Food shopping has always been a reliable stand-in for me when traveling isn’t feasible.
Most of the time I’m relegated to a wanna-be traveler and when my wanderlust hits a critical point, I seek out exotic food markets. I traverse the aisles and daydream lazily of other places and unusual eats; surrounded by such unusual ingredients I feel like I’ve placed myself elsewhere.
And when the cart is full and my budget busted, I head home with sacks of ingredients and try to cook myself out of my boredom and wandering eye.
Uwajimaya is a Northwest chain founded over eighty years ago, and their Beaverton locale is the only one in the Portland area (the other stores are located in Seattle, Renton and Bellevue).
The Beaverton store is huge — and a magnet for cooks all over the Portland metro area and an obvious draw for points further as well (I regularly spy countless Washington license plates and a few Utah and Wyoming ones, too).
No wonder — this place is amazing.
It’s the Disneyland of Asian markets: clean and well-thought out but unlike Mickey’s world, bargains abound (especially in their grocery section).
Let’s start with one of their strongest assets: their amazing seafood department.
Not only do they regularly have live lobster, crab, clams and geoduck, but they also carry an extensive array of other kinds of fresh seafood (you should have seen the scallops!) and fish of all kinds– including sashimi-quality fresh salmon and tuna.
There are so many spectacular choices here –including hard-to-find monkfish, trout, swordfish and sea bass of all kinds.
I could spend ten zillion dollars here.
And then there’s the Poke Bar.
I’ve been to Maui three times now; I think that the availability of spectacular Poke there might be be one of the top reasons to visit that island.
But a trip to Maui is beyond my reach right now, so I regularly console myself with an Uwajimaya trip and a splurge of a pound or more of their Poke.
Man, it’s delicious.
Yes, it’s made with frozen tuna but all their versions (there are usually four or more) are seasoned expertly.
Ask to try any kind they have on hand; in a moment of pure gluttony this weekend I asked to taste all four tuna versions (and ended up buying three of them, including the beguiling spicy cilantro version).
I talked to the guy behind the counter and he told me that they make fresh batches of each kind every morning and then replenish throughout the day (and on some days they will go through almost eighty pounds of the various Poke).
They will keep making fresh batches throughout the day, even after 6 p.m. if necessary — even if it means they then have to heavily discount that same batch thirty minutes later, just before closing (hence beginning each day with a clean slate and a fresh batch).
Their produce department is pretty impressive, too.
Look for all sorts of unusual finds: fresh turmeric, galangal, coconut, every kind of vegetable and fruit you’d expect and many you wouldn’t.
There is also an astounding array of fresh peppers of all kinds.
Who knew there were so many beyond jalapeno, serrano, piquillo and Thai chilies?
Fresh Ghost Pepper, people.
Do you like mushrooms?
Uwajimaya has you covered there, too.
Same so for exotic citrus.
And their grocery is unparalleled for Asian ingredients of all kinds.
They must have forty different kinds of rice and countless bottles of sake, one bottle more beautiful than the next.
I spent almost an hour walking up and down the aisles, checking out a mind-boggling assortment of ingredients of all kinds.
Japan of course was well-represented, but there were other ingredients from all over the globe: the Phillipines, China, Taiwan, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, and Indonesia (as well as those from the U.S. and other places).
I’ve been wanting to replenish my fish sauce stash for some time, but most of the stores I’ve gone to recently just carry an American-brand. No thanks.
Here, they have the largest selection of fish sauce I ‘ve ever seen — and I can’t wait to side-by-side taste test a few of the brands I bought (including the pricey, much lauded Red Boat).
(Will the version that’s three times more expensive be worth the cost? I will keep you posted on that one.)
In the meantime, don’t you just love that baby label?
Every aisle held more surprises.
Fresh and dried noodles of every variety. More Asian sweet and snack items than you could possibly imagine. A frozen section that is filled with dumplings, sauces, and more. The list goes on and on.
As if all of these aren’t enough reason to spend an afternoon there, there’s also a tidy little bookstore and a kicky housewares and gift section.
On this trip, I loaded up on some of these.
This bamboo may not have helped me with my Powerball quick picks this weekend, but maybe something else good will come out of it.
So many eye-catching items in this section.
Table top. Knives. Utensils and all manner of kitchen tools. Interesting kitchen storage and teapots that will make you swoon. And it’s my go-to for all my sushi-making equipment.
And on my trip this weekend, I spent the last half hour checking out the mini-drugstore.
Seeing these boxes made me miss Aika and Rio, the two lovely Japanese students at Lewis and Clark. I hope to see them at the end of the month following their six-week holiday break.
After all, maybe a little time with foreign exchange students is as close as I’m going to get to travel for a while.
That– and a healthy side of Poke — might be just enough to tide me over.