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Travel + Culture

Gourmet Market


Bounty. It has a proper name: Gourmet Market. It has a distinct location: Bangkok's Siam Paragon mega mall. I discovered this glut while spending a week on business amid Bangkok's shopping district. Scrounging for dinner late one night, I did what locals do: I went to a mall. Asian mall food is nothing like that of the United States. While the fast food giants make their presence in Thai shopping centers, they are separate from food courts, which sell plate after bowl of healthy, tasty, traditional and trendy dishes at less than $3 a meal.

At Paragon, I found the mother lode. Not only does the lower level offer 64,000 square feet of sit-down restaurants, plus a casual food court with dozens of options, but it houses the ultimate in grocery stores. Think Whole Foods. Think Wild Oats. Think Trader Joe's. Think of your local farmer's market, beer depot, butcher, baker and wine shop combined. Put all of these together, and you get an inkling of Gourmet Market.

Gourmet Market

Right now, I refrain from getting into the possible ecological implications of such excessive consumption. What I offer is description:

You'll find everything at Gourmet Market. You'll find Matsuzaka beef for $190 a pound. You'll find at least three separate counters selling hundreds of sausages and hot dogs—chicken Vienna sausages, chicken frankfurters, Knacki, smoked bacon sausages, pizza cocktail sausages, green peppercorn bockwurst, smoked chipolata, plus all of the spicy Thai sausages you'd find on a Chiang Mai street.

Meander a bit farther, and you'll hit the pickle roundabout, which offers young Chinese bamboo, garlic, onions, radishes, tubers. Just beyond those are meatballs made for noodle soup, in 15 shapes and colors. Then you get into an array of lasagnas, pre-mixed curry pastes, sushi, fish, and octopi.

My favorite is the mountain of dried fruits, where Muslim women weed through heaps of dates, figs, plums, prunes and candied items of astonishing variety—cantaloupe, currant, cranberry, cherry, longan, peach, pineapple, gooseberry, orange, ginger, tamarind, tomato. It seems to never end.

One night, out of curiosity, I counted olive oils: 104 varieties and bottle sizes. Equally impressive were the juices, with names such as Mango Magic, Skin Glo, Skin Firm, and Power Detox, and with ingredients ranging from Indian pennywort to wheatgrass, beetroot, and butterfly pea. Just as colorful were the sacks rice coated with herbs—roselle, garlic, turmeric, chili, or pandanus.

Gourmet Market encourages tasting. Every counter offers a nibble of this, a nosh of that, enough to amass an entire meal. I had to rip myself away from the smoked fish aisle. Thank goodness the crispy rice-cracker samples lay just a few yards away. Beyond those: Japanese packaged goods, organic produce, herbal toiletries, flower teas, dried noodles, ice cream and gelato (surrounded by mochi if you like), dozens of tofus, hundreds of soups; and every kitchen gadget you could possibly need to prepare all of these items at home.