We've discussed the supermarket situation at Dun Huang Plaza before. Chinatown's busiest hub deserved better than what I once referred to as an "empty, post-apocalyptic shell." And as of December 12, it finally has it. Though Great Wall Supermarket isn't as large as either of Houston's H-Marts or 99 Ranch Market, I was impressed. I was familiar with the chain from regular visits to Flushing, Queens' Chinatown—an auspicious sign in itself. Any market that can survive in a neighborhood that has essentially become an occidental outpost of Beijing in the last couple of decades, let alone sustain three locations in close proximity (there's one in neighboring Corona, besides the two in Flushing), means business. Other Great Wall stores have flourished in Atlanta, Boston and Baltimore, among other mostly Southern cities.
What's so great about it? The live seafood section towers to the ceiling with crustaceans of every description. The butcher counter is stacked with oxtails, pork necks and pretty much every imaginable piece of our farmyard friends. (You have no idea how many duck heads you can buy for less than $2 until you try.) I was almost paralyzed when trying to decide which version of two of my staples, green tea and hawthorn candy (it's been a staple in my world since I was a kid, though as an adult, I've switched from flakes to jellies) to buy.
Indeed, as expansive as the tea section is, this Asian candy lover couldn't believe her luck as I ventured through two full aisles (that's both sides) of snacks and sweets, mostly from China, Japan and Korea. I'll be happier when there's more Japanese chocolate (there are more Nipponese treats at the checkout line), but I was mighty impressed with the range of bizarro Japanese candy kits. If I could read kanji, I would be making burger-shaped confections right now instead of typing this.
But unquestionably, the best thing about Great Wall is its comprehensive produce collection. I was especially awed by the pears. An entire row of the fruit section is devoted to breeds familiar to Americans (think Bartletts and Anjous), popular in Asia (Korean shingo and golden pears), and unknown even to me. I've yet to try the Tianjin Yali pears I purchased, or the ones mysteriously identified as B. Crystal. But I couldn't wait to reacquaint myself with the Xinjiang fragrant pears.
I'd been looking for them since I arrived in Houston, and even staffers at Uyghur Bistro couldn't tell me where to find them. But there they were, piled high, for $1.99-a-pound. What's so special about those particular pears? Imagine biting into what looks like a pear, but experiencing the spongy gush of a juicy watermelon. The flavor is somewhere between the two fruits. The one I tried yesterday was not as sweet as I had encountered before—perhaps I should have given it another day or two to ripen—but had some wonderful buttery notes to make up for it. Seriously, you want to eat these pears. And now you can.