You don’t expect little old ladies to have their hands all over the fruit display in supermarkets. But there they are, squeezing the stone fruit so vigorously, you know the pretty purple plums are going to bruise. So why doesn’t the store manager say something? What’s going on in the power dynamics over there? Get the scoop!
Thursday, November 2, 2006 – Volume 53 Issue 9
Arts & Entertainment Page 11
The partner and I had decided this would be the weekend we would explore Providence’s many ethnic grocers and had abandoned the car to walk in Cranston. Armed with a list of enthusiastic suggestions courtesy of the wonderful people on Egullet.com, we dropped by Mirae Sikpoom, a Korean grocery at 602 Reservoir Avenue. A short pause here for speakers of obscure Chinese dialects to giggle. For non-speakers, “Sikpoom” sounds like “seekpoong,” meaning “to hemorrhage money” (and consequently go bust).
So. Interesting products, fair variety, loads of alien hieroglyphics, occasionally alarming English translations, friendly and smiling proprietor-couple. I’m not going to tell you too much because that will make you all curious, and then you’ll want to visit, which might be problematic. Especially if your mom has a habit of doling out “I told you so”s.
Stereotypical Behavior (Number One on a List where Nobody’s Counting):
If you’ve ever observed an Asian Obasan (term of respect for a middle-aged woman or “Aunty,” not necessarily denoting familiar relation) riffling through fresh produce in a grocery store, you might have noticed her giving the specimen in hand a surreptitious squeeze. Squeezing the plum, pepper, whatever, supplements the original visual appraisal: it lets her know if it’s firm and, therefore, fresh.
Obviously, doing so gives the proprietor of the store lots of grief. Because squeezing = bruising = more unsold produce = lesser profits. Catching you in the act on a bad day (or if they’re simply snarky that way) may prompt a vicious tongue-lashing or a “nose held high” proclamation that your business is unwelcome.
It is a silly, silly, proprietor though, who would give the Obasan such ungenerous treatment. And that is because of what I call the Aunty-Aunty Network: a powerful, word of mouth, information relay system among the drivers of the free world’s market economy.
These mighty holders of the purse strings are the go-to people for “the goods.” Need a caterer? They have contacts for the Barefoot Contessa’s mentor at 50 percent off mate’s rates. Looking for a parking lot in the city on a Friday night when the Red Sox are playing? They know the secret squirrel underground and can get you in, gratis. Powerful, powerful people.
Anyway. Unlike the indelicate behavior of these Asian Obasans, it seems their Western counterparts engage in no such faux pas. The Western Obasan is content to place the first watermelon she lays hands on into her cart, and will not proceed to thump each and every orb in the heap, listening for the reverberated guarantee of sweetness.
The bastard child of multiple cultures (me) therefore exerts her first act of rebellious independence by refusing to grope produce in supermarket aisles. She will not poke, she will not prod, she will not do anything to incur the wrath of said proprietor… she will triumphantly place virginal produce in her cart.
Which will lead to her being duped by the friendly and smiling proprietor-couple, who cheerfully assure her that the cut-throat priced sweet Korean rice cakes (dduk, similar to Japanese mochi) she had been craving were delivered on that very day. Which will make her resist the evolutionary instinct to grope for freshness. Which will culminate in her spitting stale, sesame paste-centered, rubber tires on the asphalt, give her pause about its biodegradability (unlikely), and prompt her to write a rambling piece about why you should always molest your fruit.
Now, I am not saying you should not give them and their rubber tire factory a visit (did I mention they also stock dried deer antlers?). I’m just saying Asiana on 92 Warren Avenue in East Providence has beautifully soft mochi that’s absolutely delish, and you won’t even have to give up your first-born.