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Busboy

Great Wall (Asian) Grocery Store

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Busboy   

This is what you’re doing Saturday morning. You’re going to blow off the farmers market, because you’ve already eaten enough tubers and root vegetables to last until spring. You’re going to have a double espresso mixed with Kahlua, ‘cause it’s going to feel like a celebration when you get there, and you’re going to the Great Wall Grocery Store (2938 Gallows Road, Merrifield/Fairfax, 703-208-3320) and buy yourself something for dinner -- and just marvel at the joint.

First stop: the Great Wall’s Wall of Fish, 20…30…40 tanks lined up in the back of the store, with every kind of fish from carp as big as your arms to bored looking eels, swimming in that slightly scungy water you recognized from other Chinese fish joints. They have weensie little fetal sardines (OK, I have no idea what they are), pure white with pinpoint-sized black eyes staring up, ready for deep frying. There are whelks, clams of every variety and three kinds of Dungeness-looking crabs – Canadian for seven bucks a pound and Chinese for $25 a pound. I couldn’t tell the difference, but who knows (Rosebud – give me a hand?)? Sea snails, periwinkles, cockles and the like. And, I opened one container to find myself looking down a two dozen live frogs – nestled into the container next to the live turtles.

But it wasn’t just about the fish. In addition to all the Asian hypermarche basics – inexpensive cookware, more varieties of soy sauce and rice vinegar than you could ever process, bags of rice large enough to feed the UVA freshman class, duck tongues and other miscellaneous poultry bits – there were the meats. They had water caltrop -- recipes gratefull accepted. Their pork belly approached perfection, both for freshness and for marbling. They had rabbits that had never been frozen, giving hacks like me a decent chance at cooking one that’s not too dry to eat. Rather than the tired, grey and formerly-frozen tripe one encounters in most markets, theirs was so fresh and gorgeous – honeycombe and gras double -- it appeared to have been carved from alabaster that morning. (If Tom Coliccio is reading this, you have a recipe I need now – the tripe with tomato sauce and a poached egg I ate at the Grammercy Tavern’s, uh, tavern, and which I’ve been afraid to try cooking at home until now. Just PM)

In fact, there’s no reason to wait until you’re cooking Asian to go there. My wife picked up a few necessaries for spicy Vietnamese chicken dish she makes, but mentally, I was thinking about TC’s (and TK’s) tripe as I walked down the aisles; about turning that pork belly into Ruhlman’s bacon, about finally getting my hands on Paula’s SW France book and seeing what she has to say about rabbits, offal and eels (oh my)…as well as of the crispy fish in black bean chili sauce we whip up on occasion. The Wall of Fish is not to be denied.

I hope to be back next weekend, not burnt out from Thanksgiving, and I’ll report on whether the stuff tastes as good as it looks.

(Note: the shopping bag lists branches in Queens, Boston's Chinatown and Jersey. If they are all of this quality, they are well worth a look.)


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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rosebud   
There are whelks, clams of every variety and three kinds of Dungeness-looking crabs – Canadian for seven bucks a pound and Chinese for $25 a pound.  I couldn’t tell the difference, but who knows (Rosebud – give me a hand?)?

Well, I should start out by saying that hanging out with the Busboys is an experience in itself. I've been trying to come up with an analogy for their act, but haven't hit on the correct one. Let's just say that you all should be so lucky to be on a hunt for food with these two. Hey! I was introduced to Vietnamese sandwiches on this trip, for God's sake. I really enjoyed it, too.

I was hit with such sensory overload just by walking in the place, that it was Busboy himself who spotted the crabs. I was busy being rather grossed out by the sea cucumbers, which aren't a vegetable, let me you. And, that was BEFORE Busboy lifted the top off the tank containing the frogs. I actually didn't see the crabs for $25 per pound, and wouldn't have bought it if I had. I was too busy looking for a sign that said "Dungeness." The problem for me was that the folks manning the seafood department had a bit of a problem with English (not unlike the problem I encounter at the meat counter in Todito's on Columbia Road, although with my very limited Spanish I manage to get what I want). Since the only supplier for live Dungeness crabs on the 'net charges over $100 for four of them, to see crabs this size for $7 per pound grabbed my attention and held it. The ones I bought were labelled "Canadian Crabs." What the heck does THAT mean? To complicate matters, the last Dungeness crab I ever ate was in California in 1972.

I bought two of the "Canadian" crabs which totalled just about 4 3/4 lbs. I figured I could pick the meat out of whatever we didn't eat and make crab cakes or Newburg or something with the extra. Never happened. I steamed them, cleaned them, and then put the goods in the fridge until dinner time. Then I steamed them further, melted some butter, and put them on a plate with some other stuff. We ate all of it, although my husband mentioned that he didn't like to work that hard for his food. You can imagine this guy with those little Maryland blue crabs, can't you?

I was imagining a completely hands-on dinner: Globe Artichokes, followed by crabs. All of it dunked in butter. Anybody else think this would be a fine ol' time?

Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, the next time the Busboys call and ask if I want to go with them to the Great Wall, or on a hunt for Barbeque, Vietnamese sandwiches, or anything else that crosses their minds, I'm game.

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Pontormo   

P.S. I know that sea cucumbers were mentioned above, but I meant to ask if you found your sea urchins there.

Different locations for this store are mentioned, too. Does this kind of store reflect a growing development in fishmongering? Does jamiemaw have an opinion?


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Busboy   

I did not find my sea urchins, sadly. But I'm going back tomorrow for the scallops (still in the shell) and the tripe, and will look again, more closely.

Alas, I have little knowledge of fishmonger trends. I wonder what the economics of shipping live fish from a central location in, say, NYC, up to Boston and down to DC are, as opposed to having indiuvidual stores stock live sea cucumbers on their own.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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chappie   

While visiting my sister in Oakland a few years ago, I experienced a similar sensory overload at 99 Ranch Market in Richmond, Calif. — the centerpiece of a bright, modern Asian minimall.

We were seeking ingredients for her birthday roll-your-own sushi party, but frankly, I was a little too overwhelmed to do much else than gawk and wander. Accustomed to smallish, low-rent Asian markets in the D.C. area, I was first amazed at the sheer size of the place. Acres and acres of items I'd never even imagined, let alone tasted. But immediately the wall of live seafood drew me in — it was wider than the broadside of a Wal-Mart and the tanks were pristine, cycling clear water, not that muddy gurgle I've seen back East.

Let's see. There were live prawns of different varieties, two kids of eel, carp, rockfish, several kinds of oyster, mussel and clam, crabs ... I don't remember most of the species but it was mind-boggling.

The fresh (but dead) seafood cases were even more fascinating. Among the rainbow packages, I found elvers, tiny white eel babies with googly eyes that looked like cartoon sperm. We stayed away from those.

The meat case had raw pig's blood, cooked pig's blood, goat, beautiful ducks ... it was all too much to handle. I needed to spend a weekend there, with a journal and camera, sleeping in a van in the parking lot, to get a grip on the place. I didn't even have time to explore the produce.

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Today's haul included 2 pounds of head-on shrimp, a big piece of pork belly, Kewpie mayonnnaise, and rice cracker mix with whole dried fish mixed in.

Great Wall has a much larger fish selection than Han A Reum, Kam Sam or Maxim (my local markets) and fresher looking meat. Produce is about on par with Han A Reum, and a better selection than Kam Sam or Maxim It's good, but would be enhanced by a bakery section IMO.


Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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It would be better enhanced if they had their stuff better organized! Geez. I guess they're still working out the kinks. I'd like a cafe/bakery. Then again, Peking Village is next door and they have a mean fatty bacon in spicy sauce appetizer. Yum!

The wall of fish was nice, but if things were fresher, that would be even better. I thought the seafood needed to be better iced and better taken care of. All the scallops in their shell were dead when I was there last night. They didn't close their shells when you poked them.

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Busboy   

Yeah, we avoided the scallops ourselves. But the razor clams were still squiggling, though, and tasted appropriately clammish when I cooked them up at home. The tripe had clearly been bleached, but cooked up well and left me with kind of a tripe hangover, where I'm not sure if I crave more or if the very thought makes me queasy. A little tripe goes a long way.

I also bought two whelks despite the fact that I hadn't the slightest idea how to prepare them. I ended up dropping them in boiling wayer for a couple of minutes and the prying the flesh out of the shell with a fork and a paring knife. I tried slicing and pounding the little bastards but the pounding went poorly -- if you hit them with a sauce pan hard enough to actually tenderize them, the slices kind of shatter. Batter-dipped and deep fried, they were passable.

My wife went into a frenzy similiar to one Paris Hilton might go into if trapped in a room full of billionaire Greek shipping heirs, stocking the house with more Asian spices and liquids and preserved eggs than we can possibly use in a year. We were also treated to a gruesome little eel gutting -- all squirmy and bloody even after evisceration and decapitation.

I don't know much about Asian baking, but there is a Banh Mi joint -- the rhythmically named Banh Mi D.C. -- not far from the store, they may have what you need.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Banh Mi is Vietnamese bread. Which is fantastic but not exactly what I'm looking for when I'm in a Chinese grocery store. I was thinking a nice bakery section like Kam Man with baked buns, steamed buns and cakes would be great.

I love Korean grocery stores with their mini food courts. I think it's a great idea and you always find something inexpensive and yummy in those places.

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Can someone get the addresses in Boston (and elsewhere) for the other stores? Googling "Great Wall Grocery Store" in Boston turns up this thread only. I have a sneaking suspicion about which place it is, but I don't remember the name and if I'm wrong I really want to know!


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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You're lucky I went there this weekend and just so happened to use the grocery bag to hold my lunch en route to work today!

2 Boston locations:

109 Lincoln St.

617-426-8888

692 Washington St.

617-338-1717

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Soup   

There fish and veg. is outstanding. Parking, another story...

I think its the only place I've seen selling live shrimp.

Has anyone been lately. I was there a month ago and they had not fully set up their prepared food bar.

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Soup   

I can answer my own question on this. They have not gotten the prepared hot food area ready yet but its any day now. I was there this weekend and I really think they have a great seafood dept. (better than lotte or super H).

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I was there last Saturday and there was a prepared food/cafe on the far left wall. Looked brand new and still needs a little work. I bought some produce a few bags of dumplings and some produce.

The place is overwelming and I really need a guide to tell me what half the stuff is used for.

I can answer my own question on this.  They have not gotten the prepared hot food area ready yet but its any day now.  I was there this weekend and I really think they have a great seafood dept.  (better than lotte or super H).

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chappie   

With Busboy's directions, I found the place at opening Tuesday morning after dropping my friend off at Dulles for a 7:30 a.m. flight — back to China, where he lives now (in Guilin). It was a abuzz with workers preparing the day's fish and trimming outer leaves off baby bok choy.

I was impressed with Great Wall, and it was just one step below the gigantic, ultra-clean supermarket I went to in Richmond, Calif. Out there, the selection of seafood was much larger and everything swam in pristing, aquarium-quality tanks. But still, Great Wall in Fairfax has plenty of seafood — as well as meats. If I'd had a cooler or wasn't driving two hours home to the Eastern Shore, I would've bought duck, rabbit and some poultry feet for soups.

Instead I stocked up on lotus root, baby bok choy, daikon, several brands of jarred fermented tofu (a taste test, and none come close to the stuff my buddy brought back from Guilin, sadly), a large tub of kimchi, black vinegar, and a few other odds and ends.

It is almost overwhelming, and I need to make many further visits. If only we had one here on the Eastern Shore... I am amazed at how much cheaper their produce and meats are than at an average western grocer.

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rosebud   
I am amazed at how much cheaper their produce and meats are than at an average western grocer.

Aside from the hunt for crabs (see original comments above), part of what had me stunned from the git-go was the price on the produce. The FIRST thing I grabbed was a cauliflower for $0.99. They sell for $3.49 at my local Safeway. Then there was the cabbage. At that point, I went back and looked for a cart. Busboy was already exploring the seafood department. The problem is that I live in the inner city and don't have wheels, so am dependent on fun folk like the Busboys (who do own a car, even though they live in the inner city, too).

In the "Too Soon Old, Too Late Wise" category, there was a large Asian supermarket in "Chinatown", which has recently closed because there are almost NO Chinese or Asian people living in that rapidly gentrifying part of town. The thing is, when I first went there I had no computer and wasn't aware of any foodie websites to educate me. Ergo, I had NO idea what I was looking at. Or knew what to look for.

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Busboy   

Finally got some fish at Great Wall of Fish and I may be too spoiled ever to buy fish anywhere else. The tanks, while not quite pristine, seemed better maintained than in the past and I had the gentleman behind the counter net a couple of sea bass for me, scale them and gut them out. It sucks to be a fish, I guess. I'm an eye guy when I check fish freshness -- my wife's a gill girl -- and, while I've had some pretty fesh fish in the past, these babies had startlingly bright eyes, even the day after. And the fact that the cost just $6.99/lb -- I think they run $10-12/lb at the generally reliable Whole Foods was an additional bonus. We made crispy fried whole fish with one -- the flavor was excellent -- and the other is on hold, though expected to give us at least one more day before it becomes problkematic.

While looking over a the fish, I noticed a couple of women looking over the turtle selection, and I had to wonder, what does one look for in a live turtle that's soon to be dinner? I have expected one of them to rap the shell with her knuckle, like you would a melon, to see if it was ripe.

In addition to the prepared foods section, they now have a wine selection, which I did not have a chance to look ofver as the place was bumper-to-bumper, perhaps in anticipation of the New Year.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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rosebud   

I managed to peruse the wine selections, at least a little bit. Unless there was something parked in an obscure corner, they seem to have a rather run-of-the-mill supermarket selection. I believe that prices and liquor taxes are a bit higher in VA than in DC (could be wrong), so I didn't see anything unusual or particularly a bargain.

I bought a duck, which sold for $1.99 @lb. and seemed to me to be a pretty good deal. It is in the oven as I type.

I wholeheartedly agree with Busboy that the fish tanks looked a lot better than they did the first time I was there. The cauliflower was 20 cents a head more expensive than in November but, at $1.19, I still consider that cheap. I bought a whole pineapple for $2.49. In the bakery department, they sold several types of pre-wrapped "Swiss Rolls." Now, I normally wouldn't give them a second look, but one of them was "Green Tea," so I picked some up. As inexpensive as it was, I wouldn't get another one--not even for the novelty factor.

It will be interesting to see the place when it isn't prepared for a holiday mob scene.

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Busboy   

I can't really speak to that -- I just gave it a once-over. Looked pretty good for steam-table stuff -- better than the Panda Express in a Mall food court -- but hopefully someone else has actually looked closely and tried something.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I can't really speak to that -- I just gave it a once-over.  Looked pretty good for steam-table stuff -- better than the Panda Express in a Mall food court -- but hopefully someone else has actually looked closely and tried something.

Thanks so much for the information Busboy. I'm trying to imagine that wall of seafood; overwhelming indeed. Just a couple of questions: are they Metro accessible? Do they have a website? Live seafood, pork belly and chicken feet sounds like heaven to me! :biggrin:


Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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Busboy   
I can't really speak to that -- I just gave it a once-over.  Looked pretty good for steam-table stuff -- better than the Panda Express in a Mall food court -- but hopefully someone else has actually looked closely and tried something.

Thanks so much for the information Busboy. I'm trying to imagine that wall of seafood; overwhelming indeed. Just a couple of questions: are they Metro accessible? Do they have a website? Live seafood, pork belly and chicken feet sounds like heaven to me! :biggrin:

They don't seem to have a website and, sorry to say, I think they are far from Metro, though one of our Northern Virginia types might know something I don't.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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raisab   

The Orange Line, Dunn Loring is the closest stop. Walking distance is less than a mile, they also have bus service that will take you right to the shopping center. You will have to check with metro for exacts.

Busboy, did you look at the scallops this time? I am so excited to hear anyone has live scallops in their shell. (at least I hope they are live :blink: ) I haven't been there as Super-H was the same, or at least I thought. I will try it tomorrow.


Edited by raisab (log)

Paris is a mood...a longing you didn't know you had, until it was answered.

-An American in Paris

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Busboy   

I didn't notice that they had any scallops this time during what was, admittedly, a cursory journey through the shellfish. I hope to hear that they are back and in better shape than before after your visit today.

I am also eager to hear your comparison versus Super-H. I have heard Great Wall is bigger/better, but haven't been to Super-H and so can't make that call myself.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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