Stepping into a well-stocked, cheap Asian market in a new city that’s not on the West Coast is always a rush, especially after you’ve spent too many bucks for a teeny bottle of soy sauce in the “international” aisles at your local chain grocery store. Last night, after work, I headed to Boston’s Chinatown to find C Mart, which, according to Yelp reviews, was the shizzle:
It was just on the outskirts of Chinatown, down the street from the Orange line Chinatown stop (obviously). I missed it a few times because the storefront didn’t look much like a grocery store. But entering the store, a familiar sensation hit me like a ton of bricks–and I’m not talking about that characteristic fishy smell that so often assaults your nostrils even before you set foot inside the door. It’s that feeling of pure glee, that “kid in a candy store” kind of excitement. Before moving to Boston, I had prepared myself for a year of living “caucasianally,” meaning going without easy access to my favorite Asian ingredients at cheap prices and having to shop at Shaw’s or any of the various Italian-American independent stores. Not that I have a problem with that–I’m as much into freshly made portobello mushroom ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, burgers and fries and meatloaf as the next chowhound. But no fermented tofu? No green curry paste? No morning glory? A little part of me died inside at the idea.
I knew I was in the right place when I saw rows of cookies, candies, sauces and packaged goods with nonsensical Engrish names; a healthy assortment of fresh veggies, including bok choy, snow peas, pea shoots, mustard, gai lan (aka Chinese broccoli) and morning glory; and various pig parts that you’d never find at a mainstream grocery store (case in point: pork bung and ears, pictured below. Flanking these delicacies were packages of brains and feet. Want not, waste not, I always say.)
I might mention that the store wasn’t exactly the cleanest place in the world, what with rotting vegetables sitting on a “clearance” shelf, brownish, barely salvageable bean spouts and a shady-looking box of raw chicken drumsticks sitting unrefrigerated on the floor in all its salmonella-y glory. Also, I shudder to think how long some of their packaged goods have been on the shelf. But as a shopper who’s hard up for the simple joys in life, like boxes of Pocky, canned bamboo and water chestnuts, chrysanthemum tea, seasoned seaweed snacks, dried sour plums, steamed red bean cakes, Korean barbecue marinades, mochi, rice crackers and sriracha sauce, to name a few, I ain’t complaining too much.
What: C Mart
Where: 692 Washington St., Boston; (617) 338-1717