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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.


New Saigon Market

New Saigon Market

New Saigon Market

950 International Boulevard (at 10th Ave.)
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 832-8208

This Vietnamese-owned grocery store moved from Oakland Chinatown to this location many years ago and has a good assortment of fresh Asian produce and fruits. Kasma sometimes looks for frozen shrimp, squid and cuttlefish here, as well as pork belly. She’s found fresh bamboo shoots in the store from time to time when they’re not available at the Lao market, but mainly she stops here to buy Asian snacks, such as cassava cakes, to serve to her students.


Written by Michael Babcock, August 2011

Cha-Om – A Delicious and Nutritious Tropical Acacia

Kasma Loha-unchit, Friday, May 13th, 2011

Cha-om, a tropical member of the acacia family (Acacia pennata) native to mainland Southeast Asia, is a well-loved herby vegetable among Thais, Cambodians and Laotians. The parts that are eaten are the ferny young leaf shoots and tender tips before the stems turn tough and thorny. It has a particular fragrance that may seem unpleasant at first to the unaccustomed, but when it’s cooked up, it’s so tasty that most people can’t stop eating it and the aroma is just part of the package and soon becomes quite likable. This happens a lot whenever cha-om is cooked up in my cooking classes.

Click on an image to see a larger version.
There’s a slide show with all images in this
post at the very bottom (scroll down).

Fresh Cha-Om

Fresh cha-om from Mithapheap

More Fresh Cha-Om

Prickly thorns on lower stepms

De-stemmed Cha-om

De-stemmed, ready to cook

Cha-om is a small shrub with prickly thorns on its branches and stems, though I hear breeders have come up with a thornless variety I have yet to personally come across. In tropical Southeast Asia, it is a fast-growing shrub that puts out new shoots year-round and most robustly during the rainy season. People in some regions, particularly the North, prefer to eat cha-om in the dry season since cha-om grown during the monsoon season tends to develop a tartness and has a much stronger smell. Growers prune the shrubs regularly to harvest the young shoots, wearing long gloves to protect themselves from the nasty thorns. A mature plant can put forth enough shoots for cutting every three days or so. In the more temperate climate of northern California, growth is less profuse and the plants need protection from the cold. They stop producing new shoots when temperatures dip in late fall and stay semi-dormant through the winter.

Cha-om Egg Squares

Cha-om egg squares

The most common way cha-om is cooked is with beaten eggs, like in an omelette, which is then cut into squares or rectangles to serve with pungent nahm prik (hot chilli sauces, usually with fermented shrimp paste – nahm prik kapi in Thai) and fried fish (usually Asian mackerel, or pla too).(See Kasma’s recipe, Pan-Fried Mackerel and Assorted Vegetables with Hot-and-Pungent Fermented Shrimp Dipping Sauce – Nam Prik Pla Too.)

Nam prik pla too

Nam prik pla too

Thai Dipping Sauce

Nam prik with cha-om egg pieces

Cha-om Egg Rounds

Cha-om egg rounds

Cha-om Omelette

Cha-om omelette

Cha-om egg squares are also frequently cooked in a spicy sour tamarind curry with shrimp (kaeng som). One of my favorite restaurants, Mallika, located in the outskirts of Bangkok, makes a fabulous crispy fried cha-om in a ferny nest, topped with a hot-and-sour sauce containing squid, shrimp and chopped pork (yam cha-om gkrawb). It’s one of the first dishes people in my Thailand travel groups get to savor as I usually take them to Mallika for lunch right after picking them up from the airport. Most fall for cha-om and look forward to eating more of it in other dishes through the trip.

Cha-om in Curry

Cha-om egg squares in curry

Dish with Cha-om

Crisp-fried cha-om

Stir-fried Cha-om

Stir-fried cha-om with egg

Because of its fairly assertive flavor and higher price, cha-om is usually not stir-fried by itself like other leafy green vegetables, but is instead used much like an herb to flavor other things cooked with it. For these reasons, it is sold in small bundles in markets across Thailand. Eggs go especially well with cha-om and in my classes, we make a delicious stir-fried cha-om with eggs and bean thread noodles.

Cha-om for Sale

Cha-om at Hua Hin market

Cha-om Bundled for Sale

Cha-om at Krabi market

Cha-om for Sale

Cha-om at Mithapheap

Starting last spring, we’ve been lucky to be able to get cha-om fresh in the Bay Area during the warmer months beginning in April until the weather turns cold in the fall. Being a tropical acacia, cha-om needs warmth to enable it to put forth new shoots. However, there’s only one store I know of that carries the fresh shoots and that’s Mithapheap, a Cambodian market on International Boulevard in Oakland. [Update, May, 2014: Lao Jaleune Market, formerly Heng Fath Market, on 23rd Street in Richmond, CA also carries it on occasion.] Last summer the store even had cha-om starter plants for sale. But the supply is very limited and disappears quickly in spite of its price (retails for around $15 a pound).

 

Cha-om Plants

Cha-om plants at Mithapheap

Sam, who owns Mithapheap, tries to carry as many of the tropical herbs and vegetables that his Southeast Asian clientele craves and misses after immigrating to this country. He’s made an arrangement with farmers he knows in Modesto to grow many of these exotic produce. Among them is cha-om. During the growing season, Sam drives down to the farm two to three times monthly, usually late in the week (often Thursdays) and the produce would be available over the weekend. Cha-om is usually gone within a few days. Since both Michael and I are very fond of cha-om, as are many of my students who’ve been introduced to it, Sam would call or email me whenever he’s been to the farm and brought back cha-om. As soon as I receive the message, I would dash down to the store to pick up some before it disappears and then shoot off a message to my students. Sam is the main fresh cha-om supplier in the Bay Area and many of his big Southeast Asian customers, including some restaurant owners, often place special orders with him and are among the people he would contact whenever he brings cha-om back from the farm.

 

Frozen Cha-om

Frozen cha-om at Mithapheap

Short of being able to get cha-om fresh, it is available for a lower price in 4-oz. packages imported from Thailand in the freezers of several East Bay stores (haven’t checked the Cambodian markets in San Francisco which most likely would have it). Mithapheap sometimes has frozen packages of de-stemmed leaves which make it easier to use and you get more for the same weight. But most frequently, the frozen packages contain cha-om still on the stems. The Laos International Market two blocks further down the same street also regularly carries frozen cha-om and a third store in the same vicinity to check is Thien Loi Hoa on East 12th Street at 12th Avenue.

 

Frozen Cha-om

Frozen Cha-om at Lao Market

Frozen Cha-om

Frozen Cha-om at Thien Loi Hoa

Not only is it delcious, cha-om is a nutritious vegetable, high in vitamin C and beta-carotenes. It is good for the heart and is known to be an anti-cancer agent. There’s nothing like a natural food that tastes great and, at the same time, is good for you!


Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow. You can also click on any picture individually and either scroll through the images using “Next” and “Prev” or start the slideshow at any image. Captions accompany the images. Clicking on a slide will also take you to the next image.


Kasma’s Cha-om Photo Slide Show

Fresh Cha-Om
More Fresh Cha-Om
De-stemmed Cha-om
Cha-om Egg Squares
Nam prik plah too
Thai Dipping Sauce
Cha-om Egg Rounds
Cha-om Omelette
Cha-om in Curry
Dish with Cha-om
Cha-om for Sale
Cha-om Bundled for Sale
Stir-fried Cha-om
Cha-om for Sale
Cha-om Plants
Frozen Cha-om
Frozen Cha-om
Frozen Cha-om

Fresh cha-om from Sontepheap market in Oakland.

Notice the prickly thorns on the lower part of the stems.

De-stemmed cha-om leaf shoots and tips ready for cooking.

Cha-om egg squares to accompany nam prik and fried fish in the next picture.

Nam prik plah too at Nong Beun in Inburi.

Nam prik with cha-om egg pieces at Mae Sa Valley Resort.

Cha-om egg rounds at Or Tor Kor (Aw Taw Kaw) market.

Cha-om omelette and fried mackerel at a rice shop in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Sour tamarind curry with cha-om egg squares at Chula in Sukhothai.

Crisp-fried cha-om with hot-and-sour sauce, Mallika.

Cha-om sold in small bundles at Hua Hin market.

Cha-om bundled with banana leaf in Krabi market.

Stir-fried cha-om with eggs and bean threads.

4- to 6-oz. packages of fresh cha-om, Sontepheap Market.

Cha-om plants for sale at Sontepheap.

4-oz. frozen packages of de-stemmed cha-om at Sontepheap.

4-oz. frozen packages at Laos International Market.

4-oz. frozen packages at Thien Loi Hoa.

Fresh Cha-Om thumbnail
More Fresh Cha-Om thumbnail
De-stemmed Cha-om thumbnail
Cha-om Egg Squares thumbnail
Nam Prik Plah Too thumbnail
Thai Dipping Sauce thumbnail
Cha-om Egg Rounds thumbnail
Cha-om Omelette thumbnail
Cha-om in Curry thumbnail
Dish with Cha-om thumbnail
Cha-om for Sale thumbnail
Cha-om Bundled for Sale thumbnail
Stir-fried Cha-om  thumbnail
Cha-om for Sale thumbnail
Cha-om Plants thumbnail
Frozen Cha-om thumbnail
Frozen Cha-om thumbnail
Frozen Cha-om thumbnail

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, June 2011