International Market Shopping on Lexington’s Southside

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page 13, Ace, January 8 2009
BY DAVE OVERTON

Lexington is lucky to have a culturally diverse population. If you are into fusion cuisine as I am, the availability of ingredients from varied cultures makes your imagination race and your taste buds quiver in anticipation. Just a reasonable bike ride away from Southland Drive is a trio of international markets that are enough to fire up your ambitions and provide fodder for years of culinary experimentation.

Just outside New Circle and a block off Clays Mill Road and Keithshire Way, in a small shopping center, is Dong Yang Market.

Just to the right of the bingo hall, Dong Yang is marked by two Chinese symbols, followed by “MARKET.”

Inside, Dong Yang carries a wide variety of Asian ingredients, including Jasmine and sushi rices, Thai curries, Japanese miso, duck eggs, durian fruit, bonito flakes, noodles and Nori sheets. It’s what most people think of as a Chinese market with more variety than space.

After leaving Dong Yang, a short walk to the right past the bingo hall takes you to Sagar Indian Market. This is the place to go for spices, Basmati rice, lentils and pickles, including my personal favorite garlic pickle. They also carry a small variety of produce that may not be found elsewhere such as baby eggplants (they had some gorgeous ones today) and fresh peppers.

On the left end of the L-shaped center, you will find Luciano’s Groceries and Restaurant. Instead of the Italian market you would expect, you will find a small Mexican market and restaurant. They have a small selection of Mexican products such as chorizo, cheeses, dried chilies and spices and even a few Mexican pastries.

At all three of these markets, I have found the prices to be extremely reasonable. Much less, indeed, than comparable prices at the big supermarkets in town. I can only theorize that it’s because this is normal food to the owners and customers of these markets, not esoteric and exotic cuisine. In addition, there is a much wider variety of ingredients available.

Foodies of the Caribbean

Next time you go to the Big Lots in Eastland Shopping center, turn to your right just before you walk in. Across the parking lot in another section of the center, wedged in between the appliances and the patio enclosures, you’ll see Nana’s African and Caribbean Market.

Inside, you will find essential ingredients for this cuisine that you won’t find anywhere else in Lexington. Among these are jerk spice mixtures and marinades, yam, plantain and cassava flours and palm oil. You will also find other items such as coconut milk, rice, semolina flour, and beans that are also commonly used in other regional cooking. In the small produce department in the back of the store, you can find yams and green plantains. Plantains are a starchy relative of the banana that are commonly used in not only Caribbean and African cooking, but also in South and Central American cuisine.

On a recent visit, I bought a box of plantain fufu flour, and some “Hot Jamaican Curry.”

Fufu is of African origin and can be served either as a porridge or as sort of a dumpling in stews. I thought the plantain flour would make a good batter for a white fish, which would also pair well with a fruit salsa. I mixed a half cup of flour with a quarter teaspoon of baking powder to lighten the batter when fried, a whole egg, and about a quarter cup of water. I also added some salt and about a tablespoon of the Jamaican curry powder. The flour absorbed more water than I expected, leading me to think it should be a good thickener for stews as well.

(I felt kind of stupid when I read the section of the box later where it recommends the flour for use in batters for fish and chicken as well as a thickener for soups, stews, and gravy. Mental note: read the directions first next time.)

These measurements shouldn’t be taken as a rule. Instead, adjust the seasonings to taste and the water and flour to your desired batter consistency. I dried a couple of flounder fillets and lightly dredged them in the flour before battering and frying them in hot oil. The batter was wonderfully light, crisp, and flavorful and very nicely complemented the fish. The curry wasn’t too spicy, despite the “hot” label, but it added a very nice flavor. It would be wonderful in a curried fish stew. I had to go back and buy some palm oil and some Walkerswood jerk seasoning.

It seems like a good reason to fire up the grill and cook a little chicken.

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