Small businesses provide Asian cuisine

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Small businesses provide Asian cuisine

Kao shan tea, an oolong tea variety, is grown in the mountains of central Taiwan. Photo: Lindsay Shaleen

For students who want to experience authentic international foods, two local markets offer them the chance to purchase products not typically available in American grocery stores.

Saigon Market sells several varieties of international food including Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Korean. They even carry some products from Africa and Micronesia.

“We have the basic staples for every culture,” owner Ruby Lam said. “[In addition,] we try to cater to all of the Asian communities and everybody else who tries to cook those foods.”

Lam said Saigon orders food based on word-of-mouth from customers. Knowing what customers want enables Saigon to sell what they do.

Kao shan tea, an oolong tea variety, is grown in the mountains of
central Taiwan. Photo: Lindsay Shaleen

As far as specialty items, Saigon receives a fresh fruit and vegetable delivery Wednesday afternoons after 2 p.m. and serves roast duck and pork as well as Filipino and Hong Kong bakery items on Thursday nights at 5 p.m.

Saigon opened in 1995 and sold primarily Vietnamese products since its original owners were Vietnamese refugees. In 2009, the market was passed down to the owners’ daughter Ruby Lam and her husband. At this time, they expanded the product line beyond Vietnamese food.

Asia Pacific Supermarket is similar to Saigon in authenticity but resembles markets like those of larger cities in the variety of products they carry. Asia Pacific sells authentic Asian food and snacks in addition to a variety of ornate serving dishes.

Attached to the supermarket is a restaurant also owned by supermarket owner Alva Mak. Mak said the restaurant is unique because unlike many other comparable restaurants, they serve authentic Chinese food, not Chinese American. Mak noted a favorite menu item is roast duck. The restaurant also cooks food to order

Mak said Asia Pacific does a lot of local business, serving customers who live nearby. She also said customers often comment how happy they are to have found a store that carries the products they want.

Saigon Market provides ingredients for many dishes from different
Asian cultures. Photo: Lindsay Shaleen

Mak grew up in Hong Kong but later came to the U.S. and assisted her husband in his restaurant. They eventually opened Asia Pacific Super Market. “It was tough in the beginning,” Mak said.

Both Saigon and Asia Pacific have had to navigate through COVID-19. Mak said Asia Pacific has had to make an effort to continually order products to combat shortages. Saigon was able to provide rice to customers when other stores with more generic brands could not. In addition, both markets encourage people to stop by around the time of Chinese New Year to browse their holiday-themed snack selections.

Junior Olivia Thomas, originally from China, has frequented both markets. “Saigon introduced me to a lot of Asian foods outside of China that I really love,” Thomas said. She has enjoyed the uniqueness of the markets and especially enjoys the scallion pancakes and soup dumplings that are served in Asia Pacific’s restaurant. As a result of trying the markets, Thomas said her pallet has been expanded.

Saigon Market is located on Wade Hampton Boulevard towards downtown Greenville right outside front campus and operates from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Asia Pacific Super Market is part of the Greenville Convention Center complex on Pleasantburg Drive. Its hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.