I’m standing at the register talking to Dale Grable, owner of Thai American Market, about some of the products he carries.
“You know the sriracha sauce you see everywhere?” he asks me, a knowing look in his eyes.
“Of course,” I reply.
“That’s not made in Thailand,” he continues, then begins to tell me more. “You see, when you cook Thai, it’s important to get the real thing. Real Thai sriracha sauce has different flavors. It’s made from a quality, traditional ingredients. You can taste the difference. That’s what we carry here.”
Another shopper moves from the aisles to the register. “Do you have any peanut sauce?” she asks, her basket full of rice noodles and Pad Thai mix.
“No, we don’t, but it’s simple to make,” Dale responds. “Give me a second, and I’ll get the recipe for you.” He turns to his computer while she finishes up her shopping. A few minutes later she shows up at the register again, ready to purchase.
“I printed up three recipes for you,” He tells the customer. “I always like to look at two or three just to make sure I get an idea of how it’s made. Then I decide which one I like.” She’s astonished.
“Here,” Dale continues, “Take them, and pick your favorite.”
She grabs the stack of printed recipes and looks at them. “Thank you so much,” she replies. “I didn’t realize it was so easy to make.”
That’s how Dale runs his business. His goal, along with his wife Yupa, is to take the fear out of Asian cooking. Every time I have been to Thai American Market, I’ve been impressed with how they go out of their way to make Asian food accessible. It’s easy to walk into an Asian market in the city and have absolutely no idea of what to purchase. I’ve walked out of stores with a can of quail eggs and three different types of rice noodles, only to go home and have no idea of what to do with them. That won’t happen at Thai American Market, because neither Dale nor Yupa would never allow it. Just walk into the market, tell him what you want to make, and they will walk you through exactly what you need to create that perfect Asian dish to impress your spouse and friends. He even places recipes along the shelves, just in case you see something but aren’t sure how to make it.
On top of that, Thai American Market has an extensive collection of bulk spices. A large wooden shelf sits along the wall, lined with mason jars filled with spices both common and unique. Thai American Market has over sixty different ones to choose from. When I go, I always like to pick out something new. Szechuan pepper, one of my favorites, is a decidedly unique spice with a peppery, floral perfume that leaves the tongue hot and numb. I fried up some asparagus with it and overwhelmed my mouth with flavor. I have never experienced anything similar to its taste profile.
While there, I also grabbed some “Thai Hottest Chili,” ground into a powder by Dale. I’m a fan of spicy food and jumped at the chance to give it a try. It truly is “hottest,” and a little bit goes a long way. I sprinkle it in soups and noodle dishes (you don’t need much) to bring in not just heat, but the bright red flavors of the pepper that left my lips pleasantly burning.
But those are just a few of the spices available. Thai American Market carries over sixty different spices and blends. I’ve bought well-seasoned Tandoori spice there, and if you get a chance, pick up the rice seasoning. It’s made on site and is a great way to add flavor to your rice. Just put a scoop in when you cook it, and you’ll end up with a great-tasting accompaniment to your meal.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit Thai American Market yet, it’s worth the trip to Nice. Sure, you could go over the hill to pick out a pack of dried squid, but I’ll bet you it doesn’t come with a recipe or Dale and Yupa’s knowledge and eagerness to take the stress out of Asian food.
Thai American Market
3707 E Hwy 20
Nice, CA 95464
Hours: 12 – 6 Monday through Saturday, 12 – 5 Sunday
This post first appeared in The Bloom on April 25, 2019.