Friday, March 30, 2007

Welcome to McAsia, may I take your order?

Photo by Dan Turro

I often ponder the behavior of Americans. One of my enduring questions is about our reluctance to venture into realms less familiar. Many treasures can be found in these areas. A vast majority of Atlantans never venture past the local Publix or Kroger for their groceries. Just as many would drive past countless small independent, family owned restaurants to go to an Applebee’s. They would likewise dine at PF Chang’s rather than choosing the real food, cooked by real families in real restaurants. Beyond these scenarios, it is the proliferation of fast food that perplexes me the most. We live in a city that is rife with fast, inexpensive options for dining. From soul food buffets, to counter service Mexican joints, frequently the only challenge is overcoming small language difficulties. But hey, that’s what we have fingers for. Pointing is the universal language. While grocery shopping at Super H Mart recently, I encountered a beautifully executed alternative to fast food.

I call Super H “The Asian Whole Foods”. There is a beauty shop, a bank, an ice cream shop, and an area where they will freshly grind your choice of thirty-eight varieties of grains, nuts, dried fruits and more into a cereal. They even make fresh tofu and kimchi there. As you enter the store and look to the right, you see the food court. The wall of food starts with a sign labeled “Snacks”. It continues with Sushi, Korea, Chinese, Dumpling, and finally ends with “Café”. Each one of the counters has many offerings. For instance, the “Snack” counter has panels with pictures on them numbered one through thirty-three. Many items have a few choices per panel, such as whether to order your food with beef, chicken, tofu, or shrimp. I am always skeptical of tempura that is not cooked to order, so I ordered a combination order for $4.99. It included two pieces of shrimp, two pieces of squid, two vegetable and two sweet potato tempuras. It was crunchy and light. A small amount of tempura dipping sauce accompanied it in a small paper soufflé cup. There is also an item called Duk Boki. The English translation calls it a rice cake in spicy sauce. It is something like cylindrical rice gnocchi, and for just $3.95, it was a great little culinary adventure. Overall, the offerings are quite varied, encompassing a variety of noodles, soups, rice dishes, and more. And this is just the first counter. Next to the “Snack” counter is the one labeled “Sushi”. This counter is the thing of dreams for Publix and Kroger stores. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with the sushi offerings of Publix and Kroger. They provide fast healthy lunches for many, myself included. The prices are lower than the supermarkets. You can get rolls from $2.75! And no, it is not even a cucumber roll. An assortment of 6 pieces of nigiri sushi and eight pieces of roll is just $8.95. There are fewer signs here because most of the food is prepared and labeled in the case. The few signs they do have tout the fact that they will make whatever sushi you want. They also offer sushi and sashimi party platters for $35, $50, and $75. The selection is larger than their supermarket competitors and includes items like seaweed salad and pickled baby octopus.

The Korean counter also has numbered panels with pictures on them ranging from 1 through 33. Several of these panels have multiple options, such as the “Soon Doo Boon”. This spicy soft tofu stew is available with kimchi, seafood, miso, beef, mushroom, and combo. All of your regulars are there such as bulgogi (seasoned beef on rice) and bi bim bop (assorted vegetables and pickles on rice). That is as much fun to say as it to eat. But there are also more unusual items such as Sam Gae Tong; chicken stuffed with sweet rice, chestnuts, dates, and garlic, and cooked in a ginseng soup. Not only is this dish tasty and different, it also the most expensive item at the Korean counter at $9.95. The traditional condiments are included, those little dishes of kimchi and other pickles and salads.

The Chinese counter is what one might expect. The menu panels number only about a dozen, but the food is freshly prepared and tasty. There are the usual suspects like fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, dumplings and more. I must confess that Chinese is my least favorite Asian cuisine because it has been so Americanized. The fare here is as good as you will get at restaurants that are more expensive. It also provides an option for those in your party who do not have the most adventurous palates.

Lastly, there is Café Mozart. This is a scaled down version of this concept, which has a couple of free standing operations around Gwinnett. There is a good selection of coffee based beverages, as well as Bubble Tea. When I inquired about the nature of Bubble Tea, I was given a one-word answer: smoothie. Bubble Tea falls into two categories, fruit based and milk based. The term “bubble” refers to the tapioca pearls that are in the beverage. The star of this show is the pastry counter. The pastries are beautiful. From the mocha cakes and fruit tarts, to the individually sized snacks, these are truly gorgeous. You could do worse than to bring one of these to a holiday gathering or a dinner party.

The unifying aspect of these restaurants is their ease of use. In addition to the native languages, everything is listed in English with pictures. The service is very prompt. You can get in and out of here in about the same time as the fast food restaurants generally take. And with the prices as low as they are, it begs the question…McWho?

Super H Mart 2550 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth, GA 30096


Anonymous said...

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