Cantonese pub

I went to one of the oldest Chinese supermarkets in Birmingham – and it was better than my local Tesco

Grocery shopping can be a fairly mundane chore.

You may end up buying the same thing week after week. And you follow the same route in the aisles.

Chinese supermarkets offer a totally different experience – from Aldi or Tesco.

Read more:Foodie’s guide to Birmingham’s Chinatown – all the best restaurants worth trying.

One of Birmingham’s oldest Chinese supermarkets is the Day In Oriental supermarket in the heart of Chinatown. Located at the back of the Arcadian, you can’t miss it.

It has a large, bright yellow panel with eye-catching red Chinese characters. And inside the small Arcadian walkway, which is quickly becoming a mini Chinatown in its own right, orange lanterns hang above the walkway.

And inside, Day In is just as dazzling – a giant Aladdin’s cave – with aisles of wonderful food to explore – that you could happily spend a whole day in!

The unassuming entrance to the gigantic Day In supermarket

I visited the store at the height of Chinatown’s preparations for the Chinese New Year, which this year falls on Tuesday February 1st.

Day In is filled with red Chinese New Year decorations, sweets and gifts as Birmingham’s huge Chinese and Hong Kong community prepares to celebrate the biggest day of the year.

James Wong, owner of the Cantonese restaurant Chung Ying just across the road and chairman of the Birmingham Chinese Festival Committee, agreed to meet me at Day In to show me around.

Inside the day At the supermarket
Inside the day At the supermarket

James told me: “I know some people are very scared to visit a Chinese supermarket – they think it’s going to be quite intimidating – but they shouldn’t feel that way.

“It’s so much better than going to Tesco and heading to the global food aisle! There’s so much more variety of produce, and it’s often much cheaper.”

James Wang
James Wang

And it’s guaranteed to turn your normally boring weekly shop into an epic supermarket discovery adventure.

Food on offer includes ‘Silk Road bamboo shoots’ – strips in water, halves in water, May San Curry sauce, Macapuno String Coconut Sport in Syrup, dried black mushroom strips, Manora prawn chips, baby octopus and dried mushrooms.

Manora Shrimp Chips
Manora Shrimp Chips

In addition to Chinese food and produce, everything you need to cook a feast spanning all cuisines from Asia to the Far East can be found here. And you can also get all kitchen equipment here. From huge fondue bowls – to a mini wok for one, there’s plenty to browse.

Here are some of the Chinese grocery stores James showed me during my visit.

New Year’s fish pudding

New Year's fish pudding
New Year’s fish pudding

As soon as I enter Day In, I only see lots of big goldfish. James tells me these are New Year’s puddings – but no – not made with fish – the fish is actually a large sweet rice cake in the shape of a fish.

He says: “Fish is very auspicious at this time of year because the word itself in Chinese translates to plentiful – as in plentiful with more money, which is what we all want the new year to be. .So we buy fish and other fish shaped things..

“The Cantonese word for these rice cakes sounds similar to the literal words “year high”, which symbolizes the promise of a better year ahead. The rice cake can be cooked in many different ways and can be sweet or dirty.

Day In marinated fish
Day In marinated fish

“This rice cake is sweet, that’s why it’s our New Year’s pudding. Sweet foods are eaten a lot at this time of year – because we want to start the year with a sweet taste in our mouths rather how bitter!

“And it’s red because it’s the color we associate with good luck.”

Candied hawthorn stick

Candied hawthorn -
Candied Hawthorn – “The Chinese equivalent of a candy apple”

“I used to eat a lot of it as a kid in Hong Kong – just walking around,” James laughs.

“Hawthorn is a fruit. It’s very strange, but it’s a fruit on a stick. I guess the Western equivalent would be a candy apple. Very sweet and bad for your teeth.”

“Pickled Vegetables for Students”

“Pickled Vegetables for Students”

James explains this particular disclaimer on the packaging. “It’s about letting buyers know that this is not a premium product. A waiver if you like, so people don’t expect exceptional quality – it won’t be not great – but students will eat it.

Chinese cuisine is all about textures and smells as well as taste. We like a lot of different textures at every meal, so we served pickled vegetables on the side.

lotus root

“I love lotus root – we use it a lot in cooking to make soups and we can sauté it after thinly slicing it.

“Other fresh vegetables include all Chinese staples – Pak Choi, Gai Choi, Express Vegetable – all are flown in from China and the high price proves it.

“All fresh fruit and vegetables that don’t come from China are labeled local. But that doesn’t mean they’re from the UK – when it comes to Chinese supermarkets, local is anything from Europe. These spinach come from the Netherlands.”

winter melon

“It’s an average melon! We eat it more like a vegetable. It’s hard and needs to be boiled, and we use it a lot in Hot Pot cooking – winter melon absorbs the flavors of the ingredients it’s cooked with .”

fish balls

The supermarket freezer section is not your average freezer section. The first item I come across are fish balls.

“Fishballs are popular if you want fish without the usual texture,” says James. “Just dunk them in hot water and they’re done – then add them to your soup or fondue – they float on top of your soup or fondue. Super quick dinners.”

What is a hot pot? “It’s a cooking method. It consists of a simmering metal pot with broth and people add the ingredients themselves at the table – and cook whatever they want in the broth.

“So a lot of the freezer section are things you can add to your hot pot – after they’ve been thawed. That means your hot pot will still have lots of flavor and different textures.”

Every Spicy Sriracha Sauce Flavor Under The Sun

A range of Flying Good Sriracha sauces
A range of Flying Good Sriracha sauces

Sriracha lovers will think they’ve died and gone to heaven when they see the mind-blowing flavors available at Day In!

The most popular brand is Flying Goose. Her Day In favors include Sriracha Hot Sauce, Mayonnaise, Green Chilli, “Super Hot”, Yellow Chilli, Sweet Chilli, Extra Garlic, Smoked Sriracha, and Black Pepper Sriracha.

“The choice really puts your local supermarket to shame, doesn’t it? James laughed.

Squid tentacles

“Thaw it, add some flour, fry it – gorgeous. One of my favorite snacks,” James said.

Raw duck intestines

Frozen raw duck intestines
Frozen raw duck intestines

Raw duck intestines don’t look very appetizing, but they’re popular in hot dishes, says James.

Chicken hearts

Chicken hearts
Chicken hearts

“Not my favorite. James grimaces. “A lot of Chinese love chicken hearts because they are so crunchy! Again, it all depends on the texture.”

Pig’s feet, pig’s stomach and pig’s intestines

Part of Pig Intestines at Day In
Part of Pig Intestines at Day In

I ask James why pork is so popular in China. He says, “The Chinese love to eat pork, especially at any time of celebration because the pig is a fat animal. We want to eat fat because it means wealth. Skinny people are considered poor. It is so important to have some fat in your meal. .

“And we eat pretty much every part of a pig because we don’t like to waste anything. So we have pig stomach, pig intestines, pig trotters – pig trotters are delicious, but you have to cook them for hours for the skin and gristle to fall off.”

chicken feet

chicken feet
chicken feet

“Chicken feet is an all-time Chinese classic. We sell tons of chicken feet at my restaurant Chung Ying. It’s so popular!” said Jacques.

“Our non-Chinese customers are curious to try. I jokingly tell diners that they should eat them now, so they won’t need collagen injected into their face to stay young – all the collagen is in the paws of chicken. And I convinced a few too!

“To make it you have to steam it in soy sauce and fry it – the skin, collagen and tendons loosen up. It’s basically bone – you can’t bite into it. You suck them.”

Peanut fish to “eat with your drinks”

Fried fish with peanuts
Fried fish with peanuts “to eat with drinks”

“The peanut fried fish comes with a consumer advice ‘to eat with drinks’ written in Chinese.

James confesses: “I’ve never come across this before, but it looks like a good alternative to peanuts and crisps in the pub.”

turnip cake

turnip cake
turnip cake

It’s a must-have for students, says James. “It’s a pre-sliced ​​savory cake, and you just have to fry it – Chinese students love to eat it with eggs.”

Salted egg yolks

Salted egg yolks
Salted egg yolks

James says it can be savory or sweet. He tells me, “In my restaurant, we cook it in butter and spread it on soft-shell crab and seafood dishes. We also use it to make a Chinese dessert called lava bread – when you cut it, the egg yolk oozes out.

I’ve tried lava buns at Chung Ying and can guarantee it’s the most amazing dessert – with the salty sweet filling that pours out like molten lava.

Aloe Vera sticky tea

The Chinese love tea, and there are more types of tea available at Day In than Sriracha flavors. Tea can come in sachets and pots like Aloe Vera tea. James explains, “It has the consistency of sticky honey. A spoonful of hot water is an excellent remedy for health.”

Makak marinated in a jar

James doesn’t know what it is, but after a quick Google search, he tells me it’s a Caribbean fruit. “So you can really get anything from around the world here.”

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