Thursday, August 30, 2007

San Diego Foodstuff Miscellany: The Bread and Cheese Edition

  • Share Our Strenth’s Great American Bake Sale. Childhood hunger in America is a travesty—but we can do something about it! Share Our Strength is holding its fourth Great American Bake Sale this summer to raise money for local organizations that work to increase participation by low-income children in summer and after-school feeding programs. The funds also support nutrition education programs for low-income families.

How does it work? Mobilize your community to hold a bake sale—you and your kids know how to do that! Go to to get more information and register your sale. They’ll send you a poster and tips for your sale. Then after you’ve had your bake sale send the money you raised to:

Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale
P.O. Box 75203
Baltimore, MD 21275-5203

If you’d just like to donate to the cause, send a check to the same address or call l (800) 761-4227.

  • From Aniata to Venissimo. Hats off to Martyna and Bob Stonebrook for bringing back cheese to San Diego in 2001. Aniata Cheese Co. has been a wonderful addition to the region’s culinary repertoire. The Stonebrooks just announced that they’ve sold the shop in Del Mar's Flower Hill Mall to Gina and Roger Freize of Venissimo Cheese in Mission Hills so they can become wholesaler/distributors (known, of course, as Aniata Cheese Co.). So, effective Sept. 1, we now have a small chain of cheese shops in San Diego.

According to Gina, “This just really brings us one step closer to realizing our vision: to share the goodness and glory of cheese while building the brightest cheese retailer in the world! (Baby steps, right?) The beauty of this deal is that Aniata wanted to build its wholesale business, so now we can be assured of getting the world's greatest cheeses from them. It's such a great partnership...”

What’s next? Fingers crossed, downtown San Diego. Gina and Roger have their eyes on you for a third shop.

  • Celebrate the Craft. Head over to the Lodge at Torrey Pines Sept. 20 to 23 for a weekend celebration of regionally grown ingredients, innovative cooking and winemaking—plus a little art on the side. Celebrate the Craft is in its fourth year of feting great food artisans in California, and this year has added “The Torrey Pines Plein Air Invitational” to showcase open air painters and their take on the landscape of the Torrey Pines State Reserve.

This year’s events will include a Saturday picnic in the park to watch the Plein Air artists do their thing, a Saturday night reception and art auction, a Sunday afternoon picnic with food stations to sample products and a Sunday evening family-style supper featuring dishes prepared with local ingredients.

Go to for more information and to buy tickets.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tierrasanta Farmers Market: The Island in the Hills Meets the Farmer in the Dell

I’d been waiting on tenterhooks for this moment. My neighborhood, Tierrasanta, finally got its own farmers market last Thursday afternoon. By the looks of it, my neighbors were also in eager suspense. With all the oohing and ahhhing, you’d have thought none of us had ever seen an heirloom tomato or fresh peaches before.

The market, located in the parking lot of Gaspar de Portola Middle School, has been in the planning process for some five months, according to Ron La Chance, the market manager. For its debut, La Chance brought in 10 farmers and 20 other vendors, selling everything from jams and breads and flowers to prepared foods and jewelry. There’s room for another 25 vendors if business is good and demand calls for it. By the looks of this first outing, my fellow Tierrasantans should make a point of showing up regularly and requesting more. We need it. I loved what I saw, but there are some definite gaps that need to be filled.

There were a number of familiar farmers market faces. I first encountered Jackie’s Jams, run by Jackie Anderson and Robert Shay, at the Ocean Beach market. They have about two dozen flavors of jams that Jackie makes in a commercial kitchen nearby off of Convoy.

Her jams are offered at Bread & Cie down in Hillcrest. There are some unusual concepts like Mango Raspberry and Papaya Mango, Spicy Peach, Tomato, Strawbarb and Zippy Jalapeño. And she makes some more traditional fare like Strawberry, Plum, Triple Berry and Apple Butter. They’re all delicious and sing with flavor, especially the Zippy Jalapeño.

I’ve already written about Baba Foods and their pitas, humus and salads. They’re there. As are the crepe guys. World Famous Smoked Fish was there selling fresh sea bass, salmon, albacore, mahi mahi and ahi, along with smoked yellowtail, ahi, salmon and albacore and dips they make from the tuna and salmon.

Petrou Foods, minus the outsized personality, George Petrou, was there with their delicious olives and olive oils. I picked up a bottle of their low-sodium green olives. They’re soaked in sea salt for three months instead of six, which the young sales woman said accounted for their lower sodium. However, at 10 percent sodium, they’re not that low. I looked at the label of a jar of Trader Joe’s pitted Kalamata olives and those are only 6 percent. But, Petrou’s olives do taste good and don’t need refrigerating. Just put them in a cool pantry or cupboard and flip the jar over periodically since there’s not a lot of liquid.

Johann’s Austrian Bakery sold the market’s only baked goods—Mountain Rye, Farmers Bread, Jalapeno Cheese, French and whole wheat. I bought a lovely braided raisin challah, which I’m enjoying. It’s sweet and moist and perfect for French toast. However, the strudel was a tremendous disappointment. I tried it that evening and could barely cut through the dough and still am not sure about the flavor. I think it was apricot. The next day, I thought I’d try again, this time reheating in to see if the pastry would crispen. It did somewhat, but still, this is not something to seek out.

At farmers markets you can always count on the presence of a few characters. I found my first at the entrance. Papa Louie—the only name he’ll give—makes a lovely marinade/dressing made of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic and rice vinegars, garlic, salt and spices.

It’s got a nice zippy punch to it and is intriguingly thick, given that it has no mustard or other emulsifier. What’s the secret? He won’t tell. All he admits to is that it’s a 106-year-old family recipe created by his grandmother in Venice, Italy. Papa Louie also sells vinegars and olive oil from Spain.

Another character at the market was Deborah Giraud of Sunflower Organics. She convinced me to buy a jar of her ginger-flavored honey and bee pollen mix. She also sells honey from Hawaii, loose teas and a line of jojoba oil lotions. Stand around her stall and you’ll learn more than you’d thought you wanted to know about the beneficial aspects of bee pollen. That it’s a complete food with all essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins. That raw honey is easily metabolized in the body and rich in Vitamin A, beta carotene and rich in enzymes. Good thing for us that it tastes so good.

I also got a kick out of meeting Emilio Carranza of Carranza Fruit Farm in Valley Center. He sells a nice selection of pesticide-free produce—enormous zucchini, lemons, tiny and tart tomatillos and an assortment of items you’d think you’d be more likely to find in a Mexican market.

The tunas, fruit of the nopal cactus, were lovely hues of green and red orange. Inside, depending on which color you bought, the flesh was white or yellow. Carranza also had nopal paddles available, already de-needled and ready to be chopped into a salad with queso fresco or used for some other recipe. He had bunches of epazote and something I’d never seen before—white sapote.

White sapote (or sapote blanco) is grown predominantly in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica. You’ll also find it in northern South America, the Bahamas, the West Indies, along the Riviera and other part of the Mediterranean, in India and the East Indies. It’s also grown in the southern U.S., both in California and southern Florida.

The fruit looks rather like a green apple, but don’t be fooled. It’s a member of the Rutaceae family, to which citrus belongs. When ripe, the flesh is like custard—sweet and creamy—and perfect for spooning out and eating plain or adding to a smoothie. Don’t eat the skin or the seeds.

I bought several sapotes and a basket of tunas. But really, what was I going to do with all those tunas?

Carranza suggested I make Agua de Tuna (cactus fruit drink) and told me how: peel the tunas and coarsely chop them into a blender, add a little water and pulverize. Then place the puree into a strainer over a bowl and push out all the liquid. Toss the solids, add some lemon juice and sugar and more water to the tuna liquid. Pour into a glass over ice. Sounded easy. I took them home and found a recipe online with a little more structure and tried it. Here it is:

Agua de Tuna

1 pound of green cactus fruit (tuna), with the spines removed
½ pound red cactus fruit (tuna), with the spines removed
The juice of 3 lemons
1 cup sugar
2 liters of water

Carefully peel the tuna fruits, making sure that they are free of spines. The spines are often tiny, so be very careful handling the fruit! Place the tuna fruit in a blender with the sugar and a little water. Blend well. You can pass the pulp through a colander to remove any seeds. Add the water and lemon juice. Or, if you prefer, simply add the water to the pulp with the lemon juice.

Serve over ice.

From “Mexican Culture for”

I have to say it was delicious. Thick, the color of rich orange juice, but a blending of sweet and sour in a uniquely tropical way. Perfect for a hot and humid afternoon.

I strolled around the rest of the market, picked up some magnificent heirloom tomatoes at JRB Farms from Lake Perris and enjoyed a sample of their oh, so sweet honeydew melons (which they ran out of…). I also bought several little squash—the kind that look like they were victims of “spin art,” with their crazy splashes of yellow and green. I love baking these in olive oil and garlic, topped with bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese.

Actually, all the produce looked good. So, what do you do with all this gorgeous bounty? It’s August. It’s hot. It’s muggy. Gotta make gazpacho. You’ll find most of the ingredients for this recipe (my mom’s) among the farmers’ booths here or at your neighborhood market. The chopping can be time consuming but there’s no cooking with heat involved and what you end up with is a healthy and refreshing series of meals that are utterly delicious.

Gazpacho (serves 8-10)

5-8 large tomatoes, chopped

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1 cucumber, peeled (unless it’s an English cuke) and diced

1 or 2 red or green bell peppers, chopped

6 to 8 scallions, chopped

6 to 8 radishes, chopped

½ medium onion, chopped

½ bunch parsley, minced

½ bunch cilantro, minced

2 cups corn (I like either fresh from the cob or Trader Joe’s bags of frozen roasted corn)

2 to 6 dashes Worcestershire sauce

4 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 small can V-8 juice

2 tsp. olive oil

½ tsp sugar

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. salt

1 can beef or chicken stock

Tabasco sauce to taste

The easiest way to do this is to roughly cut up each set of veggies and put in the food processor to chop into small pieces – don’t process until smooth – and then add each to a large bowl. Once all the vegetables are chopped and in the bowl, add the corn, the herbs, the liquids and the salt. Mix it all together and refrigerate until cold, then correct the seasonings. Add cooked shrimp or other protein if you like when serving. Top with a dollop of sour cream.

And for dessert? Stop by Smit Orchards for their O’Henry freestone peaches, or Arctic white nectarines. They no longer have plumcots (the fabulous yellow fruit I fell hard for earlier in the summer), but they do have Dinosaur egg pluots (3/4 plum, ¼ apricot).

Okay, I mentioned there were gaps. I missed Rodriquez Farms and their wide variety of greens. I obviously would like another bread and pastry vendor and how about Valdina Farms and their magnificent beans and mini veggies? And, Peggy’s Fresh Pasta. Well, I’m going to be patient. Hey, it took years for us to get this far. I’m sure that with community support, Mr. La Chance will be able to bring in many more wonderful vendors and Thursday afternoons will be the highlight of the week for locals.

The Tierrasanta Farmers Market is located in the front parking lot of De Portola Middle School at 11010 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in Tierrasanta. It’s open from 3 to 7 p.m. every Thursday.

Have some thoughts about the Tierrasanta Farmers Market or other farmers markets in San Diego? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

A.J.’s Fine Foods: Gourmet Feasting in Phoenix

Last weekend, I found myself in Phoenix. Samantha, my 11-year-old niece was making her theatrical debut in the children’s chorus of The Valley Youth Theatre’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” No eye-rolling, please. Even if I weren’t fulfilling my auntie obligations, I’d go see this show because this is an amazingly professional group, and it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary. The kids were fantastic. For those of you who are American Idol fans, this is the theater group that this season’s AI winner Jordin Sparks performed with while in high school. My sister-in-law Dina saw her perform Cinderella a year or so ago, and she tells me that even then, she knew Jordin would be a star.

Okay, enough of that. When in Arizona, if you’re into markets and great food, one of the best places to go is one of the 11 A.J.’s Fine Foods markets. If you’re from L.A. or Orange County, you’ll understand when I say that A.J.’s is the Phoenix version of Gelson’s (only without the fabulous Viktor Benes baked goods). If you don’t know what I’m referring to, just think of it as a variation on Bristol Farms or a non-organic Whole Foods. Very upscale. Lots of beautiful looking displays. Equally gorgeous looking and tasting foods.

A.J.’s is one of four types of markets owned by the Basha family—Bashas' (mainstream supermarket), Bashas' Diné (markets found on Native American reservations), A.J.'s Fine Foods (gourmet/specialty) and Food City (catering to the Hispanic market). Drive around Arizona and you’ll see Basha supermarkets throughout, as well as in Needles, Calif., and Crownpoint, New Mexico.

The first sight you see when you walk into A.J.’s is a large spread of pastries in their “Boulangerie.” You’ll find everything from bagels and croissants to scones and cinnamon rolls. And, then there are the sweet treats spanning Europe—luscious fruit tarts, cream puffs, lemon bars, éclairs and cannoli.

There are adorable, wildly colored sugar cookies and cupcakes, enormous chocolate-covered strawberries and individual Grand Teton Chocolate cakes.

Check out the foot-long twisted pretzels and the pretzel rolls. And, if all this isn’t sweet or fattening enough for you, there’s a large case filled with chocolates, including Joseph Schmidt truffles in flavors that include champagne, double latte, mushroom and Kahlua.

Nearby is “The Bistro,” where you can pick up takeout. But, this isn’t just any takeout. You’ll find prime rib, roasted turkey and different hams. Love chicken salad? They make a moist, basil-laden pesto chicken salad, a sweet curry chicken salad and several other varieties. You can get the makings for Sunday brunch, with their sliced smoked Nova. Miss your Nana’s chopped liver? They’ve got a yummy onion-y version, freshly made. Also, pickled herring in wine and in cream, a variety of pates—foie gras, peppercorn mousse and mousse truffle—and even dolmas. I was intrigued by the sweet curly peppers antipasto, with pickled peppers, dried tomatoes, whole garlic cloves and olives. Too bad, I was flying home in a couple of hours…

You’ll also find a large case filled with sausages, smoked meats and wheels of cheese—the makings of some great sandwiches, like the Grand Canyon—thin-sliced pastrami and corned beef with Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing on fresh pumpernickel bread—or the Caprese—fresh mozzarella, tomato, fresh basil leaves, red onions, olive oil and black pepper on a baguette.

More interested in pizza? No problem. They have a large menu of different combinations like spinach feta, garlic chicken, chicken cacciatore and vegetarian.

Keep going and you’ll head into an odd combination of foods—a sushi bar surrounded by the cheese counter. There’s sushi to go, but feel free to take a seat, order some saki and the usual fare you’d find at a sushi bar. Or ignore and head over to the cheeses.

They have a great selection, including some of my favorites, like the mosaic-like Cahill’s Porter Cheese, goat mozzarella, double- and triple-cream bries and five-year aged cheddar. If I were staying in Phoenix longer, I’d have picked up the Amber Valley Sage Derby, a green mosaic that combines a cow’s milk cheese with dried sage.

Also on display is an antipasto bar with jugs of olives, baby mozzarella, marinated mushrooms, roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, sweet red peppers and vibrant peppadew peppers from South Africa.

Of course, this being a grocery store, A.J.’s has much of the usual fare, including jars of pickles, a favorite of Shea’s, my youngest niece. But, this being A.J.’s they have a very cool brand—Bubbie’s. If you or your mom can’t make fresh pickles, buy these. They are the best, hands down. My favorites are the kosher dills, the pickled green tomatoes and the sauerkraut.

Now one of the reasons my brother Jay shops at A.J.’s is the meats. So, I had to take a look. If meat is your thing, you’ll enjoy this. They’re known for their all-natural beef, chicken, turkey and pork. No antibiotics or growth hormones here. And, they sell only choice or prime grades. You can find a rack of lamb or standing rib roast, veal shanks and all the usual cuts, along with some lovely looking prepared foods—at least prepared to the point of going in the oven. How about honey mustard pretzel chicken breasts?

Or cream cheese and bacon stuffed Portobello mushrooms? Or an Italian pork roast, stuffed with a sensuous looking combination of ham, Swiss, provolone, proscuitto and fresh spinach?

My last stop—Jay and Shea were waiting outside for me by this point—was the produce department. It features almost all the regular stuff you’d find at a good market, beautifully displayed, of course. But, there were a few things that stood out. The deep purple pluots, pointy ends all lined up.

There were plump English peas as well as my favorite sugar snap peas. But, I was stopped in my tracks by lobster mushrooms, accompanied by morels, chantrelles and oysters.

The heirloom tomatoes in their baskets were stunning. I think I recognized some Mr. Uglies that are now growing in my garden.

And, I liked the looks of the Dapple Fire pluots so much I bought a few for my family. I ate one and loved the sweet, juiciness of it.

And, then it was time to leave. It would be easy to drop a lot of money here, especially if I were just visiting and needed some great prepared foods for a family treat that required no cooking.

A.J.’s Fine Foods is located at 56th and Ray Road in Chandler, as well as 10 other locations in Arizona (two more are opening soon).

Have some thoughts about A.J.’s Fine Foods or other gourmet markets? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Lucky Seafood: Where Vietnam Meets Mira Mesa

I have to admit, as much as I love Vietnamese food, I’m almost always quietly sunk in confusion when I look at a menu. I’m never quite sure what I’m ordering, probably because I don’t eat Vietnamese food regularly enough–but, of course, that’s because I hate being embarrassed by my own ignorance.

At some point, this silliness just had to stop. So, I recently bought myself a reference book, the wonderful Vietnamese cookbook by Andrea Nguyen, “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press, 2006), and decided to explore Lucky Seafood on Mira Mesa Blvd. at Black Mountain Road in Mira Mesa.

The first thing to know about Lucky Seafood is that it is practically mandatory that you go there not just to shop, but to eat. A lot. Choose between the restaurant attached to it, Pho Lucky, where you can get the most amazing Pho (noodle soup) or the takeout counter in the store itself, which offers a variety of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes with noodles on the side and—my favorite—traditional sandwiches on toasted French rolls.

The first time I went to Lucky Seafood, I was with my parents and we decided to try the restaurant.

It was a Sunday afternoon and Pho Lucky was hopping with families and lots of 20-somethings diving into their dishes with the restaurant’s vibrant green chopsticks in hand. I ordered the Tai, Nam, Gau, Gan, Sack Pho (noodle soup with thin slices of rare steak, well-done flank steak, brisket, tendon and “stripe” – tripe). My mom ordered Bun Tom Thit Nuong (rice vermicelli with fried shrimp and chewy sticks of cane sugar) while my dad ordered Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong (rice vermicelli topped with egg rolls and slices of luscious BBQ pork).

What we got were enormous steaming white bowls filled with meals for two, along with condiments. Their dishes came with bowls of vinegar and chili oil with shredded carrots. Mine came with bean sprouts, lime wedges, sprigs of basil and slices of jalapeño peppers. I also ordered the Thai iced tea with tapioca. We all laughed when it arrived—it looked like a peach frappe topped with whipped cream. Something a 14-year-old girl would order. But, it was sensational, and I love the chewy black balls of tapioca.

When I went back to shop on my own the following week, I decided to try one of the sandwiches and ordered their French sandwich. You can bring the takeout dishes into the restaurant to eat, so I found a little table in the back and was intoxicated by the smells when I unwrapped the sandwich.

I’m not exactly sure just what was inside, but between the crispy toasted slices of French roll were delicate slices of meat and pate, sweet vinegared vegetables—shredded carrots, cucumbers, maybe jicama), sprigs of cilantro and slices of jalapeño. In one bite, you get cool and hot, sweet and tangy, and a quick punch of fire from the pepper slices. Quite simply, it’s one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.

All that, and I hadn’t even gone shopping yet! So, let’s take a quick turn around the market, understanding that as hard as I tried, many of the products there still elude me.

And, that would include those in the produce department. It’s filled with wonderful mysteries. Unfortunately, a lot of the products are anonymous. The store does a lot of the same kind of packaging that 99 Ranch does, bundling up produce in plastic wrap instead of selling it loose. But, they don’t label the packages and frequently don’t label the bins they sit in. So, I saw a lot of interesting things that I simply can’t tell you about.

What I could identify, however, was intriguing. There were banana blossoms, firmly sealed in plastic, yet still alluring. These are actually buds, not blossoms, and should feel firm and solid to the touch. Slice in half lengthwise, take out the core and cut the rest into half circles to then soak in vinegar water before including it in a salad with dried shrimp and pork or chicken.

There were gorgeous whole green papayas and a bin filled with it already shredded. It’s commonly treated as a vegetable in Vietnam, and can be pickled, added to soup or featured in a salad.

I've been curious about green papaya for years so I bought about a quarter of a pound of the shredded papaya and made a salad from a recipe from Gourmet magazine. I augmented it with small cooked shrimp, chopped peanuts and chopped cilantro.

It was the perfect dish for a hot summer night. Yes, it is very spicy, but as a cold dish it's also very refreshing. The green papaya is sweet and crunchy, and pairs well with shrimp. The peanuts and cilantro round out the flavors and texture. It's really a delightful salad.

I bought several Japanese cucumbers, which on a hot day I enjoy thinly sliced and marinated in rice vinegar, a little sesame oil and red pepper flakes, topped with toasted sesame seeds just before eating.

The various herbs caught my attention, particularly Tia to and kinh gioi, which are in the mint family. I bought a bunch of the kinh gioi, with its lovely purple and green leaves.

Last night, using a recipe I adapted from I steamed a sea bass fillet with tiny baby bok choy and plump shitake mushrooms in sake, vegetable broth, smashed garlic, minced ginger and Maggi seasoning sauce. Once everything was cooked, I added chopped cilantro and kinh gioi to the remaining broth, which had thickened, and poured it over rice and the fish and veggies. The kinh gioi added another layer of flavor to an already complex sauce.

Then, there was the green, nubby jack fruit. The store sells it whole (easily enough to feed a dozen people), and they also have it packaged in small cut sections, which display its unusual yellow fruit with bulging seeds and fibrous meat.

Jack fruit is the largest fruit on earth—one can top 100 pounds—and is in the same family as breadfruits and figs. I bought one of the small pieces and found it sweet, but not overly so, kind of the same unusual quality as a papaya. And, don’t toss the big seeds. You can boil them, then roast them and I’m told they taste like chestnuts.

Another unusual fruit—sold frozen not fresh at Lucky Seafood—is durian.

Instead of green nubs, it has a big brown spiny rind, here partly hidden by the yellow webbing of the packaging. They also are huge—and, fresh, have a reputation for being quite stinky. But, this is worth a try. Lucky Seafood sells small pieces of the pulp, frozen and easily defrosted in the microwave. What you end up with is a cream-colored, custard-like texture with overtones of vanilla. Eat it in a bowl with a spoon, add it to a tropical smoothie or to a fruit salad with other tropical fruits.

Right now, also take a look for the boxes of sweet plums near the registers. These truly live up to their name.

Of course, if you’re going to shop at a Vietnamese market, you have to buy noodles. There’s an entire aisle dedicated to dried noodles—rice sticks, broad bean threads, tapioca sticks, coiled dried egg noodles and more. And, you will find packages of tortilla-shaped rice paper for making spring rolls. Try to avoid those made with “tapioca flour” instead of rice flour. They don’t have the same taste or consistency. The Red Rose brand is the one to look for, according to, which, it turns out is Andrea Nguyen's site.

As for the noodles, I opted for fresh over dried and picked up a package of flat rice noodles for soup and something that looked so intriguing I got it and just hoped for the best. These were banh cuon, or rice rolled noodles.

There’s actually an amusing youtube video that shows how they’re made—amusing because the woman is wearing only one glove. But, you can see that this starts out as a batter, becomes a very thin, crepe-like noodle onto which some filling—probably green onion, ground pork or shrimp, mushrooms and fish sauce—is placed, then rolled up. Traditionally, they are served warm with a nuoc cham (basic dipping sauce) and herbs. Since I bought them pre-made, I heated them briefly in the microwave and made nuoc cham, using the recipe from Andrea's “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.” It’s very easy and very tasty:

1/3 cup fresh lime juice (2 or 3 limes)

1 tablespoon unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar (optional)

3 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup lukewarm water

5 to 6 tablespoons fish sauce

2 or 3 Thai or Serrano chiles, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

  1. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, vinegar, sugar and water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste and adjust the flavors to balance the sweet and sour as needed.
  2. Add the fish sauce, starting out with 5 tablespoons and then adding more as your palate dictates, balancing the sour, sweet, and salty. Aim for a light honey or amber color and a bold, forward finish. When you’re satisfied, add the chiles and garlic.

The noodles are pure comfort food, deliciously soft and chewy, with the flecks of green onion and dried shrimp adding a subtle flavor. The nuoc cham completes it. It's a wonderfully versatile sauce I am using for steamed veggies as well.

Obviously, if you are at Lucky Seafood, you have to check out the seafood. Indeed, the entire back of the store is the meat/poultry/seafood counter. You’ll find everything from ox tails and pork feet to braided beef gut and duck legs, along with the usual cuts of meat and poultry. And, of course, the fish—whole, fillets, steaks. Crawfish and clams. Fish paste, fish balls and cooked octopus. There were some amazing looking sea creatures, including the rainbow-colored parrot fish.

I came this close to buying the small blue crabs a young woman was determinedly wrangling from their tank.

Above and nearby were tanks filled with masses of catfish, tilapia, carp, lobster and Canada crab.

Finally, check out the aisle with all the sauces.

You can not only buy any number of varieties of fish sauce, you’ll find black vinegar and coconut vinegar and spiced vinegar, mirin, red chile paste—and its variations, such as with mustard, garlic or pepper—shrimp roe soy sauce and Maggi seasoning sauce.

This last sauce is unusual both in its taste and history. While made out of pure vegetable protein, it actually has a rather meaty flavor. It was invented in Switzerland in the late 19th-century, and probably brought to Vietnam by French colonialists, according to Nguyen. It’s great as a dipping sauce or added to marinades, sprinkled in sandwiches or on noodles.

Lucky Seafood is located at 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd. at Black Mountain Road.

Have some thoughts about Lucky Seafood or other ethnic markets in San Diego? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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