Oriental grocery stores are supposed to be tucked away on tiny side streets looking exotic, right? Sometimes that's true, even in the suburbs. But if you're in Maryland and want to do some Chinese cooking, you'd do better to look toward the malls.
The best example of this phenomenon is the Oriental Market, a dazzling new store that sits in the midst of Wintergreen Plaza, Rockville Pike's latest monument to the American shopper.
"We try," says proprietor Chaing Wang, smiling as he surveys a domain that would make any Safeway manager proud. The Oriental Market is the best of both worlds. It combines a remarkable selection of Chinese and other oriental groceries with marketing and display techniques that Americans can be comfortable with.
In the Oriental Market, as well as in most other oriental groceries in Maryland, there is at least one person who can do the difficult job of translating the demands of American-produced Chinese cookbooks into what's available on the shelves. And most stores, in order to accommodate the shifting demographics of Washington's Asian population, carry an assortment of food from all oriental cuisines.
If you are the average American cook wanting to try out the new wok, any oriental store will probably have what you need to get started. Those more conversant with a specific cuisine, however, should seek out the stores with more variety. It's sometimes difficult to tell by a store's name which oriental cuisine predominates, and that's where this guide to some of the Maryland markets will come in handy. BETHESDA
Taiwan Grocery, 4540 Montgomery Ave. Open Mon. through Fri., 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Sunday. 654-8505. Nestled among suburban high-rises, this tiny store manages to pack in a fairly good selection of Chinese and Japanese groceries. You'll find all the major sauces, plus fresh noodles and bean sprouts, a fair selection of frozen fish, egg roll and wonton wrappers and buns. Its location--near both Wisconsin Avenue and East-West Highway--is a plus, but parking is difficult. POTOMAC
The Jade Tree, 350 Fortune Terrace (Seven Locks Plaza). Open Mon. through Fri., 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sun. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 279-9522. At The Jade Tree you'll be guided through an outstanding selection of Chinese groceries by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. An excellent selection of fresh vegetables and bean curd arrives every day but Monday. There are fresh noodles and fresh squid, yellow fish and flounder, too. Meat is kept frozen and it's best to ask for help. This store is geared to the Chinese community and it probably has everything you'd need for a complete meal. Ask about the specials Wednesday through Saturday. ROCKVILLE
Fortune Cookie, rear of 1749 Rockville Pike (Congressional Plaza North). Open Tues. through Sat., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 881-6966. This is mainly a Japanese store, so it tends to be heavy on various kinds of seaweed and lighter on the Chinese groceries. But there are the basic soy and bean sauces, sesame oils, dried and canned mushrooms, plus fresh Chinese noodles and vegetables such as Chinese radishes and sprouts. The selection of fish and meat is limited.
New Seoul, 1555 Rockville Pike (rear of Congressional Plaza). Open Mon. and Wed. through Sat.10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Tues., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sun. and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 770-7870. Although its name implies a Korean orientation, New Seoul is blessed with an excellent selection of Chinese goods, especially canned food such as mushrooms and bean and chili pastes, and various flours, sauces and oils. There are rows of dried noodles, fresh egg-roll and wonton wrappers, and a fairly good selection of fresh vegetables. There's a good selection of frozen meat and fish as well as pastries. New Seoul also carries lots of lovely oriental plates and bowls, and the proprietors are more than happy to help or to chat.
Oriental Market, 891-F Rockville Pike (Wintergreen Plaza). Open Mon. through Thurs., 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sun. 340-8018. This is the ne plus ultra of Chinese markets. A gleaming new supermarket-type store, it has an excellent selection of everything. Fresh vegetables include long beans, chilies of many descriptions, several kinds of cabbages and radishes, Chinese eggplant, lemon grass, sprouts, herbs and garlic. There are yards of fresh fish and meat, rows and rows of noodles, dried mushrooms of every description and a frozen-food case that rivals Safeway's. On weekends, the Oriental Market brings in prepared Peking duck and red-cooked pork, plus fresh pastries. Call if you are looking for something special. Even the most accomplished and knowledgeable Chinese cook should find the right ingredients here. SILVER SPRING
Arirang House, 7918 Georgia Ave. Open every day, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 587-0006. This is a raucous Korean store with more kinds of dried fish than you'd ever think could have swum in the sea. One of the few stores in the area with fresh fish of an oriental persuasion, Arirang House also carries an excellent selection of fresh vegetables, which tend to cross oriental cuisine lines. There is an extensive enough selection of Chinese sauces, pastes and oils to execute basic Chinese recipes, but probably not for the most sophisticated Chinese gourmands. If Korean is what you're looking for, however, this is it.
Asian American Grocery, 8236 Georgia Ave. Open Mon. through Sat., 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 589-2773. This is a new store with a Thai accent. Though the shelves look like the store isn't quite stocked up to its fullest yet, there is a fair selection of Chinese sauces and oils. Basic dried black mushrooms are available but not the more exotic varieties, and the choice among fresh vegetables is limited to the basics like sprouts, radishes and snow peas. There is a good selection of noodles and wrappers for egg rolls and wontons.
Diskor, 8467 Piney Branch (corner of Flower Ave.). Open Mon. through Sat., 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 585-3737. Diskor is a small store but packed tightly with groceries from many cuisines. Though the ownership is Korean, the store has been in the same location for 11 years and has learned to weather changing demographics by carrying a bit of everything. There is a fairly wide basis here for choices among packaged goods such as noodles and canned sauces, oils and pastes. Diskor carries fresh Chinese noodles, wrappers, and vegetables such as cabbages and radishes, and while there is no fresh meat or fish, the freezer selection is good. And if you need oriental bowls or plates, Diskor has them, too. The organization here is helter-skelter, so if you need something specific, ask for it.
Hiroshima, 7838 Eastern Ave. Open Tues. through Sun., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Closed Mon. 726-3777. Hiroshima has a little bit of everything, but it's mostly Japanese. There is a substantial case of fresh vegetables with a good variety of cabbages and radishes, snow peas, ginger, garlic and lemon grass. Fresh bean curd is available, as well as several different kinds of dried mushrooms and enough Chinese staples such as soy and hoisin sauce, vinegars and bean and chili pastes to keep American cooks of Chinese food happy. WHEATON
Asian Foods Inc., 2301 University Blvd., West. Open Mon. through Fri., 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. 933-6071. A suburban mecca for cooks of Chinese food, Asian Foods carries a bewildering variety of noodles from all oriental cuisines, an array of canned mushrooms, racks of Chinese snack foods, wrappers of all descriptions and sauces enough to please the most serious of cooks. Shoppers are mostly Oriental, a good sign. Chinese cuisine is the main feature at Asian Foods, and no matter how esoteric your needs, the ingredients are probably here. If Chinese isn't your language and you are delving deeply into complicated recipes you may want to bring along the cookbook in order to sidestep communications problems.
Oriental Food-Town, 11236 Georgia Ave. Open every day 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. 949-5949. Oriental Food-Town, right around the corner from Asian Foods, carries mainly foods for Japanese and Korean cuisines, plus enough Chinese sauces, noodles and vegetables to produce basic Chinese-American stir-fry dishes. There is a fairly good selection of radishes and cabbages, ginger and garlic, which travel across many oriental cuisines. Frozen food selections are not extensive, but wonton and egg-roll wrappers are available. There's lots of dried fish and seaweed, both more common in Japanese and Korean cuisines.