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adventures in Asian preserved fruits

Thi N. | Oct 30, 200303:09 AM

So I grew up with these Vietnamese things, that I think are actually Chinese things: preserved plums, with some kind of grainy substance they've been rolled in - intensely preserved-sour, strange-sweet, and sort of savory - simulateously unsettling and good.

I've seen these in markets many a time - in the long rows with all sorts of dried, wrinkly fruit things - and have been tempted, but my one or two adventures proved disasterous - inedibly chemically things nothing like the kind my mom used to buy from the one store she trusted.

But, to the now: I was in post Green Village food daze (gluten puffs: the freakiest texture yet. Sort of like doughnut holes from the planet spooge. But crab and pork dumplings: tasty). Wandering around San Gabriel Square (corner of Del Mar and Valley, megamall).

Downstairs, we notice a new store, Aji Ichiban, some sort of dried fruit and sweet store. My friend Mary sprints in, shouting something about crystallized ginger and her needs.

It turns out, on the inside, to look exactly like one of those mall candy stores, like Sweet Factory: rows and rows of neat little bins. But, instead of gummy things, there was every freakin' kind of Chinese and Japanese dried fruit under the sun. Six kinds of preserved ginger candy. One with prune dust. One sweetened. Etc. Ten kinds of preserved plums. Etc. and etc., on and on.

And, best of all: little dishes on each container, with cut-up bits of the dried fruit inside, free for the taking. We wander for a few minutes, sampling. Some intense flavor bursts. Excellent sweet ginger candies, some truly bizarre stuff that was sort of like fermented plums, some riotously fruity stuff, some stanky stuff, some pure and sweet stuff.

And, if anybody as a kid liked those cheap-o Haw Flake things (they were like cocaine to me; I was a hawhead), this place has a high-class tasty version, and hawthorne in its pure, dried, un-processed-into-flake form.

Anyway, their stuff is fine, and, for those who are, like me, unknowledgeable and a little afraid, the chance to try, for free, every sort of dried fruit snack thingy (did I mention ten sorts of preserved plum? At least) in rapid succession is, well... sort of like being turned loose in a, er, candy store? Asian dried fruit store? Whatever.

It's a time.


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