Stinky Fruit Inspires Asian Grocery Tour and Tasting
Written by Jacqueline Bon
Photographed By Breanna Kulkin
It is impossible to tell the story of the Asian Grocery Tour and Tasting series by Ice Or Rice without first mentioning the world’s most infamous fruit — the durian. This fruit, native to Southeast Asia, is often referred to as “the smelliest fruit in the world” and is actually banned from hotels and public transportation in many Asian countries.
This shocking fact has rightfully caused the fruit to become sensationalized as a source of fascination, especially for non-Asian cooks and food enthusiasts. Cutting the durian has become a common segment for TV chefs, even Jimmy Kimmel recently tasted his first bite of the “bleu cheese of fruit” on late night television.
As I soon found out, this stinky thorn-covered fruit is a bit misunderstood; a fresh, not overripe and slightly chilled durian contains a unique savory sweet custard-like texture and taste that many consider to be a delicacy.
Durian was the catalyst for Andy’s Asian Grocery Tour. Ng is a civil engineer by day and the owner of Ice or Rice Asian comfort food startup by night, where he serves authentic affordable Asian street food at Night Market and other local events. He was born and raised in Cleveland’s AsiaTown neighborhood where he lives within walking distance from his childhood home on E 31st and Superior.
I want to introduce and share foods that aren’t readily available to the Cleveland community.
Ng reminisces on his experience while visiting a Russian grocery store in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, where he recalls being interested in the food around him but leaving empty handed because he wasn’t sure exactly which ingredients were appropriate to prepare a meal. Similarly, a first-time trip to Asia Food Co. can fill a person with the captivating feeling of unfamiliarity often experienced while traveling. The grocery is expansive, and without a little guidance, it’s abundant options can be intimidating.
“I want to introduce and share foods that aren’t readily available to the Cleveland community,” Ng says.
“Before Ice or Rice, I would cook lunch for the entire office every Monday, each meal would be a different thing, food from all around the world, a different country every week.”
This gesture says a lot about Ng: he’s motivated by teaching people something new and broadening their horizons. As a self-taught cook, he enjoys researching and experimenting to personalize each dish. He recently spent three months reforming his ramen recipe to perfection.
Ng’s tour is designed to provide helpful experiences to make informed choices when you’re faced with a wall of soy sauces, an abundance of different curry pastes, foreign fruits and vegetables, and even unfamiliar variations of Asian cookies and other snacks.
“It’s all very personal, you have to taste it and decide what you prefer,” he says “I can tell you what I like, but it’s all about experience and figuring out what’s good for you .”
Andy’s Grocery Tour is half education and half hospitality, hosted partly at Asia Food Co. and in the backyard of his AsiaTown home. The tour starts with a small group gathered in his yard, sipping a variety of chilled Asian teas before making the short walk over to the Asian grocery. Ng is candid and provides sound answers and advice to many impromptu questions. The experience filled many crucial gaps in my American knowledge of Asian cuisine.
This tour is focused on tasting, seeing and learning about much of the produce and prepared foods offered at the Asian market. After the grocery portion of the tour, guests return to Ng’s backyard to taste the differences between the flavors of soy sauces, fish sauce and spices first hand, and then focus on cutting and preparing fruits including but not limited to star fruit, mangosteen, jack fruit, the gorgeous dragonfruit, and of course, durian. The demo is not focused on the creation of full dishes, however in the future; Ng is interested in providing classes for cooking regional dishes from an array of Asian countries he has traveled to.
Ng often travels to Guangzhou, China, where his wife Jessie, a graphic designer was born, to visit family and to experience other regions of China and surrounding countries. “I think that traveling and seeing what’s out there — other lives, other people and other cultures — is one of the most important parts of life,” he says.
The couple will be opening a brick and mortar Ice or Rice Cafe that sells single-serving Asian comfort food in AsiaTown next summer. He hopes to fill a niche in Cleveland’s dining scene by sharing these authentic regionalized street food dishes.
Asian Grocery Tour & Tastings are the second Sundays of every month July – October at 2PM. The next tour is on July 9th. Reserve your spot here: http://www.iceorrice.com/product/asian-grocery-tour-tasting/ Limit 15 spots per tour.