I have had the pleasure of visiting the Chinatowns in both San Francisco and New York. Fun, colorful, exotic, bustling with life, the air laden with scents enticing. Real people living very real lives in the midst of some of the most ridiculously blatant tourist dollar traps to be witnessed. Good food abounds if you know who to ask, bargains are to be had if you have an educated eye (I don't) and an inclination to bargain (I would have been every street vendors favorite customer in Casablanca). A person could spend a whole lot of time just wandering, watching, listening, sampling, absorbing. My kind of place.
But I live in the Greater Phoenix area and we do not have a Chinatown. What we have is a the Chinese Cultural Center, on 44th St. just off of Loop 202. Boiled down to the hard, honest truth, it is a glorified strip center with a couple of concrete lions out front. But although it possesses very little of the essence of a true Chinatown, it is the place to go if your home or office needs a Buddha, or if Uncle Ralph from Des Moines, who is spends the bulk of the winter as your uninvited houseguest, is crabby as can bee if he doesn't have his daily doses of preserved duck eggs, braised gluten, mock duck and fermented red bean curd. All of those dainty comestibles and much, much, much more can be found at the curiously named Ranch Market, which is the largest store at the CCC. If you find yourself in Phoenix and an sudden hankering for sea cucumber, chili radish strips, sago in syrup, yam jam, pickled ginger or Samjin Choco Charlteok Pies, Ranch Market stands ready and able to satisfy. And in case you are not familiar with the last item (I assume you have all of the rest in your cupboards) I will tell you that they are treats approximately one poker chip in circumference and three in height, that are described on the package as "Korean Glutinous Rice Cake coated in chocolate, filled with black sesame cream." If I hadn't just been put on a no-sesame cream diet by my Primary Care Physician, I would have loaded up.
The labeling on many of the products found at Ranch Market are a joy to read. I imagine that the original verbiage in the language of the country of origin is spot-on and concise. As I say, I imagine it to be so since I couldn't read it if I took a dozen gingko biloba pills and came to it fresh from my Tenderfoot Senior Citizen Tai Chi class. But that is no matter, for my delight comes from the English translations that grace most of these products. My favorite today was on a bright red bag containing Lorain Chestnuts. On the top right corner of the package were some Chinese (I think they were Chinese) symbols, with what I assumed to be the English translation directly below. "Green Quality--Moisten People". I will take their word for it.
My daughter, who is interested in all things Far East, like dragons, elaborately embroidered garments, manga books and overpriced soft drinks, was the reason we visited the CCC today. Her room is transitioning from a dolphin theme to her current mania and she need bric a brac. We found a couple of fan stands, a green Buddha, a pretty little rice bowl and a few others things I disremember already. I almost bought a Buddha, but couldn't decide between Laughing and Guffawing Buddha, so will research further before choosing.
Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.