I’m standing somewhere in the centre of the new Nations Fresh Food supermarket trying to get my bearings. It’s not that everything is jumbled or messy in here. But the layout of the store is very far from the familiar grid pattern of aisles and kiosks and islands that I am used to in my usual grocery store. I’m not quite sure yet, but biways seem to veer off on the diagonal and the signage is not as clear as it could be. Still — the world itself is a muddled and a messy place, full of dead ends and detours, and maybe all I need is some patience and, perhaps, a little map.
It is such a pleasure to have a big grocery store right downtown in Jackson Square, across from the Art Gallery, near to the library and James Street and, of course, the Farmers’ Market. I’m new to Hamilton and this downtown area seems like such a vital urban space that I could spend quite a bit of time in here — if only I had “quite a bit of time.”
The new supermarket is located in the south-west corner of Jackson Square– which means that you have to schlepp all the way across the mall to get to the Farmers’ Market — but walking is good for us, right? And yes, if you are a fussy and determined “good food” person, (as I’m sure all of our readers are) you still will want to go to the Farmers’ Market for specialities such as unusual cheeses or deli meats and fresh local produce and homemade items from the bakery. Still, the basics are here in this clean and modern store and I am very impressed by the enormous choices of “prepared food” and the really diverse fish market which is “walled off” with glass so that there is no lingering fishy smell throughout the rest of the space.
Where the store really shines, however, is in its extensive offerings of food from exotic places from around the world. In my disoriented and quick and casual ramble through the store, I found food from Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, the Caribbean and China and Japan, as well as hard to find items from eastern European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic. The store is owned by a company called Oceans Fresh Food Group which has another store in Woodbridge but this Hamilton store stands as the company’s “flagship.” I’m excited by the prospect of finding ingredients for ethnic cuisine. in one spot, instead of having to drive all over the place searching for things like Thai basil, douban and lime leaves.
Of course, I’m not really sure what “ethnic” food is, or how to define that word. I think of it as being food that’s not part of my culture, but that covers a lot of territory. I do love to travel and a big part of that adventure is trying different kinds of cuisine. And one of my travel indulgences has always been to bring back a cookbook from the country that I’ve visited. As a result, I have a shelf full of cookbooks that I could peruse but not really use. Now, I shall become more ambitious in the kitchen.
But I also think that this is an exciting bonus for Hamilton itself. In retrospect, it seems so obvious: Hamilton, a city of immigrants, should also be known for its diversity of cuisine. And markets add so much character to an urban space — just think of the Granville Island Market in Vancouver or the Pike Place Market in Seattle. So Hamilton, in addition to being the city of waterfalls, a place with a burgeoning arts community and a centre for heritage buildings (let’s keep them!), will also become known as a crossroads for fabulous food.
Now — if we only had a really first rate, first run cinema ….
from Karen Lee’s “Chinese Cooking for the American Kitchen”
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. Chinese red rice vinegar
1 tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. light soy sauce
2 tbsp. Chinese chicken stock
1 tsp. chili paste
1 tsp. water chestnut powder or cornstarch
16 large shrimp (about 1 lb.)
2 1/2 tbsp plus 2 tsp. peanut oil
2 whole scallions, chopped
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. sesame oil
1) Combine seasoning sauce ingredients in small bowl. Stir to dissolve water chestnut powder or cornstarch.
2) Cut shell along back of shrimp with small scissors, about halfway through. Do not remove shell. Take out the dark vein with the tip of the scissors and pull off the legs. Rinse shrimp under cold running water, drain in colander and pat dry.
3) Heat wok or heavy skillet over high heat about 1 minute. Add 2 1/2 tbsp. peanut oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Add shrimp and stir fry about 5 minutes, or until shrimp are almost cooked through. Shrimp will be charred and deep orange in color: empty shrimp onto warm serving platter.
4) Return pan to high heat and add remaining 2 tsp peanut oil. Stir fry scallions, ginger and garlic 30 seconds.
5) Stir seasoning sauce once more and add it all at once to the wok, stirring until the sauce thickens slightly.
6) Return shrimp to pan and stir another minute, or until shrimp are evenly coated with sauce. turn off heat and swirl in sesame oil. Empty contents onto serving platter.
This is served as an appetizer or a side dish. It is a very spicy Szechwan dish and also very messy to eat. You will need lots of napkins and some bowls for the discarded shrimp shells, but cooking it with the shells on makes the flavour much more intense. Not for “formal” dining but absolutely delicious.