Thursday, September 23, 2010

Market Research: Seafood City

Since its original store opened in San Diego 20 years ago,
Seafood City has expanded to 20 locations throughout California as well as in Las Vegas and Seattle. It’s essentially an ethnic supermarket chain, touting the “at home" experience—that is, if you call the Philippines your homeland. And since Filipinos make up the highest proportion of all immigrants living in Eagle Rock, the neighborhood is a prime spot.

Kabalikat, roughly, is Tagalog for "partner"

Seafood City opened 4 years ago in the Westfield Shoppingtown Eagle Rock Plaza, aka the Ghetto Target Mall. Its placement inside the mall is itself noteworthy. Is it an Asian thing? The Koreatown Galleria also houses a supermarket, on the bottom floor, but if I’m recalling correctly, the Galleria Market doesn't open directly onto the main part of the shopping center. Come to think of it, the Target sells groceries too, making it a grocery store inside a big-box store inside a mall. Anyway, Seafood City’s location is very convenient if you also need to join the army, pick up a coaxial cable at Radio Shack, or purchase a burial plot from Forest Lawn—all possible within Eagle Rock Plaza.

Clockwise from top left: whole parrotfish and red snapper; dried fish; beef blood, commonly used in blood sausages and savory stews; Manila-style hotdogs.

Needless to say, the market’s main attraction is its seafood. Dozens of varieties of fresh seafood are displayed atop open, ice-filled trays—whole salmon, trout, anchovies, catfish, parrotfish, mullet, you name it, plus shrimp, clams, crabs, squid, and so on. You select and bag the fish yourself, which you can have cleaned and even fried while you wait, or you can choose from a selection of already cut fillets or steaks from the case. There’s also a wide range of frozen fish, dried fish, and fish snacks. But if fish isn't your thing, the store offers all the usual proteins, and some unusual ones, like pig snouts.

There's much more to Seafood City than seafood and random pig parts. The produce section is stocked with all kinds of fruits and vegetables both common and exotic, especially those used in Filipino and other Asian cooking. Pet peeve: They sell garlic only by the five-pack. Why?

Left side: chayote, duck eggs. Right side: banana blossoms, long beans, Chinese eggplant.

The popularity of Spam among Asians is fairly well known, but I was not aware of the sheer breadth of Spam alternatives out there.

It seems the preferred container for crackers is the plastic tub. Note FITA's resemblance to RITZ. Also, the Magic Flakes logo and packaging give it an unappetizing, laundry detergent-like quality.

What I got: a couple of catfish steaks, oxtail, coconut milk, fresh cilantro, an avocado, two lemons and a lime, a yellow onion, green beans, Chinese broccoli, scallions, bananas, guava juice, frozen shumai, and a six-pack of beer. Total, including the beer: $35.79.

Not pictured: three bananas

Incidentally, Red Horse is made by San Miguel, which I had always assumed was a Mexican brewery. In fact, it's Filipino!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Market Research: Super A Foods

Food Comma headquarters recently relocated to Eagle Rock, and as such, I’m on the hunt for a new local grocery store. Granted, the Vons is a mere three blocks away, but for various reasons, I’ve decided to try to check out as many of the markets in the neighborhood as possible. Consider this the first installment of a regular feature called Market Research.

Clockwise from top left: time to shop, the Asian aisle, groovy font, econo-size menudo

Super A Foods, which bills itself as a family-owned-and-operated full-service grocery store, is a regional chain with 13 locations in the greater LA metro area. The Eagle Rock outlet is a total throwback to the supermarkets of my youth, with its 1970s color palette (think brown, orange, avocado green), groovy fonts, and seagull and sailboat d├ęcor.

I like seeing how different stores cater to the local demographic. There doesn’t seem to be a huge demand for organic produce among Super A's patrons; on the other hand, you can find a good selection of Mexican cheese and crema.

I never saw cactus fruit at the Los Feliz Albertson’s.

Cactus fruit, Bosc pears, mangoes

Super A also offers bulk lard, if that’s what you're into.

I picked up just a few items for the rest of the week’s meals: a ribeye steak, some ground turkey, bacon, a bag of Mexican sandwich rolls, a grapefruit, a lime, a few roma tomatoes, romaine lettuce, watercress, and a frozen pizza and ramen noodles for the inevitable lazy nights when I don’t feel like cooking. The damage came to $31.84.

Of course, that excludes the bottle of Maker’s Mark for $18.99, which I spotted just as I was leaving. And for a deal like that, I’ll definitely go back to Super A.