Thinking about grocery stores and recipe variety

The Asian grocery store near us has closed, so we’ll need to find a different source for things that our neighbourhood No Frills supermarket doesn’t carry: pork bellies for lechon liempo, bitter melons and salted black beans for stir-fries, tapioca pearls for bubble tea.

It’s mostly W-‘s thing, actually. I tend to make meals based on whatever I can easily get from No Frills instead of craving particular tastes enough to pick up special ingredients. I think it’s because I’m already satisfied with the variety we have. It’s a little easier that way, too, since I tend to pick up groceries on foot. If I want to make something that requires a trip to a different grocery store, that usually involves a sunk cost of $2.90 or $5.80, or some coordination with W-. I could probably benefit from doing a more detailed price comparison, possibly shifting some of our regular purchases instead of going to Chinatown or PAT Mart only for the kinds of things that No Frills doesn’t stock. I tend to make frequent, small trips to the grocery store as part of getting some exercise and in order to minimize wasted food. Even if soy milk and some vegetables are cheaper in Chinatown, in a small batch, the difference probably doesn’t warrant the transit fare, time, and the effort of lugging those groceries home. Maybe if I feel like long walks in better weather, or if I get one of those grocery carts again… Well, the additional cost of transit isn’t that much, but I guess I tend not to see much marginal value considering the extra time and effort.

Still, the lovely, crispy roast pork belly that W- makes (along the lines of this salt crust roast pork belly, I think) is a nice treat. He’s discerning about the particular cut of meat (even thickness = easier to roast), so he prefers to pick it out personally. We eat it in small quantities since it’s so rich. It’s a good excuse to have lots of vegetables on the side, too. It loses a bit of the crunchiness after microwaving, but it’s good to keep in the freezer or fridge.

There are lots of posts on Chowhound and other forums about where to get a slab of pork belly and comparisons among different sources and types. Hooray for the Internet! W- called around a bunch of places to check if they stocked pork bellies without pre-ordering, and what the prices are like. We checked out T&T Supermarket last weekend. T&T is large, well-stocked, and well-organized, and it’s nice to not deal with downtown traffic or parking. T&T’s prices are bit higher than the ones we’ve seen before (Chinatown or the Asian grocery store that has now closed), but their pork belly prices aren’t as high as the prices at specialty butchers. We might try pork bellies from a few other places before we settle on a new favourite source. Maybe a monthly pork belly roast? Yum.

As for the other things we used to get on a fairly regular basis: PAT Mart and other Asian grocery stores usually have bitter melons. We stock up on cans of salted black beans and packages of tapioca pearls when the opportunity comes up, since they’re shelf-stable. I can make tapioca pearls in a pinch, since the Bulk Barn sells tapioca starch.

It’s nice to live in an international city where I can get these ingredients. If I tweak my grocery shopping or I get better at taking advantage of the times when I’m out, I might enjoy a wider variety of recipes. On the other hand, it might be okay to be generally satisfied with a smaller set of recipes, and focus instead on adding more vegetables. Hmm…