THE YEAR of the sparerib. The year of the roast pork bao. The year of sweet-and-sour, mu shi, double-cooked and barbecued. Feb. 13 is Chinese New Year, this one being the year of the pig. It promises to be a delicious year.
Pork is the red meat of choice in the most populous country on earth, so much a part of Chinese home cooking that the Chinese character for "home," explains cookbook author Barbara Tropp, shows a roof with a pig beneath it. Pigs, she says, are practical as meat sources because they have no work potential and are easily fed.
What are not easily fed are all the visitors expected to drop in for Chinese New Year. The custom is to welcome anyone who might be related, and certainly to exchange visits with all of one's associates during the week of the new year. The visit may be only 15 minutes, and a person might make 10 such visits a day, but each invariably includes eating and drinking.
Clearly, these are busy days for Washington's oriental grocers. Their geographical center has shifted so that now northern Virginia has as many as the entire Washington area had a decade ago. And Chinatown's market locus has shifted to I Street, the site of the first full-blown Chinatown supermarket, Da Hua. But the shift has been more than geographical. In ethnic terms, Southeast Asia has continued to increase its influence as Vietnamese, Thai and Korean markets proliferate.
Most promising has been the growth in the freshness and variety of food available. Fresh meat counters are newcomers to oriental markets, where once the only fresh meats were those already cooked. Fresh fish is also newly arrived, particularly sushi fish. Produce counters show not only more kinds of vegetables, but they are also in better condition.
Because the New Year celebrates order over chaos, we have catalogued the area's oriental groceries--to compare their offerings and describe their wares. We explore the rich world of Chinese barbecue, which encompasses roast pork, spareribs, chicken, suckling pig and several kinds of duck. And, leaving nothing to chance, we tell you how to find the perfect wine to accompany different types of Chinese cuisine.