Marshall V. King
Dining A La King
Ohm Um sits behind the cash register of his new store.
He teases one customer about buying all his fresh greens.
He leaps up to show one young man where to find more ramen.
And he seems fully at home at Asia Market, a new location for the store he and his wife, Sinin, operate.
The last four years, the market was behind his computer store, but a new building that Nuway Construction put up quickly now houses not only the Asian food they know, but also the possibility for a lot more.
“This store should be spotless,” he said, lamenting its condition. But the shelves are full and well-organized. And they moved in and opened just two weeks ago.
Thursday afternoon, the shop was full of customers. The 10 parking spots outside were full. And Ohm was collecting money as Sinin put away fresh supplies.
He grew up in Warsaw, though he has Cambodian heritage. His wife came from Cambodia in 2000. They started a Thai/Vietnamese/Cambodian market in Elkhart in a former paint warehouse near a couple fast food restaurants, a Verizon store and the U.S. 20 Bypass entrance.
They wanted to grow the business and put up a new building.
“This building was really meant for the customer,” he said.
They got more occasional deliveries of bok choy, green onions and other fresh items, but now they can keep them in stock more regularly.
I’ve been a fan of the market the past couple years, but can’t believe how much better it is already.
It’s bigger than the Asian market at 628 W. Beardsley or Shekinah Asian Grocery Store & Deli on Nappanee Street, though all of them have plenty to offer.
Asia Market is getting prepared foods from an outside vendor. The spring rolls packaged with a peanut sauce are good. The bahn mi, or Vietnamese subs, are passable. There’s also roast duck in the cooler.
Coolers are filled with bean sprouts, green onions, herbs and the makings of other Asian meals. Cases of mangoes sit near the front. Several freezers are filled with varieties of fish and dumplings. If you look, you can also find frozen lemongrass and pork blood.
The shelves of packaged or dry goods have powders and pastes and a big range of ramen and other types of noodles or soups. I bought a package of instant pad thai that I’m curious to try.
On one shelf, I found a jar of Marie Sharp’s Banana Jam, which is one clue about what Ohm really wants to do with this market.
The jam is from Belize. Marie Sharp’s also makes one of my favorite hot sauces in the world by blending peppers and carrots.
What’s banana jam doing in an Asian market?
The answer is Ohm doesn’t just want it to be an Asian market.
He’s carrying fufu powder to make the west African food.
He’s getting in Russian items.
He wants more Caribbean items.
Customers are asking for a range of foods.
“If it makes sense to me, I’m going to get it in,” he said.
More trucks are on the way. He wants more shelves and more items. “It’ll have to be packed,” he said.
The move has already netted more customers. And as new ones come, he greets them and banters with them. He tells them what’s coming and offers cooking tips or recipes.
I asked about how to cook the live blue crabs he had in a bushel basket. They hung on to each other or the tongs as I put them in a paper bag. And I hoped they wouldn’t escape in the car. Had they done so, I could have doused them with the basil seed soda I bought and tried after seeing a couple customers buy them. The soda was light and full of seeds which had the texture of tapioca. It was like a natural bubble tea.
Ohm suggested putting them in the freezer first, which he sees as less cruel than steaming live. And when ready, steam them for 35 to 40 minutes.
Eventually, he wants a Thai/Vietnamese/Cambodian take-out restaurant next to the market. He said that’ll take a few months.
For now, Asia Market is a conveniently located market with a big range of items and owners willing to help people learn how to use them. That’s huge, in and of itself.
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via www.facebook.com/diningalaking.
If You Go
What: Asia Market
Where: 2021 Shaffer Ave., Elkhart (near the U.S. 20 Bypass along U.S. 33)
Fare: Asian and other ethnic foods, some prepared Asian foods
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. until 7 or later Wednesday through Sunday
Details: Credit cards accepted; fresh and frozen foods available; restaurant could open in future.