When I heard that Veranda Asian Market had opened on Forest Avenue in Portland back in December, and got wind that it apparently was now the largest Asian market in Maine, I got a little excited. You see, for someone like me that likes to experiment in the kitchen — with mixed results, admittedly — the chance to buy fresh Asian produce, meat and seafood, along with other grocery staples, is extremely enticing. It might be an understatement to say that Maine isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with ethnic diversity, so any chance to get hold of out-of-the-ordinary ingredients without going all the way to Boston is one I’ll jump at.
I made a point of visiting Veranda last time I was in Portland. It’s the third business from the owners of Veranda Thai Cuisine and Veranda Noodle Bar, two established Thai and Vietnamese eateries in Portland’s Back Cove neighborhood. They weren’t kidding when they said it’s the biggest in Maine, and it also happens to be the most diverse. While Thai and Vietnamese products are most prominently featured, there’s also plenty of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian products. You can get those ingredients that just aren’t in your average national grocery store, such as miso pastes, curry pastes, bean pastes, a wide array of kimchi, tamarind, jackfruit and other canned Asian fruits, sweet chili sauce and fish and seafood based sauces and pastes.
And you can get stuff that’s definitely not in your average local grocery store, like Vietnamese mints, Chinese celery, Thai basil, Thai okra and an array of bok choy and cabbage-like greens. There’s fish, like blue marlin, spanish mackerel and giant featherback, found only in Southeast Asia. There’s quail eggs, duck eggs and black chicken, which is indeed a chicken that’s completely black, right down to its bones. There’s Asian candy, like Chinese sesame candy and mochi. There’s canned sodas and teas, flavored with Chrysanthemum, grass jelly, soursop and other tastes unfamiliar to most western palates.
In short, it’s a blast to go through the clean, well-organized shelves, and it’s an inexpensive way to jazz up your pantry. And if you’re hungry, one of the best parts about Veranda Asian Market is the take out — Korean barbecued pork, whole and half ducks and chickens, rice and noodle plates and much more. And at $10 a pound for barbecue pork, it’s a steal.
Veranda Asian Market is located at 695 Forest Ave. in Portland; call them at 848-8001.