Duc Loi Supermarket

| April 27, 2009 | 0 Comments
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duc loi supermarket meat counter
A shopper at Duc Loi Supermarket carefully selects large chunks of freshly fried chicharrones, while rendered lard begins solidifying on the counter nearby.

For over twenty years, seven days a week, Howard and Amanda Ngo have sold fresh, affordable produce and a quirky blend of both Latin American and Asian ingredients at the heart of the Mission District.

Looking for purple corn and whole-blossom jamaica in bulk? They have it. Ube yam and cashew fruit and banana leaves in the freezer section? Check. Dried peruvian beans or dried tofu nuggets? Check. Goat ribs and ox tails and whole, fresh pig heads? It’s all there at the meat counter. Young, watery coconuts chilled and ready to hack open for sipping on a sunny afternoon? Most definitely yes.

duc loi supermarket tamarind and sugar
The tart fruit of whole tamarind pods and the smokiness of boiled brown sugar satisfy a range of palates from Malaysia to Mexico.

Landing in the San Francisco in 1987, by way of Saigon and then Georgia, the couple’s first store filled a mere 700 square feet. Two months ago, their newly built supermarket stretched its aisles to 4,000 square feet. That’s still small for a full-service grocery store (major chain stores might cover 50,000 square feet), but their success in serving their immediate neighborhood’s needs in selection and price reflects a commitment that bigger markets rarely have. This past February, the City of San Francisco awarded a certificate of honor to Duc Loi, which just happens to mean “ethical profit” in Cantonese.

duc loi supermarket spices
“Carne de soya” and a multitude of spices and dried chiles hang along the back wall.

Walk in any day, and you’ll see Amanda, wrapped in her puffy down jacket, arranging produce or directing the butchers to bring out more chorizo. They make their own chorizo onsite and every week supply surrounding restaurants with nearly 400 pounds of it. Howard is the man in khakis holding a clipboard and, most probably, rushing to his next meeting with managers, suppliers, community leaders or city officials. The city’s bureaucracy is much more difficult to navigate than figuring out which potatoes sell better.

duc loi supermarket chorizo
Glistening links of chorizo are tied fresh every morning.

They’re still filling out their new shelves. Howard expects to grow their current selection another 1,000 products as they continue to settle into their larger space, sourcing more organic products, building up their clientele, and responding to customer requests. In the coming months, expect to see a deli with Vietnamese sandwiches and other popular takeout food. An underground parking lot will also open soon.

Both Amanda and Howard are open to suggestions and feedback, so introduce yourself if you haven’t already. Ask about the ingredients you don’t recognize — I promise you, there will be many of them. We all talk about meeting farmers at our weekend markets, but taking the time to learn from our neighborhood supermarkets is just as important in building a locally based food system that’s both accessible and culturally appropriate.

duc loi supermarket freezer
Ube yam, young coconut and whole cashew fruit are just a few of the diverse ingredients in the freezers.

More to the point, for those of us who need freshly rendered lard, dried beans, banana leaves and a variety of spices and aromatics for making tamales one day, then Asian sweets the next, there’s no better place to shop.

Duc Loi Supermarket
2200 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 551-1772
Map

du cloi supermarket candles
Light your altar for Jesus or your dead ancestors.

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Category: asian food and drink, bay area, local food businesses, san francisco

About the Author ()

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place. Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website, wanderingspoon.com, to learn more about her culinary adventures.