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Gum Kuo Restaurant, Oakland Congee

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Gum Kuo restaurant, in Oakland, California’s Chinatown, is a great place to go for congee (rice porridge) – johk (or jook or, sometimes, juk). It’s the restaurant where we go for breakfast whenever we make a visit to the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market. We’ll visit there on other occasions as well.

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo is found at 388 9th St. (between Webster St. & Franklin St.) in Oakland, California. Their phone number is (510) 268-1288. It’s located in the Asian Cultural center and is found in the entryway to the center’s courtyard right off of Franklin Street. There’s a parking garage directly adjacent to the center, which is good, given how difficult it can be to find street parking in Chinatown.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Gum Kuo Window

Gum Kuo front window

Front Counter

Gum Kuo counter

When you walk pas the restaurant, you’ll see familiar Chinatown sight – browned, succulent-looking roast ducks and a half-torso of crispy, roasted pork hanging in the window; there’s also Chinese barbecue pork (cha siu), stewed chickens and stewed ducks. The trays below the hanging food contain various other dishes such as grilled octopus and various innards, for instance intestines and stomach.

Bowl of Congee

Bowl of Congee

More Congee

More Congee

Although there is a quite extensive menu of Chinese food, we tend to come mainly for the congee (and the roast duck – see below). Congee is simply rice porridge to which a food of your choice has been added. It typically includes fresh ginger slivers and green onions. You can add soy sauce and chilli oil as desired. Gum Kuo offers a wide variety of options, listed under the menu category “Porridge.” Kasma nearly always gets the same thing: congee with pork liver, preserved egg and fish. She’ll occasionally get the pork kidney instead of the liver. The congee is served in a rather large bowl; for the two of us, we ask for two smaller bowls into which we serve the congee. Rest easy, you don’t need to have innards in your congee: you can get plain chicken, or pork, or beef or fish, if you prefer.

Roast Duck

Roast Duck

The other item that we almost always order is the roast duck. It’s on the menu under “Barbecue.”The roast duck here is excellent: crispy, tasty skin over moist and delicious meat. You can order just a plate of duck, but for a little extra you get an entire half-duck; if there’s any left, take it home for a snack or meal later.

I’ll sometimes substitute a plate of roast pork for the duck. Chinese roast pork as served here has a crispy outer skin. There’s usually three layers to a piece: the crispy outer skin, a layer of fat and a layer of muscle meat. It is very tasty.

Gum Kuo Menu

Gum Kuo (partial) menu

In addition to the restaurant, Gum Kuo offers many items which can be taken home. Click on the picture to the right to read the sign more easily. Roasted and steamed duck, steamed and salted chicken (they even offer a free-range option), and various spiced pig parts such as Spiced Pig Ears, Spiced Pig Tongue, Spiced Pic Stomach and Spiced Pig Intestines. Of course, these items can be ordered as a restaurant dish as well.

They also offer a more standard American breakfast – omelet or eggs with toast, that sort of thing. I’ve never been tempted though: the congee and the roast duck or pork are the reason why I come here.

Next time you are in Oakland’s Chinatown, give Gum Kuo a try.


See Also:

Asian Markets – Oakland’s International District

Michael Babcock, Thursday, August 18th, 2011

When shopping for Thai or Asian ingredients in Oakland, California, one of the best areas is the International District, which covers International Boulevard (formerly East 14th Street) and East 12th Street. There are many Southeast Asian and Chinese markets on these two streets from the Lake Merritt end to 17th Avenue. In this blog I’ll talk about the markets where Kasma shops for ingredients, both for her personal use and for her Thai Cooking Classes.

This is a companion piece to last-week’s blog: Asian Markets – Oakland’s Chinatown

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Shopping at Asian Markets (for Thai Ingredients), more often than not Kasma goes to a number of markets on her shopping trips; different markets carry different ingredients and she always tries to get absolutely the freshest ingredients and the best brands of packaged products.

International Boulevard, the old East 14th Street in Oakland, and East 12th Street are intersected by the numbered avenues, beginning with First Avenue. Up until about 17th Avenue, the stores are primarily Asian; after that, the flavor turns more Hispanic. It is one of the two main districts for Asian supermarkets in Oakland, the other being Oakland’s Chinatown situated from 7th to 9th Streets bordered by Broadway to the west. One of the advantages of shopping at International Boulevard is that many of the stores have parking lots.

(Click images to see larger version.)

International Boulevard Asian Markets

Sontepheap Market

Mithapheap Market

Mithapheap (was Sontepheap) Market

1400 International Blvd. (at 14th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 436-3826

I list this market first because it is the market Kasma frequents the most out on International Boulevard. The market is run by Cambodians and is a great source for hard-to-find Southeast Asian ingredients, such as holy basil, kaffir lime leaves, cha-om, bai chaploo and more. Read Kasma’s blog Mitapheap (was Sontepheap) Market in Oakland to find out more. There’s a small parking lot right by the store. The name was changed from Sontepheap to Mitapheap in early 2012.


International Lao Market

International Lao Market

International Lao Market

1619 International Blvd. (at 16th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 536-5888

The International Lao Market, owned by Laotians, gets second position because Kasma often goes there for hard-to-find produce items when they are not available at Sontepheap. The market also carries many frozen, bottled and packaged goods from Thailand, including one of Kasma’s favorite fish sauce brands – Tra Chang – as well as her favorite brand of shrimp paste (kapi) – Klong Kohn. This is one place Kasma’s students can find clay, stone and wooden mortars and pestles. Nearby street parking is usually available.


Mekong Market

Mekong Market

Mekong Market

1613 International Blvd. (at 16th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 261-7630

Although it’s a small store, I’m including Mekong Market here because it is right next to the International Lao Market. The proprietress is Cambodian and Kasma uses this as a back-up for ingredients such as Thai eggplants, holy basil and kaffir lime leaves. Of the Southeast Asian cuisines, Cambodian and Lao foods share the most similarities with Thai and markets run by people from these two countries are more likely to carry the hard-to-find fresh ingredients also used in Thai cooking.


Thien Loi Hoa

Thien Loi Hoa

Thien Loi Hoa

1199 E. 12th St. (at 12th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 663-0138

Also on East 12th Street, Thien Loi Hoa is a fairly large and complete market. They have fresh and frozen seafood in addition to produce and a butcher. In the freezers are also various Southeast Asian herbs and vegetables, like cha-om and sadao (neem). This is the only market in Oakland where Kasma can find pickled garlic from Thailand without preservatives in vacuum-sealed bags in the refrigerated section. In the same section, there’s usually the sometimes hard-to-find salted mackerel from Thailand. Fresh duck eggs are frequently available here, too. The store has a small parking lot; I’m usually able to find a spot.


Lucky Fish Market

Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market

1201 E 12th St. (at 12th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94620
(510) 436-6068

Lucky Fish Market is right across the street from Thien Loi Hoa and is a good place to look for fresh fish, including live ones in the tanks, and other seafood such as crabs and lobsters. They have another market on 8th street in Oakland’s Chinatown. Thien Loi Hoa and Sun Sang (see next entry) also have fresh fish, if you can’t find what you’re looking for here.


Sun Sang Market

Sun Sang Market

Sun Sang Market

751 International Blvd. (at 8th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 891-0298

A fairly large Asian grocery store with produce and a meat counter. Kasma used to go there specifically to buy Lion and Globe Peanut oil in 5 liter bottles but lately they have only the smaller sizes. The store has a large selection of frozen seafood products and also a fairly good fresh fish counter.


Written by Michael Babcock, August 2011

Asian Markets – Oakland’s Chinatown

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

One of the two best locales to shop for Asian ingredients in Oakland, California is Oakland’s Chinatown. When Kasma does her weekly shopping for her Thai cooking classes, she invariably begins at Oakland’s Chinatown. Below are the stores where she shops.

One map I came across shows Oakland’s Chinatown Boundaries as a rectangle bound by Broadway and Oak on two sides and 6th Street and 11th Street on the other two sides. The stores where Kasma shops are all within a narrower area, bounded by Broadway and Webster on two sides and 7th Street and 9th Street on the other sides.

Although it is called Chinatown, it is really more pan-Asian as the stores are run not only by Chinese but also by Southeast Asians such as Vietnamese.

Street parking can be somewhat hard to find in Chinatown, particularly on 8th Street and 9th Street where there are many stores. Double-parked vehicles, including large delivery trucks, are very common on these two streets. On weekday mornings, Kasma can sometimes find parking on Broadway between 8th Street and 9th Street. When I shop here I usually drive up 9th Street (it’s a one-way street) coming from Clay Street and park at the metered-street parking either between Clay and Washington or between Washington and Broadway. Alternatively, there’s a parking lot under the Asian Cultural Center, which is found on Franklin Street in-between 9th and 10th. Drive up 9th (one-way) from Broadway and turn onto Franklin (left only, Franklin is one-way) and the parking lot is underground to your right. It costs the same to park here as on the street, but they charge in hour-long increments.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Oakland Chinatown’s Asian Markets

Wah Hang Market

Wah Hang Market

Wah Hang Market

415 Ninth St
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 268-0358

Wah Hang Market is a small shop just on 9th street between Broadway and Franklin. Kasma occasionally stops here mainly to look for fresh produce; if Khanh Phong is out of a certain item or if the freshness is not to Kasma’s liking, she’ll stroll down here and see what is on display. She’ll also buy certain cuts of pork here, again, if Khanh Phong doesn’t have what pleases her.


Yuen Hop Noodle Company

Yuen Hop Noodle Company

Yuen Hop Noodle Company

824 Webster St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-2698

Kasma comes to Yuen Hop Noodle Company basically for two items. One is the loosely packed bags of fresh-made rice noodles, which are the best rice noodles on this side of the Bay. The other is a snack – Chinese-style mochi (sticky rice dough balls) stuffed with a ground black sesame and peanut filling that is very good and a favorite snack among her students. Both are usually sold out before noon. Although it is called the “Noodle Company”, the store is more or less a typical Asian grocery store carrying a wide variety of fresh produce, dried seafood products (occasionally the hard-to-find salted mackerel), and packaged and canned goods. The cookware aisles are worth a look.


Wing Fat Market

Wing Fat Market

Wing Fat Market

719 Webster St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 835-2318

I’m including this smaller, Asian market just for the sake of completeness. Kasma comes here mainly to look for nino (” baby”) bananas (Thais call them “egg bananas”) if she can’t find them at the right stage of ripeness for cooking that she needs at other stores. This store seems to always have bunches of these bananas hanging from wire hooks at the front.


Best Taste Restaurant

Best Taste Restaurant

Best Taste Restaurant

814 Franklin St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 444-4983

Kasma stops here to get char siu – Chinese barbecued red pork. Their roast duck and crispy-skin roast pork are also quite good. A good place for a quick, inexpensive lunch.


Old Oakland Farmer's Market

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Ninth St. between Broadway & Clay
Oakland, CA
Fridays, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

On Friday mornings, the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market is a great place to get Asian produce. There’s a large number of Asian vendors, many of them immigrant Southeast Asian farmers including Hmong and other hilltribes. The produce is very fresh and the prices are among the best you’ll find. It pays to get to the market as early as you can as store owners often come early in search of hard-to-find produce for their stores, such as pea eggplants, Thai eggplants, holy basil, lemon basil and chayote greens. Many stalls are ready to sell even before 8:00 a.m., the official opening time. In addition to produce, we come here for very fresh duck eggs; our Filipino mailman swears by the balut we get here. There are also stalls selling ready-made food and a few tables set up for people to eat. See our earlier blog Old Oakland Farmer’s Market.


Oakland Chinatown’s Seafood Markets

Asian seafood markets are very different from what you find in regular supermarkets. Most of the fish is displayed whole, with the head, tail and fins still on; you can have them cleaned to your liking after you’ve made your selection. The best way to tell how fresh a fish is is when it’s still whole and not yet scaled and gutted. (See Kasma’s article Selecting a Fresh Fish.) Kasma prefers to shop for fish in Chinatown because there are three stores within close proximity that have a good selection of fresh whole fish; it is not uncommon for her to walk to all three stores to make sure she gets the freshest possible seafood. All three markets display the whole fish on ice and also have tanks with live fish and other seafood, such as crabs, lobsters, shrimp and clams. (See also Whole Fish Dishes.)

New Sang Chong Market

New Sang Chong Market

New Sang Chong Market

377 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-2018

New Sang Chong Market is where Kasma usually looks for fresh fish first. Although the selection is not as large as Lucky Fish Market (across the street), the fish tends to be fresher. In addition they sell what in Thai would be called gai bahn, literally “house chicken.” These free-range chickens are a much smaller variety than that found in traditional American supermarkets and have a much better flavor. When Kasma was perfecting her Thai Southern Fried Chicken Recipe, she was able to get the result she wanted only from this smaller variety of chicken. The chickens are sold with head and feet on. The market also has a butcher, a good selection of frozen seafood, and fresh produce.


Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market

Lucky Seafood Market #2

376 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 663-8638

No longer called Lucky, still a fish market.

This is the largest of the three fishmongers on this block. There’s also a Lucky Seafood Market on International Boulevard, the other good locale for markets with Asian ingredients in Oakland – a blog to follow soon.


Yet Sun Market

Yet Sun Market

Yet Sung Market

397 8th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 451-3338

Yet Sung Market is the third market with fresh seafood and also the smaller variety of free-range whole chicken with head and feet still on. They also have very fresh produce, well worth a look here.


Oakland Chinatown Bonus Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Gum Kuo Restaurant

388 9th St # 182
Oakland, CA 94607-4292
(510) 268-1288

I’ll include this restaurant because it’s a great place to get jook (or johk) – congee (rice porridge). On the Fridays that we come to the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market we usually come here for congee or for the roast pork or roast duck, both of which you can see hanging enticingly in the window. I often get a plate of the pork and Kasma usually gets congee with pork liver, preserved egg and fish. This restaurant is worth a blog of its own sometime soon. (Prescient words! See Gum Kuo Restaurant, Oakland Congee, from February 2012.)


Further reading:

Written by Michael Babcock, August 2011, updated May 2017

Mithapheap (was Sontepheap) Market in Oakland

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, August 6th, 2010

The Cambodian market formerly called Sontepheap is now called Mithapheap and is found in Oakland, on International Avenue at 14th Avenue, is a great Southeast Asian market.

(Note: this blog was updated on 12 June 2012 to reflect the name change from Sontepheap to Mithapheap Market.)

Mithapheap Market

The Mithapheap storefront

Oakland doesn’t have a Thai Town like L.A. Neither does it have any Thai market. Whenever I need the the hard-to-grow and hard-to-find fresh herbs and vegetables I am used to eating and cooking with back in Thailand, I head for Mithapheap (renamed from Sontepheap in early 2012). The store is small but packed with many interesting things. It is run by a friendly couple – Yun (short for Yunita) and Sam, – who both speak fluent English. Usually one of them is there behind the check-out stand and they are more than happy to help new customers find things in the store.

Plants

Plants for sale at Mithapheap

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

During the summer and early fall, when the weather is warm, Mithapheap is a great place to visit for people missing the exotic flavors they’ve experienced in Southeast Asia. Sam makes frequent trips to growers he knows in Modesto and brings back a truckload each time of fresh produce seldom seen in other Southeast Asian markets in the area, such as pea eggplants, winged beans, the beloved cha-om (which always sells out within a day or two!), lemon basil, holy basil, ivy gourd leaves (bai dtam leung in Thai) and the very nutritious drumstick tree leaves (moringa or marum, in Thai). The store also carries numerous frozen and bottled herbs and vegetables imported from Thailand, as well as precious items such as salted crab needed for making a delicious som dtam (green papaya salad), the bitter sadao (neem) flower buds that are so good with nahm bplah wahn sauce and grilled catfish, the yummy sun-dried mudfish (blah chon daed diow) and pilot fish (bplah salit daed diow), and one of my favorite ready to cook preserved fish – bplah som – a sour fish made similarly as sour sausages.

Mithapheap Market

Produce aisle inside Mithapheap Market

Moreover, the store sells many freshly made snacks similar to ones found in markets in Thailand, which I love to buy for my students to sample. Below are pictures taken during a recent visit to the store, showing a vast array of exotic Southeast Asian produce and other food items one can acquire there. But because some of the rarer items are sometimes hard to come by, if you are searching for something particular, call ahead and ask if they have it in stock before you make a trip there. It may be there one day but gone the next.

Yun and Jackfruit

Yun cutting a large jackfruit

If you are out that direction, there are two other markets worth visiting: the Lao International Market and Maykong Market. Both are smaller than Mithapheap and just two blocks further down on International Ave between 16th and 17th Aves. The latter is a tiny store, but sometimes I find very fresh herbs and produce there that are particular to Cambodian and Thai cooking.

From International Ave (which is the old East 14th Street), take a jog a street over to East 12th Street and head on to Sun Hop Fat at 5th Ave. Unlike the three small markets mentioned earlier, it is a supermarket-size Vietnamese store that we recommend to students because it carries a large number of fresh produce and packaged food products used in Thai cooking. It also has large freezers carrying a large variety of seafood products and frozen snacks from Southeast Asia.

(Note: I took all the pictures in this article except the first one.)


Sam Behind Counter

Sam at checkout counter

Produce

Produce for sale!

Sam (to left) and Yun (above right) are the owners of Mithapheap. The produce in the picture to the right includes, from front to back: galanga, turmeric, ginger, Thai eggplants, Thai chillies and home-made coarse-ground toasted rice in the shadows in the back.

Banana Blossoms

Banana blossoms, kaffir lime leaves

Vegetables

More hard-to-find vegetables

To the left we see banana blossoms (for salads and dips) and packaged kaffir lime leaves. to the right we see baby watermelon (used as a squash in some sour curries), bagged cha-om and bitter melon.

Winged Beans

Very fresh winged beans

Kaffir Lime Leaves

Kaffir lime leaves

Winged beans are a treat to find: Thais use them in wing bean salads, often of the yum (a type of spicy and sour salad) variety. Kaffir lime leaves, critical in many Thai dishes, are always a challenge to find in the U.S.

Holy Basil

Holy basil

Lemon Basil

Lemon basil

Holy basil is another hard-to-find Thai ingredient. It is used in many dishes, particularly dishes such as Spicy Basil Pork (Moo Pad Gkaprow) (see my recipe for Spicy Basil Chicken(Gkai Pad Gkaprow)). Some dishes, such as Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Stir-fry) just are not the same without holy basil. And Lemon Basil is a real find if you are making a soup such as Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup with Lemon Basil (Gkaeng Liang Fak Tawng) that requires it.

Sawtooth Coriander

Sawtooth coriander

Ivy Gourd Vines

Ivy gourd vines

Two more hard-to-find items. Sawtooth coriander is a great accompaniment to the northeastern salads called lahb (or larb), such as my Northeastern-style Spicy Minced Chicken Salad (Lahb Gkai). Ivy gourd vine (pak dtam leung) is used in salads and stir-frys.

Curry Leaves

Curry leaves

Fresh Baby Corn

Fresh baby corn

Canned baby corn is just no substitute for recipes that call for baby corn!

Drumstick Tree

Drumstick tree (moringa)

Green Papaya

Green papaya

For more information on drumstick tree or moringa, see my blog Moringa (Marum). Green papaya is used to make Green Papaya Salad (Som Dtam).

Green Mangoes

Young tart green mangoes

Wild Pepper Leaves

Wild pepper leaves

Young green mango is used to make salads, such as my easy-to-make Sliced Tart Crisp Green Mango with Chillies and Salt (Mamuang Yam Prik Gkap Gkleua). Wild pepper leaves (bai cha plu), used to make Miang Kam (Tasty Leaf-Wrapped Tidbits), are often confused with betel leaves (in the next picture). (See my recent blog: Miang Kam uses Bai Cha Plu NOT Betel Leaf (Bai Plu).)

Areca Nut

Areca nut, betel leaves

Pickels

Home-made pickles

To the left are dried, sliced areca nuts and betel leaves for wrapping the nut and chewing as a stimulant. To the right are home-made pickles in the refrigerator at the market.

Sour Fish

Sour fish from Thailand

Sour Sausage

Sour Cambodian sausages

Here are two different types of fermented products. To the left is bplah som – sour fish from Thailand (found in the freezers). To the right are sour Cambodian meat sausages.

Sour Sausage

Sour Thai Sausage

Sweet Treats

Thai sweet treats

To the left is another type of sour sausage (naem) from northern Thailand. To the right are some refrigerated sweet treats (kanom wahn). (See Michael’s blog on Thai Sweet Snacks – Kanom Wahn.)

Yun

Yun behind counter

Ready-made Meals

Ready-made meals

To the left is Yun behind the counter with an assortment of fresh-made sweet snacks in front. The ready-made meals on the right include kanom jeen rice noodles with salads and curry sauce, and grilled spicy fish wrapped in banana leaves.

Mangosteen

Mangosteen and durian cakes

Shelved Jars

Shelves of various items

To the left are fresh mangosteens in net bags on top of cylindrical packages of durian cakes on the checkout counter. To the right are shelves packed with a large assortment of bottled herbs, vegetables and fruits, such as banana blossoms, tamarind leaves, young green peppercorns, cassia leaves, water mimosa, lotus stems, turmeric, galanga, star gooseberries and more.

Sticky Rice Steamers

Sticky rice steamers

Mortars and Pestles

Mortars and pestles

Here we see sticky rice steamer baskets in the cookware aisle. (See my recipes: Steamed White Sticky Rice (Kao Niow Neung) and Coconut-Flavored Sticky Rice with Mangoes (Kao Niow Ma-muang).) To the right are baked clay and large palm wood mortars and pestles for making green papaya salad. (See my blog on the Mortar & Pestle.)


Mithapheap Market
1400 International Blvd., #C
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 436-3826
Lao Market
1619 International Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 536-5888
 
May Kong
1613 International Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 261-7630
Sun Hop Fat 1 Supermarket
501 East 12th Street
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 763-8888

See also:


All photos copyright 2010 Kasma Loha-unchit.

Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Michael Babcock, Sunday, October 4th, 2009

One of our favorite markets anywhere is the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market held at 9th Street between Broadway and Clay in Oakland, California on Friday mornings from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Google Map of market) The market actually takes place in the shape of a t, with 9th Street being the longer stem and Washington Street (from 8th to 10th Streets) the cross.

Oakland Farmer's Market Vendor

Oakland Farmer's Market Vendor

It seems appropriate to have an entry on one of the Oakland / Berkeley Farmer’s Markets that we frequent, since we’ve blogged a couple times about one of our favorite markets in Thailand (Aw Taw Kaw (Or Tor Kor) Market in Bangkok and Pad Thai at Aw Taw Kaw (Or Tor Kor) Market), blogged about the Bangkok Chinatown Market as well as given some advice on Shopping at Asian Markets For Thai Ingredients.

Oakland Farmer's Market

Oakland Farmer's Market

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

The starting time of 8:00 a.m. is pretty flexible. For us, the main attraction of the market comes from the large number of ethnic Asian and hilltribe produce vendors selling various and interesting Asian produce. One would, however, expect certain specialty items to be available in season (things such as pea eggplants) and often they are not. The reason is that the market is a favorite shopping stop for Asian restaurants and markets. There’s one vendor who in September always brings a box of pea eggplants to the market. One Friday Kasma asked him how early they were sold: a market owner out in San Pablo had come by and bought everything he had at 5:00 a.m. in the morning!

Bitter Melon and Asian Eggplants

Bitter Melon and Asian Eggplants

Among the various items that you can find here (remember: all of the produce is seasonal) are live catfish, large bunches of holy or Thai basil for $1.00 a bunch, various and exotic Asian greens, boiled and raw peanuts, several kinds of chile peppers, Thai eggplants, long eggplants, two or three different varieties of bitter melon and more. There’s one vendor on Washington Street (between 8th and 9th Streets) who sells fresh duck eggs, quail eggs, and chicken and duck balut. Balut are eggs that have a partially formed chick inside, and these balut are so fresh that you could take them home and hatch them. There are various fruit vendors and two flower vendors with bunches of flowers at very reasonable prices. There are a few organic vendors but most of the produce is not organic. One of our favorite fruit vendors is Twin Girls Farms, whose fruit is priced very reasonably for organic fruit. When available, try their organic pomegranate juice – it’s really tasty.

All Star Tamale

All Star Tamale

When we go, we usually  get there by 8:00 a.m. and even earlier if there’s something (such as lemon basil) that we want to make sure hasn’t been all sold by the time we arrive. We’ll take care of the bulk of our shopping and then breakfast on a red pork or green pork Tamale from All Star Tamales, sold from a truck on 9th between Washington and Clay; that block of the market consists largely of prepared food vendors and jewelry stalls. Tamales are 2 for $5.00; make sure you open it at the stall and squeeze on plenty of hot sauce. There are tables set up at the intersection of 9th and Washington, where there’s always live music, for the most part guitar and vocal.

By the time we’re done with breakfast, it’s 9:00 a.m. and the markets in Chinatown are open so we can complete our shopping there.

The market is well worth a visit on a Friday morning.

Balut for Sale

Balut for Sale


One of Kasma’s students has posted some Oakland farmers market photos. You might enjoy checking out the Yelp Reviews of the market.


Written by Michael Babcock, October 2009.

Shopping at Asian Markets (for Thai Ingredients)

Michael Babcock, Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Although shopping at Asian markets in the United States can hardly compare to the wonderful markets in Thailand (see our market picture photos), it is still immensely enjoyable. Whenever Kasma and I travel anywhere in the U.S., we always visit the Asian markets. We then post our impressions on the website, as we did when we visited Savannah, Georgia in February of this year. (See our page on Savannah Asian markets.)

Vendor at Aw Taw Kaw Market

Vendor at Aw Taw Kaw Market

For many people, shopping at Asian markets is a necessity: in order to cook Thai food, you need fresh, appropriate ingredients and they very often are only found in Asian markets.

I’d like to make some suggestions about how to go about finding those Asian ingredients when you need them back in the U.S. 

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

You first need to start with a slightly different mind-set than you use for shopping in a supermarket. Asian markets vary greatly in how much of different ingredients they stock, which ethnicity is emphasized and whether or not they have produce, meat or seafood. When Kasma shops for her classes, she’ll typically visit at least half a dozen markets.

Fish at Manila Market in San Francisco

Fish at Manila Market in San Francisco

She’ll start at her favorite, one that has a good base of ingredients (Khanh Phong market on 9th Street in Oakland, CA). She’ll usually then visit 2 to 4 other markets in the Chinatown area. After that, she’ll head off to the International District where she’ll complete her shopping: International Blvd. has two especially good ethnic markets (Sontepheap Market at 1400 International Blvd. and Lao Market at 1619 International Blvd.) that she relies on for harder to find Thai ingredients, such as kaffir lime leaves and holy basil. Another market that often requires a stop is Sun Hop Fat (501 E. 12th Street) – it’s another very well-stocked market that also sells fish and seafood. She often also makes a special stop at a fresh fish market in her travels, as well.

The reason for all the stops are multifold: maybe a fresh ingredient doesn’t look very fresh at one of the early stores; maybe she needs fresh bamboo shoots and several markets don’t have them; maybe she can’t find the right size of frozen shrimp. And on and on.

Shopping in Oakland's Chinatown

Shopping in Oakland's Chinatown

When shopping Asian, I suggest that you start off realizing that it’s not one-stop shopping, although you may be fortunate and have a fantastic store that has everything you need. Plan on spending a little time to get the best ingredients.

If you plan to cook Asian food on a regular basis, take a day and visit as many Asian markets in your area as you can. Learn which stores have which ingredients.

If you don’t know where the markets are, start with the yellow pages, either the book your phone company gives you or online. Go to the markets page and go through the entire listing looking for names that are obviously Asian: like Hong Kong Market, or Khanh Phong. If you’re going to be cooking Thai food, look especially for markets with Thai names; we’ve also found that Cambodian and Lao markets are excellent sources for Thai ingredients. In many cities, Asian markets tend to cluster in the same area. That’s a good thing because you can visit many more easily

You can also see if there are any markets listed on our website. We have one page for markets in the San Francisco Bay Area and another for markets throughout the rest of the United States. You can also try Thai Table’s Asian Market Locator.

Once you’ve got your list, visit every one of the markets. Take notes: which markets have what ingredients, which markets have meat, fresh fish, frozen foods, and so on. Then you’ll have a good idea of where to go when you need certain ingredients.

Look on it as a fun adventure. When I shop in Oakland’s Chinatown, I can feel like I’m no longer in the United States. I’m often the only Caucasian in a market, surrounded by Asian people and Asian ingredients: it’s the closest I get to being in Thailand when I’m at home.

Market at Oakland Farmer's Market

Vendor at Oakland Farmer's Market

Another good source of ingredients can be local farmer’s markets. We’re very lucky in Oakland to have a farmer’s market right below Chinatown. (It’s on 9th Street at Broadway on Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; about 3 blocks from the 12th Street BART station.) There are at least a dozen farmers with ethnic ingredients ranging from Vietnamese herbs to Thai chillies (prik kee noo) to holy basil to duck eggs – all according to season, of course. If your area does have a farmer’s market, go check it out and see if there are Asian vendors. Even if it does not, you may be able to get needed ingredients there. Kasma often needs cilantro roots for making curries and the only place we’ve been able to find them reliably is at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market on Saturday (Center Street in-between Milvia and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way) where Blue Heron farms always has them. (Blue Heron is also at the Thursday Berkeley Farmer’s market from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Shattuck and Rose.)

Fish Sauce, Source for Salty

Golden Boy Fish Sauce Label

I’d also suggest that you check out Kasma’s list of her favorite Thai brands. (There’s also a one-page PDF print out available.) When you visit the markets, check to see which have these brands. If you are unable to find them locally, consider purchasing them from an online market. Through the years many students have commented how much of a difference using Kasma’s recommended brands made in their cooking: you’ll especially want to make sure you have a good brand of fish sauce (nahm bplah), such as “Scales Brand” (Tra Chang) or Golden Boy (Dtra Dehk). Check out the three markets on our  online market listing.

So do take a day and survey Asian markets in your area. It’s a fun excursion and will set you up for cooking great Thai (or other Asian) food. If you don’t know what to cook, check out Kasma’s recipe index for some ideas.

For some of the various things you’ll find at Oakland’s Chinatown markets, check out Anita Crotty’s Flickr photo set Oakland Chinatown with Kasma.

If you have a favorite Thai market in your area, please contact Kasma and we’ll add them to our list. If you send us your comments and impressions, we’ll hopefully add those as well.


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2009.