Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

Shopping for fresh ingredients

I?m getting so excited about my Scent of Green Papaya dinner that I couldn?t wait until tomorrow to go shopping for my fresh ingredients. So I went today instead. Besides, I wanted to have all my ingredients available so that I could take a photograph of everything before I opened the packages and started chopping things up. I also wanted to prepare a few things ahead of time tomorrow, things like broths and marinades, and most importantly, my papaya-ginger-mint sorbet, so that it has plenty of time to freeze. When you add sugar to a liquid mixture, it takes a little longer than plain water to reach a semi-solid state in the freezer.

Yesterday, I made a call to Vallergas, a local grocery store that has the most extensive produce department, to inquire whether they carry lemongrass, as that is the ingredient that I anticipated being the hardest one to find. Fortunately, they keep it in stock all the time, and so that?s where I chose to shop for all my other fresh ingredients as well.

The produce department at Vallergas was fabulous as always, abundant and dazzling with vibrant color. The red and green bell peppers caught my eye from the front door, the mint and cilantro were both popping fresh, and the lemongrass had just been delivered this morning. I was definitely in the right place?except for the papayas. Although luscious and lovely, alas they were all far too ripe for my purposes. So, after I bought all my other fruits and vegetables, I headed for my favorite Mexican market, where I was told I might find the elusive green papaya. However, the ones they had in stock were unripe, but they were enormous and looked nothing like any papaya I?d ever seen, so I was hesitant to buy one there. The third stop at my neighborhood grocer proved the charm, as they had both ripe and green papayas in stock, and at the best price in town too. So after shopping at three different stores, I had finally gathered all the pieces of the puzzle.

When I got home, I unpacked all my groceries and set up a still life with all the fresh, canned and packaged ingredients that I?ve been assembling over the past couple of weeks. But when I got out my digital camera to photograph them, I discovered that the batteries were kaput, and my teenaged son Will had absconded with all my extra rechargeables for his gameboy and walkman. Fortunately for me, at that very moment, René, my sweetheart showed up unexpectedly, and just happened to have his digital camera with him. He took a fantastic photo of all my goodies and also agreed to arrive early on the day of our dinner to take more photos of the preparation and cooking process. What a guy!