sweet. Welcome Back Assi.
- 4 1-1 1/2 pound lobsters, cooked, meat and claw meat removed, chilled
- 1 cup, approximately, homemade lemongrass infused mayonnaise (recipe below) Note: prepare 2 batches if you prefer more mayonnaise
- 6 scallions/green onions, chopped finely
- 1 medium red pepper, seeded, chopped
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, chopped
- 1-2 kirby, or seedless cucumbers, chopped
- 1/8 cup fresh chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut chiffonade
- 2 stalks lemongrass, any brown tough outer leaves removed then chopped into small pieces
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lime juice
- good pinch kosher salt, more to taste
- pinch cracked black pepper, more to taste
- pinch cayenne pepper
- Chop chilled lobster meat into small size chunks. Reserve whole claws as a 'sandwich' for the top and bottom of the lobster salad, or, cut the claw meat into small chunks and stir together with the lobster meat. Into a wide glass bowl add the chopped lobster meat then add the scallions, red pepper, jalapeno, and cucumber. Just before serving gently fold in mayonnaise. Sprinkle in the fresh chopped cilantro and basil, then kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Check seasoning adjusting to taste. Keep salad chilled when not serving.
- Add chopped lemongrass into a small saucepan, cover with the grapeseed oil. Heat the lemongrass and oil on low heat until small bubbles emerge on the surface. Remove from heat and let sit until cool. Strain the oil from the lemongrass pushing down to extract all of the oil that should make a half cup of infused oil.
- Drop an egg yolk into the food processor and pulse three times. Add in the Dijon, pulse again. Pour in the lime juice and pulse around five times for all ingredients to blend together. A little at a time drizzle in the infused oil pulsing all the while until the mixture is fully emulsified into mayonnaise. Scrape bowl, pulse once more so that all ingredients are fully incorporated. Remove mayonnaise to a bowl, sprinkle in kosher salt, cracked black pepper and cayenne pepper, stir. Check seasoning adding a bit more seasoning if desired. When ready to serve arrange plate with a spoonful of Pickled Napa Cabbage (recipe may be found under salads on Spiced Peach Blog.)