Since 70 percent of the city's Chinese grocery stores are located in Chinatown, it's good to know that the new $98.7 million Washington Convention Center presents no immediate threat to their well-being.
In fact, the center may even make them rich, merchants and property owners say, should shop owners decide to sell to investors who talk about performing a facelift on this aging section of the city.
Shopping here in Chinatown poses a few minor problems. Parking on weekdays is either metered or in lots and, because of language barriers, getting questions answered can be trying. But the effort is worth it, as this sampling of District oriental markets will attest. These five stores will supply almost any Chinese ingredient you need.
Da Hua Foods, Washington's finest Chinese grocery, is where you will find the largest selection of fresh imported meats and vegetables, canned goods, candies and teas. Wang's Co. also carries most canned Chinese ingredients, but no fresh meats and not much dried fish.
If you're looking for some tasty, crispy baked duck or barbecued pork to go with basic staples such as hoisin and sesame oil, Suey Sang Lung Co. and Mee Wah Lung are worth a visit. Chinatown Market is good for last-minute staple shopping. Be sure to check out the Chinese bacon hanging in the window.
Should you find yourself on either side of Chinatown and in need of Chinese ingredients, there are two other possibilities. At the warehouse district in Northeast, the little-known KFC (America) Inc. is a pleasant surprise with a well-stocked frozen and dried fish supply. Prices for canned goods here are cheapest by the case. Across town, on upper Wisconsin Avenue, there is also the Mikado Grocery, where there is a wide variety of fresh fish and pre-wrapped fresh vegetables. CHINATOWN
Chinatown Market, 521 H St. NW. Open Wed. through Mon., 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. 842-0130. Shopping can be done from the center of the square, wooden floor in this tiny grocery. The displays are simple, ordered and limited: Canned mixed green vegetables are in one corner and soy sauce, sesame oil and hoisin are in another; there is a small shelf of dried noodles, rice and a few heads of chinese cabbage, scallions and occasionally oriental potatoes. Woks hang askew from various shelves around the store. There is oriental bacon hanging in the window for $2.25 a pound. While owner Fay Ng can't tell you how her husband makes it, she's more than happy to tell you to stir-fry half a piece with a potato, vegetables or chop suey.
Da Hua Foods, 617 I St, NW. Open Mon. through Sat., 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Sun., 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. 842-1992. If you can't find what you need in this grocery store, chances are it's not in the city. The store is well laid-out, with entire aisles devoted to canned goods, rice, condiments, and china plates, platters and bowls. Refrigerators stocked with frozen and dried fish, spring roll and egg roll wrappers and dim sum line the walls. There are 13 varieties of bamboo shoots, 16 different soy sauces and seven brands of sesame oil. The vegetables are fresh and varied: broccoli, bok choy, white radishes, snow peas, winter melon, bamboo shoots and preserved mustard greens. There are more types of vermicelli than there are letters in the name. Pick among wheat, rice, tapioca and sweet potato flours. Teas here come from all over the Orient. This is the only Chinese grocery in the city with fresh meats, which owner An Ming Lee says are shipped in weekly from New York. You'll regularly find fresh duck feet, oxtail, beef tripe and pigs stomach. Preserved ducks are $9.35 apiece.
Communication is a big problem in this store. Many of the items are labeled in Chinese and few employes speak English. But if you need help with ingredients, Lee recommends that you bring your cookbook or recipes in and he'll help out.
Mee Wah Lung, 608 H St. NW. Open Wed. through Mon., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 737-0968. The enticing aroma of crispy roast duck, barbecued pork and soy sauce chicken are apparent the minute you walk through the door. Hanging in a glass case are ducks with crispy skins and dark, gamey meat--available whole, half and quartered. The barbecued pork, smokey and lean, sells by the pound. Whole soy sauce chickens must be ordered 24 hours in advance. And if you're in the market for a suckling pig, give two weeks notice and one weighing up to 50 pounds is yours for $270. While variety is lacking, you will find the basics here.
Suey Sang Lung Co., 604 H St. NW. Open Tues. through Sun., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 638-6816. Like its neighbor, Mee Wah Lung, this store features savory barbecued pork (available by the pound) and crispy roast duck (available whole, halved or quartered). The pork is sweet with a thin layer of fat; duck must be ordered 24 hours in advance. The turn-of-the-century dark wood counters and glass cases are beautiful in this store, which is the local hangout for men, who talk quietly in corners. Chinese ingredients do not abound, but the basics are available. A small freezer is stocked with egg roll wrappers and frozen dim sum.
Wang's Co., 800 7th St. NW. Open every day, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 842-0447. You might walk right by this grocery thinking it is little more than a Chinese five-and-dime. Don't. Let the music playing out to the street draw you in. Once you've finished checking out the racks of clothing, shoes, jewlery and magazines, wander into the back room, which is stocked with various canned goods, sauces and pastes and a huge selection of china at bargain prices.
Canned fish is abundant here: broiled mackerel, spicy fried tilefish, roasted eel, long-tail anchovy, razor clams and ground fried fish are but a sampling. There are five varieties of water chestnuts and nine different brands of bamboo shoots. If you like it hot, try some of the various chili products: Chili paste with garlic, preserved radish with chili, chili paste with soy bean, chili pure'e, garlic with chili oil and chili pepper sauce. Vegetables here are fresh, and it was the only place in Chinatown where there were hot peppers, Chinese parsley (coriander) and fresh bean curd. The dried spices are limited to curry powder, pepper, dry mustard and jars of assorted ground chili peppers. There's an entire shelf of imported cookies, chocolate candy and preserved fruits. NORTHEAST
KFC (America) Inc., 1264 5th St., NE. Open Mon. through Fri., 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sat., 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Sun. 543-8080. If you're in the market for frozen fish, this wholesale-retail store has the largest variety in the city. By the pound there are skate wings, belt fish, imported Japanese mackerel, Alaska pollack, squid and abalone. In addition, packages of dried cuttlefish, squid, cod, shrimp and even seaweed are piled high in bins scattered around the floor. Canned goods are available by the case at reduced prices. Poor organization of goods and a language barrier might discourage some shoppers. NORTHWEST
Mikado Grocery, 4709 Wisconsin Ave., NW. Open Tues through Sat., 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun. 362-7700. This is a Japanese grocery with Chinese variables. Should you find yourself in the neighborhood and in need of soy or hoisin you can find it here. Cabbage and snow peas are colorful and fresh-looking but cannot be closely examined because they are pre-wrapped. There are woks, china and colorful Japanese trays. The fish counter is stocked with plump, fresh fish. Octopus, tuna, flounder, yellowtail, sea urchin, cuttlefish and jumbo shrimp are available by the pound.