By Lara Alexander
Feeling adventurous in the kitchen or just looking for good prices? If you haven’t tried Ranch 99 Market on Highway 99, you are in for a treat. There is no need to drive into Seattle to shop one of the largest Asian market places in the region. Not only will you find thousands of specialty Asian ingredients, you may be pleasantly surprised by the vast selection of familiar foods at prices that will have you coming back for a return visit soon.
I asked Ranch 99 Market manager Phillip Yip where a new customer should start if they are not familiar with Asian foods. “If you don’t know the sauces, you can’t cook the food!” Yip said “If you have the sauce, the rest is not important.” He recommends picking up one of the hundreds of sauces that are available in Ranch 99’s aisles and building a meal with it. Once you have the right sauce, says Yip, “If you know how to cook, it’s all the same!”
Following his advice, start in the sauce aisle. You will find many prepared sauces that are ready to pour over cooked meats or vegetables. You can also find all of the important components of building your own sauces, such as toasted sesame oil, chili sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce and curry paste.
After choosing a bottle of sauce, browse the produce department for familiar or unusual fruits and vegetables. You will find an exciting number of Asian vegetable greens, which can be steamed or stir-fried just like you would with European brassicas like kale and broccoli. Other fun ingredients to look for are the many varieties of mushrooms and the long green beans that can grow to two feet long! Not only will you find a great selection of produce, you may also be surprised by the low prices of these “speciality” foods. On a recent trip, Shittake mushrooms, Thai basil and avocados were all priced at a fraction of what you would find at a conventional grocer.
Now that you have your vegetable and sauce, head to the seafood department. Not only will you find the widest variety of fish that you could find at any area grocer, there are also all types of shellfish and live crab, lobster and tilapia. To really make dinner easy, the seafood department has a free fish-frying and crab-steaming service. The process is simple: Point out the fish you want and use your fingers to tell them how you want it prepared: 1 to clean only, 2 to clean and remove the tail, 3 to clean and discard the head, 4 to clean and cut into steaks, 5 to have it clean and fried, and 6 for an extra crispy fry. It couldn’t be easier!
After a look around, this is what sounds like dinner to me: steamed white rice, sauteed long-beans with a dash of soy sauce and chili garlic sauce, and a whole fried tilapia fish for the family to share. If you are looking for more inspiration, you can find a wall of free recipe cards near the entrance, as you turn left toward the produce department. Enjoy your browsing!
A culinary adventurer, Lara Alexander grows, cooks and writes about food from her home in Edmonds. You can read about her garden and kitchen fun on the blog Food-Soil-Thread.