Taste: Seoul in the Suburbs
On one recent day, Kiong Banh, the Vietnamese-born chef of Twenty Manning and an amateur homeopathologist, drove up to North Wales to visit Assi Korean Market, a new and much-ballyhooed outpost of a national chain. Banh is a longtime shopper at the city’s Asian markets — he stops each morning at Wing Phat Plaza on Washington Avenue, and once weekly at Hanahreum, in Elkins Park — and he wanted to see how the new place compared.
The store was bright and airy, with the high-ceilinged style of American supermarkets. Banh grabbed a shopping cart and wheeled it into the produce section. He picked up a Korean melon and fingered its ribbed yellow skin. He spotted a display of lady apples and packed a bag full of them. “I used to core the apples, stuff foie gras in them, and roast them,” Banh said. Rounding a corner, he ripped off a leaf of Chinese celery. “So good for the people with hypertension,” he said, and then mused about the dermatological capabilities of neighboring turmeric. When he came to a pile of bitter melon, Banh said, “At Twenty Manning, I want to freeze this, and when it starts to harden, toss it in dressing.” Banh pushed his cart past a variety of prepared foods, including kimchi and seaweed salad, and on beyond the fishmonger.
Turning down another aisle, Banh stopped to speak highly of Korean wild sweet rice, which he plates beneath tuna, with coconut curry. But he was most excited about a store-brand bag of mixed grains: black sweet rice, barley, brown rice, peas, red beans and corn, among others. “I’m going to try to fit this on the next menu,” Banh said. (He recommends soaking the mix overnight, sautéing in olive oil, and then using chicken stock or water to cook it like rice.) A bag of pickled mustard greens made Banh nostalgic for his first menu at Twenty Manning, for which he sautéed the greens with julienned pancetta and ginger and served them with duck magret. (Banh suggests blanching the greens in boiling water to get rid of the pickling juices.)
After about 45 minutes, Banh pushed his cart, half full, toward the checkout. There had been disappointments: He had been unable to find a large container of mirin or a small bottle of an invigorating aloe drink he favors. But he was impressed by the range of produce for sale (though the selection on Washington Avenue is fresher). Assi’s prices were about the same as he encounters elsewhere. All told, Banh said, “Not much different from the Asian market, eh?”
>> Assi Korean Market, 1216 Welsh Road, North Wales; 215-631-9400.