Anatomy of a Grocery Trip: Fubonn (It’s the Summer of Curry)

Oh, how time flies and one forgets. I don’t think I’ve done one of these grocery shopping glimpses since I moved to WordPress in 2009, which means I’m long, long past due. I remain an enthusiastic grocery list maker and home menu planner, typically letting local, seasonal produce and farmers market picks guide my dinners. And inevitably (but gloriously), being much more of a budget shopper these days, I nerd out even more with my cookbook studying and market wandering. More time at my favorite farmers markets means less time at the actual grocery stores where I restock on grains, beans and specialty odds and ends, like New Seasons, Peoples Coop, Food Fight!, maybe Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s,  and Kruger’s Farm Market (because life calls for bowls of lemons) on SE Hawthorne, to name a few of my haunts.

One place I keep in my rotation no matter what is Fubonn, an Asian supermarket on SE 82nd just south of Division, because inevitably, I find the need for lemongrass, coconut milk, fresh tofu and kaffir lime leaves in my life. Among other things.

The one big reason J. Legume can be convinced to visit Fubonn: Guitar Hero

J. Legume on Get Sconed!

Kaffir lime leaves, your key to authentic, mesmerizing flavor

Two out of those four lovelies are a very rare sighting at farmers markets and perhaps, pricey options found now and then at my normal grocery stops, but Fubonn reliably sends me home with a bag of goodies for $20 or less (you know, unless it’s a special occasion and I’ve decided to cook a Cambodian feast or buy new pho bowls or something). The one thing I’ve pretty much stopped buying at Fubonn is actual produce, with the exception of those fresh herbs, limes, perhaps hot chiles or tiny Indian eggplants and bamboo, when they’re looking good.

It’s happened more often than not that a plastic bag of yu choy or gai lan is indeed, rather wilted and home to bugs that appeared to have past on ages ago. It’s depressing and not very appetizing for more than one reason. I issue the same complaint to Trader Joe’s: who wants, or needs, all that packaging?!

As much as I obsess over Asian cuisines and groceries, something about plastic-wrapped greens that cross a continent or two that doesn’t often meet my Portlandy, farmers market-spoiled standards.

I’m obviously more than happy to stick to picking up my local, seasonal produce from Portland’s abundant farmers markets, where I can pair fresh picked baby bok choy, savoy cabbage, multi-colored carrots, long beans (seriously) and bitter melon (really!) with the building blocks and spices I semi-routinely head to Fubonn for. I used to routinely make stir fries, fried rice and scrambled tofu with all the random, glorious vegetables I didn’t quite know what to do with from the market, and they still occur, but it’s now from-scratch, regional curries that inspire my dinner table (with Chiang Mai-inspired Jungle Curry in progress for this very evening).

The recent Anatomy of a Grocery Trip via Fubonn, which started out with fresh tofu and restocking rice vinegar in mind:

The rough breakdown, since my receipt seems to have wandered off:

Fresh Bui tofu (made in Portland) $1.89 
Fresh turmeric root $1.49 
Holy basil (on sale from $0.89)$0.69 each 
Fresh lemongrass stalks (on sale)$0.79 cents/lb 
Can of young coconut juice $0.79
Firm Tacoma tofu $1.29
Bulk ginger
Fresh Kaffir lime leaves $1.49
Galangal root $1.59
Rice vinegar $2.29
Canned coconut milk $1.19/can
Mi Chay ramen multi-pack $3.79
Thai tea $3.69 (a request from my sister in Brooklyn for her next, eventual care package)
Singha ale $2.99

The first place I head to, quickly checking for great looking exotic fruits and fresh greens on my way, is the back of Fubonn’s produce section. I then peruse the bird’s eye chiles, turmeric, fresh ginger, fresh Asian herbs (including shiso, mint, holy basil, cilantro and others I cannot name), the size of the galangal (often called ‘Thai ginger’, it dries out quickly) and nearly always pick up a pack of Kaffir lime leaves whenever they’re available. My next stop is considering to restock sesame oil or soy sauce, coconut milk, dried spices (in both small and GIGANTIC food service bags), tea, noodles and ramen (really, I dig having instant ramen on hand for a cheap meal now and then, blame the salty MSG-led nostalgia) and then to the tofu and if I’m feeling crazy, some vegan ham tube. It’s been forever, but surely, I’m not the only one with an old soft spot for Tube’s ridiculous Professor Nanotear sandwiches.

One thing I’m constantly on the look out for are the fabled fresh green peppercorns: They will be mine.

With the help of Fubonn + the farmers markets, I’ve been steadily making my way through Curry Cuisine, my go to cookbook these past few months. I was trying to think of a summer project last month, and the other day it struck me….It’s the summer of curry.

Night-time lighting is a tricky thing in my little apartment: Cambodian tofu with homemade Kroeung, Cambodian herbal paste

Simmering the makings of Kelia Itik, a rich Indonesian duck curry, which we made with tempeh in the Heartichoke test kitchen…

Which became this:

Cocktail inspiration at Fubonn

Singapore Chow Fun (which is really not from Singapore!) with a previous trip’s Thanh Son fried tofu

Other places I like to pick up fresh tofu in Portland include the aforementioned Thanh Son Tofu on NE 82nd, Bui Natural Tofu off of NE Glisan, People’s Coop, Alberta Co-op, and Ota Tofu, conveniently located right around the corner from the vegan mini mall, who gives its little neighborhood the warm & enveloping aroma of soy. It’s a good thing.

 If you know of another place, do tell. 

I’ll be sharing my very favorite farmers market and more local sights next time around.

13 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Grocery Trip: Fubonn (It’s the Summer of Curry)

  1. I shop for these things at Uwajimaya. Can’t compare w/Fubon because I’ve never been there, but Uwajimaya has everything one needs for Asian projects. When last there, I saw champagne mangos AND the big green, yellow, and red mangos @$1, which seems like a good buy. I bought some of the large ones and they are delectable.

    • Oh, lucky! I do enjoy Uwaijimaya, but funny enough, tend to go there more when I’m in downtown Seattle. Every now and then I do have a friend who takes me there via car. I find Fubonn with a bit more (manic) variety and slightly less expensive with the items I buy, but I do notice how the produce looks a bit nicer at Uwaijimaya and that (again, in plastic) there’s fresh-packed Ota tofu.

    • I’m in the same boat, as it were, I too have never been to Fubon but do on Occasion shop at Uwajimaya for some stuff I am usually unfamiliar with but it’s really close to my work and way closer for me than Fubon. That being said I was pleasantly impressed with this breakdown interweby touring of Fubon that Jess just gave. I really need to get out there someday to check it all out and secretly to see if they carry a favourite meat analogue or fish rather which was discontinued at Food Fight!

  2. Wowee, all the dishes you made look delicious! I love my local Asian market as well. And I hear you about the unnecessary packaging. I went to trader joe’s recently and thought it was weird that they had kale in a package.

  3. I find Fubonn a little overwhelming (maybe because my time is limited). I have found fresh,non-buggy greens at An Dong but it could have just been a lucky day. On a semi-related note, have you ever spied gluten-free fresh rice noodles in PDX? I know it can be done, but they always seem to contain wheat starch.

    • Hmmm, I haven’t investigated enough if they’re 100% gluten-free, but I do enjoy JC Rice Noodle Shop on SE 84 & Foster. Have you checked that yet?
      Other than that, I’ve picked up ‘fresh’ (but packaged) rice noodles from Fubonn and whatnot in the past, but don’t recall if they had wheat starch. I believe they’re usually from Seattle or California.

      I haven’t been to An Dong in years – glad you mentioned it!

      • Jess, I did talk to a nice lady at JC and sadly those noodles do have wheat starch. I might know the ones you’re referring to from Cali, I have tried some but only see thin pad Thai noodles, I am looking for the nice fat ones for pad kee mao and pad see euw. I’ll keep looking. BTW, Boo Han on 82nd is also worth a look, it has more of a Korean focus.

  4. Hey, there I just thought everyone should know that there is a current boycott campaign against Fubonn because of the way they have treated their employees. We are asking people to instead shop at Fubonn’s new competitor Hong Phat Market which is right down the road from Fubonn on 82nd and Burnside in the old Safeway building. Here’s their website:

    http://www.hongphatmarket.com/

    Untill they do what right please don’t shop there. Here is more information on the campaign:

    The Portland Solidarity Network Continues Campaign to Demand Justice for Two Workers!

    On Saturday, June 29th, the Portland Solidarity Network (PDXSol) and forty-five members of the community accompanied two local workers, Marisol and Norma, as they delivered a letter to their former employer, Fubonn Supermarket, demanding owed wages. Marisol, Norma and their supporters marched into the busy supermarket and delivered a letter stating that Fubonn owes more than $3,000 to Marisol and Norma. The letter, which was read out loud and handed over to a Fubonn supervisor, stipulated that said money would need to be returned in full to Marisol and Norma within one week or further action would be taken. Before marching to Fubonn, Norma and Marisol courageously spoke to supporters, detailing their experiences and explaining why they were fighting back against their abusive employer.

    This demand delivery kicked off PDXSol’s latest campaign, through which Norma and Marisol hope to win justice and pressure Fubonn into remedying the ongoing unsafe, abusive, and generally oppressive conditions their workers face. Specifically, the campaign demands that Fubonn pay Marisol and Norma more than $3,000 to rectify the situation. The abuse to which Marisol and Norma were subjected consisted of supervisors ordering both women to clock in ten to fifteen minutes after they actually began working. This, however, was only one of the variety of ways in which Fubonn mistreated and victimized its workers – Norma, Marisol, and other former employees have described working in an environment in which they were subject to constant verbal abuse and unsafe conditions. They were often not given breaks, had to beg for any time off, and were forced to work erratic schedules and unpredictably long shifts. Their supervisors at Fubonn intentionally cultivated a divisive and hostile work environment, and employees were routinely refused basic information pertaining to overtime hours, personal records of past work, and rights in the workplace.

    The only way Marisol and Norma can win justice is if members of the community continue to support and participate in PDXSol’s upcoming campaign actions. Fubonn has yet to meet the demand outlined in the aforementioned letter and have not offered to enter into any sort of meaningful dialog, leaving PDXSol with no choice but to begin its campaign escalation. For the last two weeks, members of PDXSol has been postering in the neighborhood around Fubonn in order to publicize the campaign and urge people in the community to shop elsewhere. We will continue to flyer, but we will also be further escalating our campaign with new tactics, which is why supporters should soon expect to receive alerts and invitations for various impending actions. PDXSol looks forward to you and other members of the community showing solidarity with Marisol and Norma by attending and helping out with these upcoming actions. Please keep an eye out in the next few days for e-mails and/or calls requesting your participation in a soon-to-be-announced action!

    Thanks for your support!
    The Portland Solidarity Network Organizing Committee

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