FOOD: Asian Imports— That Other Asian Supermarket

Falls Church Times Staff

March 19, 2010

There are so many incredible Asian food markets within a 10 mile radius of the City of Falls Church.

Great Wall off Gallows Rd. in Falls Church may be the craziest of the bunch.  On Saturday mornings the check-out lines are often ten people deep, comprised mostly of Chinese grandmothers stocking up on loads of fresh vegetables and fish straight out of the live tanks that line the back of the store.  The Korean-centric H Mart across the street is similarly chaotic, teeming with people at all hours of the day.

At Duangrats in Falls Church and Bangkok 54 Market in nearby Arlington homesick Thais shuffle in throughout the week for curry pastes, fresh rice noodles, kaffir lime leaves, and other hard-to-find items.  Every time I go to one of them I leave with a new treasure I’ve never tasted in my life.

And there are countless other places that get plenty of well-deserved business—the Grand Mart just outside the city; the Cho Saigon Supermarket at the Eden Center; the Happy Go Supermarket in Annandale.

But there is an overlooked gem amongst these popular Asian grocers— a place that sees far fewer people walk through its doors.  It’s called Asian Imports and it’s right here in the Little City.

Asian Imports (formerly known as Vietnam Imports) isn’t nearly as big or well-stocked as much of its brethren, and some of the products seem to have been untouched for years.  It doesn’t really carry any fresh produce, meats, or fish worth noting either.  Truthfully, the place doesn’t look like much at all on the surface.

Start perusing the shelves, though, and you’ll quickly realize this is no generic Asian market.  Even though you’ll find some of the same Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean items that other stores carry, Asian Imports specializes in Indonesian and Filipino imported foods, both of which are hard to come by around here.  There are dozens of products and brands at this cramped storefront that you simply can’t find elsewhere.  For that reason alone, this place is worth a trip.

Asian Imports crams hundreds of goodies into a small, bare bones space.

In my recent visits I’ve been drawn to the astonishing selection of sambals, the fiery chili-based relishes loaded with garlic and aromatics that are the backbone of the cuisines of the Philippines, Indonesia, and other neighboring countries. Grab a jar and read the ingredients to get a better idea of what the flavor profile of a given type is, as there are many to choose from.  I generally avoid the shrimp paste-heavy ones because they are a tad funky for my Western palate, but any other choice will give you a versatile, spicy, assertive pantry staple that is a great addition to marinades and dips.

The ubiquitous Filipino and Indonesian table condiment kecap manis is another great find.  Most Asian markets carry one or two brands of this addictive palm sugar-sweetened soy sauce, but Asian Imports has several, including the preservative-free and well-regarded Bango brand that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  When the grilling season comes a bottle of kecap manis is a secret weapon.  Its sweet, salty, smoky, complex, caramel-like flavor is fantastic brushed on just about any meat before it hits the coals.

Indonesian sweet soy sauce, otherwise known as kecap manis, is one of the world's great condiments.

Those are the two most familiar, most Western friendly Filipino-Indonesian treats.  The vast majority of stuff on the shelves at Asian Imports I know nothing about.  There are bags of rice yeast and powdered purple yam.  There are pickled things and fermented things and canned exotic fruits.  There are frozen Filipino sausages, shrimp chips, and cassava crackers.  Much of it is cheap enough and small enough to justify trying a few mystery items.

The key is to read labels and avoid stuff with preservatives and weird additives, which are generally a sign of poor quality.  It also helps to enlist the help of whoever is working that day (there is usually just one person).  Everyone I have talked to in my visits has been nothing but nice and helpful, in spite of the language barrier.

On my last trip I played it pretty safe with a six-pack of deliciously tropical-tasting soursop juice from Indonesia.  I also splurged on some locally made Filipino cashew candies, a strange cardboard container of pure coconut cream, and needle-thin rice noodles.    Next time I’ll pick up some of the Dutch products, which Asian Imports has a substantial supply of thanks to the long-standing Dutch presence in Indonesia.

Frankly, I’m not sure how much longer this little shop will last.  The competition is fierce, and, in many ways, better.  But Asian Imports has products and family-owned charm that other places don’t.  That’s enough to keep me coming back.

Asian Imports is located on 922 W. Broad St., Falls Church, VA, 22046.  (703)- 534-9441.

March 19, 2010 


3 Responses to “FOOD: Asian Imports— That Other Asian Supermarket”

  1. Peter Herrick on March 20th, 2010 3:42 pm

    I’ve been shopping at Vietnam Imports (now Asian Imports) for many many years. Try Yeo’s Hot & Sweet Chili Sauce and/or Wanjashan Steak Sauce. Great place for noodles and teas and soy sauces.

  2. EMT, City of Falls Church on March 22nd, 2010 12:16 am

    Like Peter, I too have shopped here off and on for years. Well worth it.

  3. Leigh Burger, Leesburg on October 13th, 2010 10:21 am

    Bango Sweet Soy Sauce for making genuine Indonesian satay is a MUST! I’m going out to Asian Imports today to purchase some. It’s amazing.

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