If you love to cook, why not try whipping up something different? Grand Asia Market in Raleigh (on the Cary border) is a must-do for Triangle residents! This one-stop market houses a cornucopia of authentic Chinese and Asian food under one roof. From baked goods to dry goods, spices, seafood, meats and a huge assortment of groceries, you can find it all here and also save some money. While you can certainly get Asian ingredients at Harris Teeters and other smaller Asian markets, Grand Asia is probably the biggest, cheapest and most popular option in the Raleigh area. If you’re into home-cooking Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Indian food, you need to be here.
Located off of Buck Jones Road behind a Rugged Wearhouse and next to an NC DMV, Grand Asia Market’s parking lot easily fills up during peak periods. Shopping on the weekend from 10am to 2pm can be a testament to patience so schedule your visits accordingly. But once you step inside you’ll realize it’s worth the effort! In the front of Grand Asia you’ll find a small area of dry goods: jewelry, wooden buddhas, lanterns and a room full of inexpensive kitchen items like pots, pans, plates and utensils. Stock up on the basics and cute Asian kitsch like teapots and chopstick holders.
Move into the produce section next where you’ll find a wonderful assortment of vegetables including bok choy, napa cabbage, greens and other more exotic Asian veggies. The fruit assortment isn’t that large but you’ll often find good deals on asian pears and I’ve seen the very odd looking and odoriferous durians here too! There’s too many different varieties of veggies and fruits available here at Grand Asia to describe, but if you’re looking for something more unusual, there’s a good chance you’ll find it here.
The back of Grand Asia is dedicated to seafood and meat. The seafood section is really impressive with a slew of choices for shrimp, scallop, crab, abalone and fish, including live tanks of tilapia, lobster and much more. Fresh ingredients are really important in Chinese cooking, I’ve seen my mother whack the head off a lobster plenty of times! As awful as it may sound, there’s nothing like eating seafood that had been swimming or crawling around less than 30 minutes ago. The meat section includes a small butcher shop and you’ll find virtually every kind of cut of beef and pork you could imagine. And probably some that’s beyond your imagination! Let’s just say I’m not a huge fan of goat penis for dinner…
After getting through the seafood and meat areas, you can roam up and down the aisle ways for the dry and packaged goods. Where Grand Asia really excels is in Asian snacks, packaged noodles, sauces and spices. Even most of the dry goods are going to be unfamiliar to the average American shopper. You’re not going to find Kraft or any of the major brands here. For the snacks, there are a huge variety of favorites such as dried plum (haw) flakes, wasabi peas, pocky sticks, rice crackers and all sorts of traditional Chinese dried fruits. Asian sweets are not my fave but give ’em a try if you’re curious!
Next door you’ll find the noodles aisle which holds all manners of ramen, udon, rice noodles and more, pre-packaged and just needing some hot water! Grand Asia has Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian and Korean noodles in addition to the traditional Japanese ramen and udon. Further down you’ll find all sorts of basic dry noodles for soups and dishes if you want to make it from scratch. Honestly, you’ve never seen so many different types in one location, you’ll go out of your noodle perusing all the choices!
The next aisle over is full of wonderful sauces and condiments ranging from traditional soy and mushroom to Sriracha, sesame and sweet chili sauce. A wonderful selection and at substantially lower prices than American supermarkets. Grand Asia also has a great offering of spices including five spice, szechuan peppercorns and curry in larger bottles. Great for Indian and Asian cooking! There are just too many choices to describe at Grand Asia but their spices and sauces span the entire Asian continent. Moving out of the dry goods, you’ll end up in their largish refrigerated and frozen section full of freezer cases. Some of my favorites include frozen shumai, gyoza, green scallion pancakes, pork buns, spring rolls, and dumplings. You’ll also find wonton wrappers, fresh noodles and delicious Chinese sausage here! While the taste and quality may be a step down from restaurants, it’s easier for a single person to take full advantage of these frozen goodies for convenience’s sake.
The check-out lanes at Grand Asia are typically jammed but the ladies working the registers are uber-fast. They even tie up your bag into a tight, secure knot and handle that unwraps oh so easily when you get home, cool! Grand Asia takes credit cards, debit cards and of course cash so you’ve got all the necessary payment options. Ok, you’ve gotten the deluxe tour of Grand Asia and perused its wonderful aisles full of interesting and different foods, now what to do? And here’s where Grand Asia really shines: their baked goods and cafe called the Joy Luck Club! Certainly you can stop here before the shopping gets started but I tend to get pretty sluggish after eating here. Take special note that the bakery and cafe ONLY accept cash so you’ll have to be prepared or get some cash from a debit purchase.
The bakery at Grand Asia is quite good but be warned that Chinese pastries, both savory and sweet, can be pretty heavy. You can get your typical roasted or steamed pork buns along with the wonderful curry beef triangles, and an unnamed pastry made with hot dogs and scallions. Grand Asia also has some great egg custard tarts, butter cream pastries along with some wonderful looking cakes. Bubble tea is also available here for your kids or those young at heart, who doesn’t like sucking up gelatinous tapioca balls through a straw?!
At the corner you’ll find an array of steamed buns and other Move around the corner and now you’re at Grand Asia’s little but extremely busy cafe, the Joy Luck Club. The most popular deal is their meal box which includes three items off their warm buffet along with a nice helping of rice. They do some really down-home Chinese dishes that, believe it or not, my mother would make. Try out their lions-head meatball which is a large, soft pork meatball with braised cabbage. Or try the roasted hongshao rou which is tender but fatty pork braised in a sweet red sauce, fantastic on rice. They’ve typically got at least twelve or more warm dishes and trust me, it’s a lot of food for $8.95!
If the meal box ain’t your thing, try the roasted duck or pork, just don’t get too thrown off by the lifeless duck bodies hanging at the counter. Another authentic option is the beef noodle soup which comes in a thick ceramic bowl and is filled with braised beef, thick soft noodles and dark greens. What can I say but this cafe is about as authentic as you can find in the Triangle area, typical of what you would find in a Chinatown-type restaurant! You really can’t go wrong here and the ladies at the counter are like surrogate moms to me since they feed me so well!
So there you go, a tour of the best and biggest Asian market in the Triangle area, Grand Asia! While most Chinese people would find Grand Asia to be just a typical market, those of you who are less familiar with Asian food will have your senses bombarded with all the unique and different food options available here. Be warned that cleanliness will probably be a step down from Harris Teeter but that’s part of the whole experience. You’ll smell and see things you’ve never seen at your typical American supermarket. And if you’re the adventurous type, I’m sure you’ll enjoy shopping at Grand Asia! Just keep an open mind and curious nature as you wander through the aisles. While I love a good burger or steak at times, Grand Asia Market makes it easy to cook and enjoy all manners of Chinese and Asian food, bon appetit!