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Tropical Market – Filipino in Vallejo

Melanie Wong | Feb 15, 2004 03:39 PM

Tropical Market, a tiny grocer in a strip mall has a small steam table in the front by the cash register and is turning out a delicious variety of high quality and inexpensive home-style food that changes every day. Cup size portions are $1 to $1.50 or pints for double, and a satisfying lunch can be assembled for $3 or if you go for broke, $5, with lots leftover.

Chicken tinolo – The Filipino version of pot au feu, kicked up a notch with Asian seasonings. A clear, delicate chicken stock fragrant with fresh ginger and garlic, poached chicken pieces on the bone, and some tiny green leaves floating on the surface. I don’t know the name of this veggie, but I’ve seen it in the store. It has 1/4” oval-shaped dark green leaves on woody branches. The leaves are very tender and gossamer-textured and are stripped from the branches.

Pork adobo – The best one I’ve had so far, made here of chunks of fresh pork belly with the rind, braised to unctuous tenderness with potatoes soaked through with the dark sticky sauce. Intensely tangy with vinegar, peppery spice, and a heavy dose of strong fish sauce.

Chop suey with quail eggs and prawns – Another brothy style dish, the kind of preparation that I’ve come to love in this cuisine. Sauteed cabbage, long beans, kabocha, medium-size prawns, and quail eggs are moistened with a good measure of shrimp-based stock.

Kare-kare made with pigs feet – Peanut-y sauce with pigs feet and Japanese eggplant. Not as successful because most of the serving was bones.

Pancit – The only thing I’ve tried that I haven’t liked. Too dark and salty from soy sauce and the shrimp were rubbery – maybe a bad batch, as I’ve had such good luck with this kitchen otherwise.

Stewed yucca with jackfruit – Big pearly white chunks of soft yucca root pick up some sweetness and acidity from slices of jackfruit. The thickened juices become a syrupy, medium sweet, glossy gravy that’s lovely on hot steamed rice.

Grilled whole tilapia – The store offers frying service for seafood purchases. The prepared food counter also has grilled whole fish. Stuffed with tomato and sliced onions in the cavity, the skin is wonderfully crisp and smoky if you get one fresh off the grill. Can’t think of a better return for two bucks.

Turon – Banana deep-fried in a lighter type of wrapper pricked with tiny bubbles is coated with sugar glaze for a satisfying crunch.

Grilled and glazed plantains on skewers – This kitchen excels at this style of grilled and honey-glazed desserts/side dishes. The plantains hit just the right softness but stayed firm enough to nibble from the skewers. The selection on other days has been grilled and glazed yucca, sweet potatoes, or pumpkin on skewers - all looked delicious but were not sampled.

Tropical Market
3712 Sonoma Blvd.
Open daily, 10am to 6pm.

An email inquiry asked whether the Filipino culinary food centers were near the Vallejo ferry terminal for chowhounds coming from San Francisco. They are not, however, there’s a pretty good concentration of them in various strip malls strung along Sonoma Boulevard between Redwood and Marine World Parkway, which is on the public bus route. Stores and restaurants on each sides of the street would provide good eating in both directions.

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