One of the things I like to talk about when it comes to Asian markets is how they can vary so tremendously based on ownership. While there are constants — sauces, certain types of instant noodles, etc., once you start looking beyond the basics there can be huge differences by location.
Hyundai Market (1807 Decker Blvd. #1), which is Korean-owned, sells many Korean-specific products, like different banchan dishes and varieties of fermented vegetables, unlike Asian Market (1221 Bakersfield Rd.), which has a broader Chinese selection.
Then there’s 88 Oriental Market (6795 St Andrews Rd.), which is closer to Asian Market, but also caters to a much broader Southeast Asian community. While you will see many Chinese products that crossover between the two stores, at 88 Oriental you may also see more aromatic ingredients like Southeast Asian herbs, different flours and sauces, and a different variety of snacks.
In this feature we tackle some of the best snacks that 88 Oriental Market specifically has to offer and also touch on some specific Lunar New Year snacks that the store has in stock for this year’s celebration on Feb. 12.
Banh Bao (Vietnamese Steamed Buns)
One thing that’s unique about 88 Oriental Market is that they get a lot of products delivered from the Atlanta Vietnaemse community, including cakes and different types of meat. One of the best options is heaping banh bao: fluffy dome-shaped steamed buns that are filled with a mixture of ground pork and wood-ear mushroom (a very thin, slightly crunchy textured mushroom often used to give a bit of a bite to dishes) plus boiled egg and sweet Chinese sausage. Gently warmed in the microwave for less than a minute, you get a brilliantly soft and savory bun with a balanced, juicy filling. An absolute can’t miss when available.
Honeydew Melon Cake
This next item extends a theme of soft and gentle snacks running through this feature. The honeydew melon cakes are an incredibly soft and buttery rectangular packaged cake from Taiwan. The filling features a dense but light and chewy melon paste that’s got a gentle aroma of melon and a pleasant sweetness. Think Fig Newton, but denser and more buttery. These are phenomenal with a cup of tea midday.
Frozen Scallion Pancake
It’s very easy to gravitate to dumplings and steamed buns in the freezer section of 88 Oriental Market, but a versatile sleeper snack are scallion pancakes. These thin flatbreads are super versatile, whether on their own as a quick, crispy, delightfully flaky snack, or used as a fun wrap tool with any kind of shredded or sliced meat. They cook incredibly fast on a skillet or in an oven and are very shareable in a pinch.
Brown Sugar Boba Popsicle
Boba, chewy tapioca pearls, are most commonly known from bubble tea drinks, but in the past few years dessert makers have expanded the use of boba into an army of new creations. From cake to cookies to ice cream, boba have expanded into a wide range of baked goods, their soft, chewy nature offering surprising texture to dishes that normally are more one note.
One of the most delicious and readily available boba items you can find here in the U.S. are brown sugar boba popsicles. The popsicle itself is a standout, with a creamy, brown sugar base that has almost caramel notes. The boba surprisingly keep their soft, chewy nature despite being frozen, and really add to the overall texture and taste of the popsicle without feeling like a gimmick.
Lays Salted Egg Chips
Salted-egg-flavored products have exploded all over East Asia in recent years. Salted egg is a dish that involves taking an egg and soaking in brine for approximately a month. The egg whites are salty, the yolk in the center firm and cured, bursting with rich flavor. The Lay’s Salted Egg chip captures some of that yolky flavor with an added big pop of garlic for a balanced kick.
Sliced Coconut Candy
These colorful candies come in classic round, red plastic containers each January in celebration of Lunar New Year. They are part of a set of different treats like roasted seeds, sweetened lotus root and peanut sesame seed candy that are often gathered for good luck. The simple coconut candy is one of the best — a thin strip of dehydrated coconut that’s lightly coated in sugar. They’re slightly crispy and airy with just a hint of sweetness to leave you wanting more.
D Plus Green Tea Baked Wheat Cake
Sitting very unassumingly next to the register along with under equally unassuming baked goods is this incredibly soft and luxurious cake that could easily become a staple of any home. It’s one of those tremendously soft foods that you just want to spend time poking and playing with before eating because of how enjoyable it feels to the touch. Most similar to a Hawaiian roll, it’s very airy and lightly sweet with a soft green tea perfume throughout. Delightful.