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Notes from the Barrio - The 17th Street Market

I finally found it! I have been hearing about this fabulous Asian market for the three and a half years I have been living in Tucson. I have been tempted to search for it in the past, but now that I live in the Barrio Viejo, I not only have a desire to find it, I have a need. Since the closing of the historical and eclectic Jerry's Lee Ho Market (up for public auction Dec. 6), there is no local grocery to serve those locals like myself who would prefer foot or pedal power to driving to obtain that elusive quart of milk or bundle of green onions.

I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon the 17th Street Farmers Market by accident, on my way to repair a flat tire on my bicycle, my preferred mode of transportation. For me, it was as if I had discovered the lost city of El Dorado. I entered through the flower shop, passing the espresso cart and the smiling barista before continuing into the main warehouse. I immediately flashed back to Saturday mornings spent wading through the crowds at Seattle's Pike Place market. Not that I am comparing the two, but since leaving Seattle (my home town) I have searched high and low for a market even remotely close. Furthermore, I have been repeatedly frustrated in my efforts to locate that one "elusive Asian ingredient" time and time again. Not only is my search over, I can walk or ride my bike.

Located in a sizable warehouse in an industrial area west of 1st Ave., the 17th Street Farmers market is teeming with those hard to find Asian items. I was spoiled in Seattle, when I could hit Uwajimaya's or any of the other hundred smaller Asian markets in the area. My love of Asian cuisine and cooking it has not dissipated since I moved to the Old Pueblo. Now, when I need roasted seaweed, Teuchi udon, pork sung, pickled tamarind leaves, coconut gel, a wok or large Buddha, I can get it all in one stop.

I was immediately taken by the selection of rice: Home Village Brown, Buddha Jasmine, Gulf Pacific Long Grain, Kohuho Rose Short Grain, First Long Grain Sweet, Shirakiku Short Grain, Asian Taste Short Grain, Nashiki Short grain, Kagayaki Short Grain, Botun, Rani Jasmine, and Basmati. I wandered through two entire aisles of every kind of noodle and ramen imaginable. The entire Thai section impressed me, including over 20 different kinds of fish sauce. I found Kwong Hung Sen (Yellow Bean Sauce), Lao Gui Yang chili sauce, and Dua'a Mon Chay (pickled radish).

I stopped at the fish market and gazed at the fish head trimmings and large variety of shrimp and squid. I was most impressed by the selection of hard to find Asian produce (most of which is organic) including Opo (Fuzzy Melon), Lotus Root, and Yama Imo Root. I observed the Yuppies gushing over the Baby Bok Choy. No doubt they were looking forward to impressing their friends with their "exotic" cooking. I didn't have the heart to tell them that they should use the Yu Chin Kon Choy or Baby Gai Choy which is much better. Then I remembered that these were not familiar and it was steamed Baby Bok Choy that they paid five times the market price for the other night at the latest trendy Pan Asian restaurant.

On my way out I could not help but notice the small glass case containing Chinese herbal remedies. For temporary relief of aches and pains I recommend Zheng Gu Shui. When I was a graduate student in England I lived with two other graduate students, one from England and one from Hong Kong. When we all got the flu, the woman from Hong Kong took Chinese herbs and was healthy a week before anyone else in the house. I have been sold on the herbs ever since.

Next time I am cooking Pad Kee Mao, Moo Goo Gai Pan or The Snapper.s famous Singapore Noodles, I know where to go. Now you do too.

A poster on the wall of the warehouse was written entirely in Vietnamese. It advertised the Dharma Flower Temple. Check it out:

See you at the 17th Street Farmers Market. Open Monday-Saturday, 9am-6pm.



                                                                              The Snapper


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