I remember when I was a kid, visiting Chinatown in Boston whenever my family would visit my aunt, uncle and cousins who lived in the area. My mother would do some shopping at a Chinese grocery store before we would head back to Western Massachusetts, as there were really not any big Chinese grocery stores at the time. What I most remember is seeing the fresh seafood at the tanks of water, as well as when a shopper wanted to buy fish, a fish butcher (is that even a word?) would take a live fish out of a tank, and pound the fish with a mallet until it was dead – something you didn’t see at your local Safeway. As Jennifer 8. Lee had said in an interview once, “Americans don’t like to be reminded that the food they are eating used to be alive.” Well, apparently Asians do, especially when it comes to fish, as reported in The Los Angeles Times'”At California’s Asian fish markets, freshness is everything“:
“…In Asian cuisine, live fish are a delicacy. Asian diners insist they can distinguish on the plate between a fish freshly plucked from a tank or stream and one previously gutted and languishing on ice… Instead, new immigrants kept demand high for the dozen California fish farmers who raise product for the state’s Asian customers. Small neighborhood markets catering to Asian tastes have expanded outside traditional Chinatowns to suburbs such as the Sunset District in San Francisco and Monterey Park in Los Angeles…According to several aqua farmers, the Asian appetite for finned fish — sturgeon, large-mouthed bass, tilapia, catfish, carp — comprises 70% of the estimated $50-million California aquaculture industry, not counting algae and shellfish. That’s a whopping 20 million pounds annually.”
The article goes on to profile The Fishery, a Central Valley aqua farm that’s one of a handful statewide catering to a unique niche: California’s Asian markets, where The Fishery delivers about a million pounds of fish annually. Most of the Chinese grocery stores in Boston’s Chinatown were relatively small and had a very “Mom-and-Pop” feel and weren’t necessarily convey a Starbuck’s quality of upscaleness or cleanliness.
Only until I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area did I come across Ranch 99, the super Asian grocery mega-store that is as large or larger than your traditional American grocer, where you can find any Asian food for home cooking. I haven’t been to Boston to check out Chinatown in a while,so maybe there are some Ranch 99 like places now.