When I first moved here, I thought Super Cao Nguyen might be a dance club. The neon palm trees on twenty-fifth street didn’t exactly scream Supermarket to me. Now, they call to me all the way from two blocks south, beckoning me to the city’s Asian grocery Mecca.
The closest grocery store to my house is Walmart Neighborhood Market, which isn’t a big surprise. I’m not going to go into a diatribe about Walmart shopping. I do go there from time to time; it’s convenient and they have decent produce (although I’m annoyed they keep replacing other brands with their house brands – they’re not fooling me with that “Marketplace” stuff). My main point about neighborhood market is that it’s completely boring. Shopping there feels like a chore to me; a last resort in a cavern of hungriness.
On the other end of the boredom spectrum, Super Cao Nguyen is a place I visit even if I don’t have any real shopping to do. For a long time, I only thought of Super Cao as Grocery Noveltyland – it was somewhere I just came to for fun. I’d pick up canned coffee, spring rolls, and other items based solely on how cute the packaging looked.
What made Super Cao real for me was the time I enlisted my friend Dianna to help me pick out fresh tilapia – yes, fish with the head still on. Approaching their seafood counter for the first time intimidated me. It was good to have someone there to tell me to look for pink gills, but I was mostly just being a baby for delaying the experience. The size of the fish counter can still be a little overwhelming, but other than that, buying fish at Super Cao is easy shopping. You ask for what you want, and you get it. You just have to “dive in” (I get one pun per article, and that was it).
Beyond exploring their seafood, I also like to find new ramen ideas. I now frequently eat ramen for lunch, dressing it up with cilantro, bean sprouts, and maybe some thai basil. Some days I even go so far as to poach a quail egg in the broth. It sounds like a dish you could learn to make on that Food Network show, Semi-Homemade, except that it’s actually cheap and tasty and not overly complicated. “Mama” brand instant noodles are some of my favorite, but the real instant noodle expert is my friend Lucas Dunn. His word on the matter: “Sapporo’s kitsune undon is pretty supreme.”
Even though I’ve been going sporadically to Super Cao Nguyen for years, I feel like I’ve kind of rediscovered it over the last month. I recently bought a great cookbook at Half Price Books called Asian: A Visual Step-by-step (Frame By Frame). It’s inspired me to make Asian dishes at home that I previously found daunting. I’ve made undon noodle stir-fry, fried lemongrass tofu, yaki soba, green chicken curry, and proper teriyaki chicken – all dishes I cannot imagine having completed with any degree of success without a trip to Super Cao Nguyen. I’m totally salivating as I write this over a picture of pork and cabbage pot stickers in the cookbook, and debating whether I should attempt that or spring rolls this weekend.
I’ve noticed my trips to Super Cao Nguyen becoming more frequent as my kitchen fills with new supplies and ingredients. I don’t see that trend ending anytime soon with all the variety the store offers and all that I have to learn. Super Cao Nguyen is a place that continues to yield new and exciting discoveries. This might seem like an overstatement, but it’s certainly been true for me – sesame oil, fish sauce, rice vinegar, and lemongrass are ingredients that will change your life if you learn to cook with them.
Super Cao Nguyen
2668 North Military Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK 73106
(c) Kimberly Hickerson All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce photos without Kim’s permission.