To be honest, I was not impressed by Fubonn’s claim to be the largest Asian Shopping Center in Oregon. This is Oregon. Being the largest anything (except, perhaps, a tree) is not a particularly difficult feat.
What impressed me was that an Asian Shopping Center exists at all in Oregon. It was described as a sort of mall, with many shops and an enormous supermarket at the center. I’d just found Malaysian Musang King at a smaller Asian grocer; I was curious if a bigger store would have an even better selection. Curiosity won, so one day last week I drove to East Portland to explore.
When Fubonn Asian Supermarket opened its doors in late 2005, many people saw it as the death of the Old Chinatown in downtown Portland.
Fubonn is located in the Jade District, an East Portland neighborhood that some people are calling the New Chinatown (see A Tale of Two Chinatowns). Many businesses had already moved there from the somewhat rundown area that’s traditionally been Portland’s Chinatown, complaining the rent is too high and the constant construction, homeless population and lack of parking deters customers. Fair ’nuff.
I was disappointed I didn’t visit Fubonn in August, when the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) offers a walking tour of the Jade District. A little tourism and a post-durian snack is my favorite combination.
Because of everything I’d read, I expected to suddenly enter a zone that felt foreign, like when I drove to Hawaii Supermarket in San Gabriel and suddenly everything was in Chinese characters.
That didn’t happen. I did notice an unusual density of Chinese restaurants, but the script was Roman and there was a Mexican restaurant between them anyway.
|The marijuana shop is in the left|
Fubonn itself looked trendy and sat back from the road behind an enormous parking lot, bordered by a Starbucks and a Sushi restaurant. The leaves of trees along the sidewalk were turning beautiful golds and reds. Across the street from Fubonn was a recreational marijuana shop.
I felt very squarely located in Oregon.
Inside, natural light flooded through the enormous round window into a cream-colored corridor lined with small shops, which were mostly closed. I hoped the quiet was because it was a Monday morning.
To be more legit, I thought, they needed more stuff crammed in the walkways. I should be tripping over stands of $3 sunglasses and Angry Bird key chains. But then, the level of claustrophobia common in Thai shopping centers might not go over well with the U.S. Fire Marshal.
One of the few shops open was the book store. I stopped here to admire the stacks of books sliding off into the magazines; the calendars, cards, and gift bags crammed onto narrow shelves below.
It reminded me of a certain overstuffed stationary shop in Balik Pulau, Penang, but without the overwhelming odor of cats doing it in the dark aisles (Ryan: lamination will never be the same).
I wondered then how much this trip to Fubonn was about looking for durian, and how much I was seeking something familiar from my life in Southeast Asia. In the big empty spaces of America, I missed the clutter and over-stimulation I associate with Malaysia and Thailand, where it is almost never quiet and I never quite have a handle on what’s going on.
In a lot of ways I like the things that seem random to me, but that I assume make perfect logical sense to someone else from another culture. It adds surprise and unpredictability to life. And then, when I figure out the why I get the same moment of “ah-hah!” moment of joy as a detective.
Fubonn supermarket, it turned out, would be full of things that make no sense to me, which made finding the durian, when I finally found it, a nice little “ah-hah!” moment.
The supermarket is at the center of the shopping structure and sprawls over about two-thirds of the real estate. When people complain about Fubonn on Yelp.com, they say they get tired just walking the long aisles.
As I picked up my shopping basket, the overhead music system blared soulful Latin trumpets. “Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it,” it demanded. It seemed like an odd musical selection for an Asian store. It didn’t fit with the theme; it wasn’t logical. I doubt anyone cared but me.
The Produce Section
At first I thought the fruit section was really tiny. It was crammed up against the bakery, and consisted of huge boxes filled with fruits.
The jackfruits smelled amazing. I tapped them, and found one with the perfect sponginess that was responsible for the sweet aroma hovering over the aisle. But even at .69 cents a pound this baby was going to cost a good $10.
I moved on, and realized that the fruit section wrapped around the bakery and headed off toward the vegetable aisle. Here there were persimmons that looked like they’d seen better days, enormous grapes, grapefruits, and more apples.
I didn’t even see papayas. But that’s because they were hiding elsewhere.
As I swung through the veggie section, stopping to examine lotus roots and gingko nuts, I realized the store’s organization was beyond my logic.
There were melons against the wall next to spinach and mushrooms. The papayas were living on the aisle with the fresh fish, with avocados on the other side. I didn’t see any Musang Kings hanging out thawing.
This was going to be an interesting treasure hunt.
Interesting Frozen Fruits
Since I hadn’t seen any durians in the produce area (although who knows, maybe they were living with the fresh tofu) I skipped over the middle of the store and headed to the freezer section.
The selection of frozen fruits was really impressive, but the trick was finding them.
I found the passionfruit juice and soursop pulp immediately, on the top shelf above frozen bags of cassava, bamboo shoots and galangal root. No durian. But there was also no frozen jackfruit, which I thought was odd. I kept moving.
The rest of the open freezers seemed to be potstickers and wan-tans. I circled them, prowling. No fruit.
Seriously? I thought. This store has only passionfruit juice and soursop pulp in it’s freezers? I peeked around the corner, but didn’t see any more freezers.
Hmmm. The plot thickens.
I asked for help from a clerk in a red baseball cap. It seemed likely from his mustache and accent that he was also Latino, like the music.
He pointed me behind a large cardboard display to another series of three huge, tub-like open freezers. The first one contained frozen packets of jackfruit, chico sapote, and steamed bananas, surrounded on all side by frozen fish. Interesting combination, I thought.
I moved on to the next freezer-tub. This one looked more promising, because one entire side was frozen fruit. Whole fruits too, like a 2 lb sack of jumbo longans from Vietnam, and a bag of frozen mangosteens. I contemplated the mangosteens, which at only $3.99 for the bag seemed like a good deal. There was even a frozen breadfruit!
And last, at the end of the aisle, were the whole frozen durians. Ah-hah! Got ’em.
I looked the durians over. They were Lotus Brand, from Thailand, and at $2.89/lb (210 baht per kilo) really weren’t a bad price. You can pay that much for fresh Monthong when you’re actually in Thailand, if you go during the off-season.
But they didn’t inspire me to buy one either. After my Musang King find, Thai Monthong just wasn’t exciting enough.
Then I swung around the other side of the tub, just to be thorough, and found something new and interesting.
Durian from Vietnam. I’d never seen such a thing in the United States.
How lucky am I this Portland trip, I thought. First Malaysian durian, now Vietnamese!
The name of the durian, Cái Mơn Khong, made me think it is the same variety as the durians exported from Thailand (Monthong) but grown in Vietnam. I wondered if it would taste the same.
As I felt the creamy pods through the packaging, I also weighed the many crack-downs on Vietnamese soaking durian in chemicals that have been in the news in the last year.
Oh, what the heck.
I’ll give you my full review in a future post.
Make sure you have plenty of time to explore when you visit Fubonn. The supermarket is huge, filled with many unexpected and fascinating products, and it’s almost certain that what you’re looking for won’t be where you expect to find it.
The most exciting durian find at Fubonn was a package of Vietnamese durian. Beyond durian, they have a pretty amazingly diverse selection of frozen fruits. I found their fresh fruit section unimpressive (except for the jackfruits).
- Whole, Frozen Monthong from Thailand. Lotus Brand: $2.89/lb (206 baht/kilo)
- Packaged Frozen Monthong from Thailand. 16 oz. Arroy-D Brand. $9.99
- Packaged Frozen Cai Mon Khong from Vietnam. 14 oz. 3-Mien Brand. $8.99
Getting To Fubonn Supermarket
2850 SE 82nd Ave, Portland OR
Hours: 9AM – 8PM
Arianna Thomas says
Those jackfruits look great! I love all your posts on Asian stores in Portland as it's been hard finding some good durian here. I heard good things about the Hong Phat Supermarket (they have two locations, one in SE 82nd Ave and one in the NE Prescott area) and am curious to try. Let me know if you've ever had any experience with this place!
Lindsay Gasik says
Cool that you're in Portland! I didn't physically make it to Hong Phat but I did call them to find out what they have — I actually either visited for called all the Asian stores in Portland, and I'm going to post what I found out in the form of a guide next week!