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Ethnic Markets: Viet Hoa Plaza

By Lisa Shames in Food on Apr 10, 2007 3:00PM

2007_04_VHP1.jpgThere are a lot of rules at Viet Hoa Plaza, which really isn’t a plaza but an Oriental market on Argyle. The signs posted throughout the store inform shoppers that since there are no refunds, returns or exchanges — exceptions are made for defective rice cookers, and thermo and hot pots — they should inspect all items before leaving. Just in case you didn’t get that, rule No. 4 states that “All sales final.” Are we clear on that? And don’t even think about writing a check — rule No. 5 — but these days we don’t know anyone who does.

Rather than getting bummed out by the regulations, we counter with our own. Rule No. 1: Always go on a weekend afternoon when this store, and the entire area for that matter, is packed with regulars stocking up for the week (we think the extra bodies speaking foreign languages add to the adventure factor). No. 2: Before visiting Viet Hoa, we stop by Tank restaurant at the corner of Argyle and Broadway for a bowl of pho — No. 47, sliced beef, please — and a pot of hot tea. Appetite in check, we walk the block and a half to the market, where we always buy something we’ve never tried before, rule No. 3.

The aisle solely dedicated to dried stuff — or as we fondly call it, the life-sucked-out-of-’em aisle — is always good for a chuckle or two (we wonder what foreigners find strange about American markets?). A recent visit had us pondering over exactly what is the “Health Soup Recipe.” The sectioned flat box holds eight different dried somethings, while the nutritional info box informs us there are four servings at 90 calories each. One of these days, we’ll try the dried figs and licorice root, but the cooked dry shredded pork — “Ready to Eat” — might take a bit more time. On the next aisle over, we always stock up on dried noodles and rice paper sheets. We’re looking forward to trying the organic somen wheat noodles we recently purchased and have the shrimp-flavored ones on our list for next time.

2007_04_VHP2.jpgViet Hoa is also a great place to buy sauces, from soy to fish to sweet-and-sour. Confused about which ones to get? Just step back and watch what the locals buy. Round out your shopping with some cheap fresh herbs (Asian basil, mint, cilantro), fish and seafood, and meat from the butcher counter, although the uncovered plastic tubs they use to display them in might freak out some timid eaters.

We love that Viet Hoa not only stocks Asian products from a variety of countries, including Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea, but items from Mexico, the Middle East and Jamaica sit peacefully on the shelves, surrounded by their foreign neighbors. We only wish we could find this kind of cultural harmony in the real world.

Viet Hoa Plaza is located at 1051 W. Argyle St., 773-334-1028.