Chow, Baby: Wednesday, May 07, 2008
City on the Edge of Forever

Normally in May, Chow, Baby embarks on its big spring vacation, which for IRS purposes is known as global-cuisine research. (Most other vacations are officially New Orleans-cuisine research.) This year, wanderlust crashes against the weak dollar and finds a happy middle ground: Turns out you don’t need to go far outside Tarrant County to immerse yourself in a whole different culture. Just a couple of blocks will do it.
The new Asia Times Square (2615 W. Pioneer Pkwy. at Great Southwest Parkway, Grand Prairie), a mere $4 worth of Shell V-Power from downtown Fort Worth, at first seems to be a typical strip mall, just like the millions we have back home in Tarrant County. But then there are the pagoda-style cornices, the huge stone lions guarding the main entrance, the bigger-than-life Laughing Buddha just inside. The anchoring grocery store is a humongous branch of Hong Kong Market Place, which to this traveler is the best kind of interactive cultural museum: no admission charge! Chow, Baby spent an entire morning expanding its culinary horizons: tins of roasted eel, seaweed-flavored potato chips (Chow, Baby had no difficulty eating just one), 2-foot-long funny fruit with pokey parts, and, in the aquarium area, tank after tank of live catfish and tilapia throwing fish kisses at the tourist. See that: We can too all get along.
Now that the appetite is raging, it’s time to head for the — yes — food court! The sit-down place is Bistro B, a large, bustling cacophony whose plastic-bauble décor seemed intended to be ironically kitschy, but the irony didn’t really come through. The 21-page menu encompasses every Vietnamese dish Chow, Baby’s ever heard of, plus some Thai, Chinese, and Laotian specialties. Pho, rice dishes, wok dishes (queen fried rice? intriguing), noodle dishes, hot pots, periwinkle (the snail) with hot basil sauce, braised spiny goby fish … .
Overwhelmed, Chow, Baby instead hit the walk-up counters for bulgogi (sweet marinated beef with a side of kim chee, $8.95) and seaweed salad ($6) at Taste of Korea; a mound of crawfish fried rice ($5.95) at the cross-cultural Crawfish Hut, where other “Cajun specialties” on the menu include cha ca song, nem cuon, and banh beo; and chicken yakatori ($8.95) at a place apparently named Japanese Grand Opening. Everything was amazingly good, and best of all, even though (or because) Asia Times Square doesn’t draw many tourists, the gracious locals are patient with language barriers. So far this has been one of Chow, Baby’s best global-cuisine research trips ever.
And there’s still more. Hong Kong Bakery cooks up everything from teeny steamed buns to loaves of French bread, plus Chow, Baby’s newest addiction: sesame-crusted battered ’n’ fried balls filled with red bean paste ($1). Che Hong Kong has dozens of curious dishes on its cafeteria line; Chow, Baby wimped out with a soursop smoothie ($2.50) and a pretty green gelatin-yogurt cup ($2.50). Another store displays tub after tub of beef jerky, liver jerky, fish jerky, you-name-it jerky, with many variations on each theme (for example, you can get barbecued-squid jerky with or without the heads). There are even shops that don’t sell food, but a homesick Chow, Baby decided to save those wonders for another time. This international excursion to two blocks past the county line should keep Chow, Baby’s wanderlust dampened for, oh, at least a week.

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