Cho Mien Nam Southern Variety Market Oriental Food and Gifts (129 Wood Ave., Bridgeport (203) 579-9970) is a big, bustling paradise for lovers of Asian food. It’s in the section of Bridgeport that has been dubbed “Little Asia.” There are two Vietnamese restaurants, and one Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant. (My current favorite place for pho is Pho Thom, two blocks away on Wood Ave.)
When you walk into Cho mien Nam, whole fish on ice are the first things you’ll see, and a selection of fruit – spiked dragon fruit, durian, kumquats, pears, little bananas, avocados, and fresh lychees. The refridgerated produce section is filled with bags of fresh cilantro, mint, Thai basil, culantro, bean sprouts, eggplants, baby bok choy, all of it looking fresher than anything I see at the local supermarket.
At a table near the butcher’s counter, a table was stacked with containers of fresh spring rolls filled with shrimp, noodles and herbs. Behind them, a woman wielding a cleaver chopped up a whole roasted chicken, and then started in on some brown, scary-looking innards.
Then the delivery truck arrived and the crowded aisles became more cramped as the staff carried in big boxes containing sides of roasted pork and cartons of crisp, mahogany-hued duck.
Mien Nam has every type of noodle you can imagine – rice, bean thread, buckwheat. The frozen food section, which runs down one long wall, has everything from grated purple cassava to grey mullet.
But three rather ordinary spices have transformed my Chinese cooking. Star anise, red peppercorns and dried chili peppers. They are among the first spices that Jie sautes in oil when she begins cooking.
And when Jie makes her flavor-bomb ribs, she adds star anise, red peppercorns and dried chili peppers (and scallions, ginger, black peppercorns, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar) to the cooking water. She usually cooks ribs in a pressure cooker. I don’t have a pressure cooker, so these ribs cooked for hours.