I’ve noticed all my posts have required all my readers to have a set of wheels to get them to the recommended Grocery Gal destination. Today’s installment can be easily reached via the Red Line at the Argyle stop, or the Broadway bus, the 145 and 146, if those are still running. It’s a tucked away market in a very busy strip mall in Chicago’s Southeast Asian neighborhood near Broadway and Argyle, and it’s called Tai Nam.
I lived in Uptown for well over ten years, and it was the both the diversity and history that made the area special to me. There are many more restaurants than markets on Argyle, and I was always a little intimated grocery shopping, because I couldn’t decipher the packaging. It’s a little easier for me to figure out what’s going on when the Latin alphabet is being used. The markets were also rather pungent upon first entering. It wasn’t until I took an amazing hands-on Vietnamese/Thai cooking class I had with Chef Rebecca Wheeler circa 2006-ish at Wooden Spoon in Andersonville when I understood which markets I needed to go into and what I needed to buy.
For those driving to Tai Nam, don’t even attempt to park in their parking lot. Or on Broadway. Especially if it’s the weekend. It’s a mess, so either walk, take the CTA, or park on a side street and take a walk there. Make the most out of it, checking out the next outdoor Vintage Garage Chicago event, grab some lunch (Dim Sum at Furama, Thai at Thai Pastry, Pho & Vietnamese pancake at Tank Noodle/Pho 777, or sandwiches at Ba-Le), and then head on over to Tai Nam.
You can easily stock up on affordable sesame oil, Asian sauces, rice, rice noodles and canned baby corn for a perfect stir-fry at home. They also have a very busy butcher counter, live lobster and crab for a song, and self service fresh fish. The self service part still freaks me out a little; I have yet to buy some. However, the eyes always look clear, which means it’s fresh. One day, when I’m ready to take the plunge and pick my fish with tongs and put them in bag myself, instead of pointing and telling someone else to do it for me, I’ll be back. I’m just not there yet.
I have yet to purchase live lobster. $9.99 a pound seems like a ridiculously great price, but I can’t see myself steaming these guys in a big pot at home. If you’re a lobster-boiler, please send me a message and tell me if it’s really not as horrendous as it seems to be.
What I DO come into Tai Nam for is fresh mint, Thai basil, lemon grass and Thai red chilies. The mint and basil are at unheard of prices. Making mint juleps? Grab a huge bag for mint for under $2. Three stalks of lemongrass for $.99! They also have pea shoots for $2 a bag and a bunch of super fresh Asian greens.
What did I need Thai basil, lemongrass and fresh mint for? It’s all part of the most delicious Thai Beef Salad recipe below. I lost the recipe during a move, but the ladies at Wooden Spoon dug into their archives and emailed it to me. Check out their cooking classes, they’re always a great experience.
Yum Neua Fiery Beef Salad
Chef Rebecca Wheeler, Wooden Spoon Chicago.
Serves 4-6 people
2 tablespoons chopped Thai bird or Serrano chilies (about 4 chilies)
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 pound skirt steak
2 large stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves discarded, lower stalk trimmed to 4 inches and finely sliced as thin as possible
1 small red onion, cut in half and finely sliced then roughly chopped to make approximately 1inch pieces
1/2 pound small pickling cucumbers or regular cucumbers peeled and finely sliced
1 tomato cut into wedges (for garnish)
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh Thai basil
A few leaves of leafy lettuce for garnish
1/2 cup bean sprouts (optional garnish)
Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and stir to dissolve palm sugar and combine. Set aside.
Let the meat come to room temperature before grilling. Dry the outside so there is no moisture and season liberally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on all sides. Preheat a grill or grill pan and grill the meat until it is medium rare. Allow the meat to rest before cutting about 15 to 20 minutes. Slice the meat against the grain at a 45 degree angle in very thin slices. Slice in half again if needed so pieces are about 1 inch long, or bite size. Transfer the meat with any accumulated juices to a mixing bowl and toss with the remaining salad ingredients. Add the dressing and mix well. Let stand 15-30 minutes before serving. Garnish a platter with the lettuce leaves and tomato wedges. Arrange the salad on top and top with bean sprouts and additional herb sprigs if desired. Serve at room temperature. If you refrigerating for use at a later time allow the salad to come to room temperature before serving.
Note: To reduce the level of spiciness, remove the seeds from the chilies or omit the chilies altogether.
Tai Nam Food Market. 4925 N. Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-275-5666.