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THE LANGUAGE OF FOOD

Think globally and act locally at Reno-Tahoe ethnic markets.

WRITTEN BY SANDRA MACIAS
PHOTOS BY JEFF ROSS 

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How times have changed. Not long ago, you could count on one hand the number of international markets in Reno-Tahoe and still have fingers to wiggle. But as the diversity of our area’s population has grown, so has the number of ethnic markets. You will find them on our busy city streets or tucked away in neighborhood shopping centers.

While Reno is not a big city (e.g. Los Angeles or San Francisco) with endless international food options, it still can boast of more than 25 international markets in the area. They serve as a food source — and a lively hub — for many ethnicities, including Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Middle Eastern, and those of the Pacific Rim.

Edible Reno-Tahoe took an international tour of these markets and returned enriched (and a few pounds heavier). We found fascinating foods and a diverse group of interesting shopkeepers who willingly shared with us their food knowledge. Below is a snapshot of the tour.

Asian food immersion

cover language of food ellen

Every square inch of 168 Asian Market is covered with something. Over there, a great wall of freezers contains a myriad of foods; here are rows of stacked rice. Hundreds of bottled condiments and noodles, plus woks and steamers and lucky bamboo reaching for light come together to create a riot of abundance. Exactly what an Asian market should be.

168 Asian Market is one of the largest Asian markets in Reno. Its owner, Ellen Woo also owns its elder sister, Reno Asian Supermarket on West Fifth Street, which opened in 2001. In 2008, Woo expanded her realm to South Virginia Street, with 168 Asian, which draws customers from the south and beyond – even Reno-Sparks Convention Center visitors drop by. In between time, this energetic entrepreneur also opened — and sold 168 Café (in the mall behind Black Bear Diner on South Virginia Street), and two years ago, she opened Fortune Star Cuisine on Mae Anne Avenue. Her husband Tony Woo is in charge there.

Busy with customers of all ethnicities, Woo, born in the Canton Province of China, is at the counter or sipping down an aisle, phone to ear. She’s the one to ask for help.

Where’s the fish sauce? With quick steps, she’ll lead you to an aisle offering 27 brands of fish sauce from Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. Why so many?

“I have all kinds of customers used to using this brand or that,” Woo says. “So I carry them all.”

Asian 168 is an exploration adventure. In the noodle section, you’ll find noodles for pho, for Hong Kong pan-fry, for ramen, for Vietnamese noodle salad. Whatever the dish, there’s a noodle here to make it. There’s even a lone wolf in the bunch: a chocolate egg noodle from Germany. (Say what?)

Exploring continues to a shelf loaded with a variety of sugars for different cuisines, including brown sugar pressed in a clamshell shape from the Philippines, Indonesian coconut sugar, and Chinese rock sugar. Then there is the endless selection of dumplings and buns and an aisle of Asian chips and snacks that are far more interesting than Goldfish crackers or Doritos.

Woo has worked hard at stocking 168 Asian. But if you can’t find an ingredient, tell her. She’ll order it — that’s how those chocolate noodles got there.

168 Asian Market
3090 S. Virginia St., Reno • 755-823-9918

Middle Eastern flavors

cover language of food naaz

Cardamom, sumac, and za’atar. Bulgur, lentils, freekeh, and halal meats. We’re not in a Middle Eastern bazaar; we’re at Midtown Market, a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean grocery store in the heart of Reno. Though not large, the market is packed with foods from such places as Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran, all displayed in tidy order. With off-street parking in front, it’s easy shopping.

Owners Radi and Naaz Rejoub, Reno residents for 30-plus years, used to travel to Radi’s former home, Jordan, for essential foods not found here. They finally solved that problem three years ago when they opened their market, championing the foods of a Middle Eastern pantry.

The spice aisle showcases many seasonings, some hard to find elsewhere, such as sumac and za’atar, which are essential in Middle Eastern cuisine. In another aisle, grains reign: bulgur, couscous, and freekeh, a super grain of roasted green wheat berries that has a nutty, toasty flavor when cooked.

The market also offers halal meat, which is similar to Jewish kosher standards. Using animals raised on a vegetarian diet and antibiotic free, halal meat is processed according to Islamic law.

“It is hand-slaughtered, each animal blessed before it is killed, and blood must be drained through the mouth so it doesn’t touch the flesh,” explains Naaz Rejoub, who is from Tanzania, Africa.

Halal beef, lamb, goat, and chicken are available frozen. (Future plans include offering fresh halal meat.)

A Middle Eastern pantry isn’t complete without Turkish coffee, flatbreads, or dried olives of many varieties.

“[All Middle Easterners] must have their own olives,” Rejoub says, laughing, “and they also love their olive oil.”

That and much more can be found here.

A deli is in the works, too, with a projected mid- to late-summer opening. Tabbouleh and lentil soup will be standard menu items in addition to daily specials. When all is done, the market will be a complete Middle Eastern package.

Midtown Market
1160 Holcomb Ave., Reno • 775-737-4244 • http://www.Midtownmarketreno.com

Carrying on tradition

The story behind Yim’s Asian Supermarket is anchored in tradition. It begins in Incheon, South Korea, in 1950, when a young widow, Chong Yim, started a wholesale seafood distributing business to support her family. Flash forward 30 years: Yim and her family immigrate to Sparks and her grown children open Yim’s in 1988.

Now the third generation, co-owners Jimmy Yim and his older brother John, who is managing director, carry on tradition while adding new ideas.

“This old Asian market was a place where a certain ethnic group shopped, but we are looking to bring the store into the mainstream,” Jimmy Yim says.

As modern grocers, the brothers know a food movement is happening, and they want to join it. A change in produce, for instance, has begun. Among Thai eggplants, Chinese leeks, and fresh water chestnuts are two organics: bananas and baby spring mix. The goal is to increase the amount of organic produce to 40 percent by next year, Yim says.

Yim’s also is expanding its selection of fresh products, such as its house-made kimchi — one made with Napa cabbage, the other with Chinese leeks. Jimmy says that with John at the helm, they also are looking at offering fresh, specialty cuts of sushi-grade fish, along with the frozen selections they have now.

Still, tradition remains at Yim’s in its vast maze of Asian products. For the non-Asian shopper, it can be overwhelming. But the friendly bilingual staff not only will show you where to find something, but they’ll tell you how to use it.

The Yim brothers are busy planning for the future. Remodeling has begun inside and out, and their food distributing business (they’ve come full circle with Grandma Yim) is growing, suppling Asian products and sushi fish to 100 local restaurants and hotel-casinos.

Yim’s Asian Supermarket
1210 Rock Blvd., Sparks • 775-356-8949

Filipino market basket

On the capital city’s busy Fairview Drive, choked with cars, big-rig trucks, and motorcycles, you’ll find Kabayan MultiMart in a squat, one-level building. The outside is nondescript, but inside, oh my. The clean, modest space expands in neatly arranged order. 

Owner Pons Bumenlag, who was born in the Philippines, showcases an amazing inventory of Asian products. Philippine staples dominate, but he also makes room for Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese products. Even made-in-Hawaii favorites — poi, pork lau-lau, and Portuguese sausage — are tucked in a freezer corner.

Bumenlag lives in Reno (as he has since he bought Kabayan 11 years ago), but he’s here every day except Sunday (when the store is closed). Why did he buy a market 30-plus miles from home?

“Much better here: no competition,” Bumenlag says with a shy little smile.

He’s right. There’s no other Asian market in town.

His location doesn’t deter his loyal multinational customers, the majority of whom are Asians who know what they’re looking for (and at). Still, non-Asians come in with their recipes …

“Or to buy noodles or ready-to-fry egg rolls,” Bumenlag says.

As for the essential noodle, there are more than a few varieties here. Stacked neatly in rows, they come in every size and shape: skinny, fat, curlicue, and stick. You’ll find noodles for pancit, noodles for pad Thai … a noodle for every kind of dish.

Whole fish fill freezers; pompano is the first to sell out. In the frozen meats section, there’s a side of pork belly for pork torcino, a Philippine favorite. In produce, Bumenlag stocks gorgeous Chinese eggplants and purple yams (when baked, they are sweet, yammy, and yummy — made yummier with a smear of butter). On the bakery shelf sit fresh Filipino dinner rolls, plain or stuffed with purple yam.

Don’t be timid about stopping by. If you get lost while exploring Kabayan, just ask Bumenlag for help. He’ll treat you like a fellow countryman — which is what Kabayan means.

Kabayan Multi-Mart
321 Fairview Drive, Carson City • 775-841-1688

Grande-poqueño market

cover language of food Rafael

Good things come in small packages. That saying fits La Mexicana Meat Market. The South Lake Tahoe market is small, its aisles snug. But it has a warm personality, friendly service, and wondrously tasty food.

Consider the pan dulce, Mexican morning sweet bread, made daily in its panaderia (bakery). The baking starts at 5 a.m. — if you want a favorite (such as the one topped with jam and shredded coconut), get there early in the morning.

Then there’s the carniceria (meat market) tucked in the back of this big-little market. Behind the glass counter sits an array of fresh meats and a butcher ready to serve you. The selection is specific to Mexican cuisine: thin cuts of beef for carne asada; pork ribs cut in two-inch pieces for stew; fresh pig’s feet; tripe; seasoned chicken breasts for pollo adobado; and the popular house-made chorizo (the carniceria sells 200 to 250 pounds of it weekly).

The produce case carries fresh tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles, nopal (cactus), plus some surprises such as prickly chayote covered with porcupine-like needles. Other finds in this section include house-made salsas, Mexican cheeses, guava and quince pastes, and house-rendered lard. Space is limited, but there is room enough for beans and rice and other essential Mexican staples.

Owner Rafael Corona bought the 16-year-old market three months ago with his brother-in-law Pedro Rodriguez. They plan to keep the market traditional, but to remain up to date for their clientele. For instance, Corona says that the Millennials like made-in-Mexico Coca-Cola in glass bottles and raspados, Mexican shaved ice drinks. They have them, plus an una persona grill offering to-go burritos, tacos, and tortas.

Though a small package, the market is big in quantity and quality.

“I enjoy the people who take delight in coming here,” says Corona, who was born in Puebla, Mexico.

Ah, Señor, the pleasure is ours.

La Mexicana Meat Market
2572 Lake Tahoe Blvd., Ste. 5, South Lake Tahoe • 530-541-8506

Reno food writer Sandra Macias’ fascination with international markets began as a child growing up in Hawaii, a melting pot of people and cuisines. Culinarily curious, she loves poking around in ethnic markets, soaking up the languages, atmosphere, and cultures … and, best of all, bringing home foods to try.

Extras

Where can I find it?

As our area has ethnically diversified, it has become easier to find those obscure recipe ingredients (or, at least, obscure to you). Here is a sampling of local, independently owned places to visit and the essential staples they carry:

Bella Italia
Sicilian capers in salt (taste the difference from brined ones); flours made from Italian wheat, the best for making pizza and pasta; GM Caffé, Central American beans roasted in Tuscany.
606 W. Plumb Lane, Ste. 4, Reno • 775-284-3500 • http://www.Bellaitalia-store.com

El Rosal Tortilla Factory
Nixtamal, half-cooked hominy, for pozole (essential for pozole purists).
850 Steneri Way, Sparks • 775-331-4348 • http://www.Elrosalreno.com

International Market
Fresh chicken feet for soup; squid in soy sauce for pupu platters.
225 Gentry Way, Reno • 775-825-5258

Panaderia Azteca (two locations)
Ah, sweet Mexico, with its delicious pan dulce, pastries, cakes (postres), and tortas.
2145 Sutro St., Ste. 6, Reno • 775-322-2246
780 N. McCarran Blvd., Sparks • 775-358-1606

Panaderia Mi Linda Guatemala
Fresh Guatemalan bread and pastries, which differ from Mexican baked goods.
1597 Vassar St., Reno • 775-358-8300

Salty Savory Sweet
Fresh spices, herbs, blends, (and teas) for all your international recipes.
102 California Ave., Reno • 775-470-5813 • http://www.Salty-savory-sweet.com

Spice Rack Market
Grains galore and plentiful pulses (edible legumes). Complete stock for Indian pantry.
4135 S. Virginia St., Reno • 775-682-4400

Villa Basque Café
Basque chorizo, made fresh in house daily (from owner Pete Coscarart’s recipe), in links, coils, or bulk.
730 Basque Way, Carson City • 775-884-4451 • http://www.Villabasquecafe.com

For a complete printable listing of Reno-Tahoe international markets, visit here.

And then there’s durian

This Southeast Asian fruit is huge and heavy with thorny skin. It’s often called “the king of fruit.” It has a strong odor often described as smelly like an old refrigerator or trash can. But its flesh has a sweet taste and creamy texture. Edible products made from durian include chips and candy. Check it out in Reno-Sparks Asian markets. (And do an online search for “Jimmy Kimmel eats durian” for a laugh.)

Recipes

Chicken three ways: Mexican, Middle Eastern, Asian

Pollo a la Naranja Estilo Mexicano (Orange Chicken Mexican Style)

(courtesy of Hermilio Romano, grill cook, La Mexicana Meat Market in South Lake Tahoe. Serves 6)

This tasty chicken stew, cooked in fresh orange juice, can go straight from the pan to the table.

2 large onions

2 cloves garlic

2 pounds tomatoes

2 green chiles (jalapeño or serrano), to taste

2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil

6 to 8 pieces chicken (leg, thigh, breasts halves, etc.)

1 cup chicken broth or water

2 cups orange juice, freshly squeezed

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Cut onions into thin slices. Mince garlic. Peel tomato, cut in half, squeeze out seeds, and dice. Remove stems and seeds from chiles; chop finely.

In large skillet, warm lard or oil over medium heat. Add chicken pieces and fry, turning to brown on all sides. (It is not necessary to cook thoroughly because, later on, you will be cooking it more.) When browned, remove chicken to warm plate. Set aside.

Fry onions in same skillet until transparent, without letting them brown. Add garlic, chiles, and chopped tomato; fry, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.

Return chicken to pan and add chicken broth or water, orange juice, bay leaf, vinegar, oregano, and salt. Cook over medium heat until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thickened, 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve chicken with Mexican red rice (arroz rojo Mexicano, made with tomatoes) or plain rice cooked with chopped carrots and peas (arroz a la jardinera). Another option: Bake small potatoes, peel them, and add to chicken stew at end of cooking.

Note: Leftover stew can keep in refrigerator up to a week. Reheat over low heat, adding a little more orange juice if sauce is too thick.

Middle Eastern Chicken Kebabs

(courtesy of Radi and Naaz Rejoub, owners, Midtown Market in Reno. Serves 4 to 6)

These delicious kebabs are easy and summer perfect.

1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons paprika

⅛ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (reduce to ½ teaspoon if you don’t like heat)

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

1¾ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

5 garlic cloves, minced

2½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of any excess fat and cut into large, bite-sized pieces)

1 large red onion, cut into wedges

Vegetable oil, for greasing grill

In medium bowl, combine yogurt, olive oil, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic.

Thread chicken on metal skewers, folding if pieces are long and thin, alternating occasionally with red onions. Be sure not to overcrowd skewers. (Note: You’ll need between 6 and 8 skewers.) Place kebabs on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Spoon or brush marinade all over meat, coating well. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. To grease grill, lightly dip wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and, using tongs, carefully rub over grates several times until glossy and coated. Grill chicken kebabs until golden brown and cooked through, turning skewers occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer skewers to platter and serve.

Swiss Sauce Chicken Wings

(courtesy of Ellen Woo, owner, 168 Asian Market in Reno. Serves 4)

12 chicken wings, in two sections

6 scallions

Ginger, cut in 5 thick slices

5 garlic cloves

½ teaspoon Sichuan pepper

½ teaspoon anise

2 tablespoons rock sugar

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon Shaohsing wine

3 tablespoons water

Place chicken wings in large pot, cover with water, and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Rinse chicken wings in cold water for chewy skin texture.

To prepare Swiss sauce: Put rest of ingredients (scallions, ginger, and garlic go in whole, washed, and unpeeled) in large saucepan. Over medium-high heat, bring sauce to boil. Lower heat to medium and cook until sauce’s color changes to dark brown and taste is balanced with sweetness and saltiness.

Turn off heat, add chicken wings, and soak for about 10 minutes. Turn on heat to very low, just enough to keep sauce warm, and soak chicken wings for additional 20 minutes. 

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