I live quite close to an Asian supermarket. This is a fairly new phenomenon, at least, to me. Larger metropolitan areas have always had access to big Asian supermarkets. Smaller towns have Chinese shops that are smaller than a 7-11, perhaps half the size or one third the size.
I just discovered they built a new Asian supermarket a bit further away. Like the one I live by, this one is Korean-run. Of course, Koreans know that their customers aren't solely Korean, so the shop covers a wide variety of Asian countries including: China/Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. And because there's often a large Spanish speaking population, these stores often have a section devoted to products like Goya.
Usually, there are two big strengths over standard supermarkets. First, is the dizzying array of produce. There are vegetables you've never heard of, and at prices that are bargains. Indeed, even products like soy sauce is often sold cheaper at Asian supermarkets.
For a while, these supermarkets looked a bit run-down, much like supermarkets used to look in the 1970s where the goal was to sell quantity and not offer a good customer experience. However, H-Mart, the Korean supermarket has adopted a bunch of ideas from places like Costco. They have their own logo and shopping bags (often Asian supermarkets used generic bags). They have music blaring. At H-Mart, that music is often 80s or 90s music, and not of the Asian variety.
They have food samples for people to try. I had a sliver of a Korean pear. The items are displayed attractively on shelves. Admittedly, the spacing is a bit tight, and it resembles nothing short of a zoo.
I went to H-Mart looking for Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce. Dark soy sauce is thicker than standard soy. Some recipes call for dark soy, but I couldn't find it at the local Asian supermarket. I think I bought the last one and the only stuff they have is the mushroom flavored dark soy. I've bought that before and it's way too intense. Fortunately, this store had plenty.
Indeed, you can often buy 20 different kinds of soy sauce. Do you want Chinese soy? Or Japanese? Soy from mainland China? Or Hong Kong? Soy from Korea? Soy from Thailand? They have maybe 10 different kinds of fish sauce. You can get Vietnamese brand or Thai brand. You can get various Korean miso, spicy and otherwise.
Oh and if you like beef and like making beef lo-mein? They have pre-cut beef strips. You can get it fairly thin for sukiyaki or pho. You can get it moderately thick. See if you can find that at your local supermarket. Won't be able to find it. A little too much labor for your local supermarket.
Oh yes, fresh seafood. Usually situated in the back, you can see fresh seafood, though it's often not so fresh that isn't starting to smell some, but you can't find that easily at your local supermarket.
This is one nice trend in the US, an alternative supermarket if there ever was one.
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