As long as I’m on a food tear this week, I want to highlight a really neat shop we discovered recently. Meechu’s Filipino Market is tucked into a shopping center on the north side of Columbia, along Vandiver east of Rangeline. We noticed it driving by one day, and executed an immediate U-turn to go back.
For those who didn’t know, both my parents grew up in the Philippines, and my father’s side is now one of (if not THE) longest-continuous-residence American families in the country, having been there since the beginning of the last century. I was raised on lots of Filipino cooking, stories, culture, and so on, in the manner of many second-generation immigrants, though both parents are ethnically American. My mother in particular grew up in the rural southern Philippines and absorbed a great deal of culture and cuisine which she passed on to me. So I’ve always done a fair bit of Filipino cooking, ever since I was away at college, homesick for real food and making simple batches of pancit in a ratty dorm-basement kitchen.
Many of the ingredients needed for Filipino cuisine can be found or approximated from typical Asian groceries, and I’ve muddled my way through just fine in all the states I’ve lived in. But when I walked into Meechu’s, I immediately told Joanna it smelled like home. They have a kitchen in the back, making fresh pandesal (soft rolls) and fresh desserts like cassava pie and halo-halo. The store is stocked with specialties not found in other Asian stores, and it just felt & smelled right. The owner is very friendly (as are most Filipinos) and immediately wanted to know my life story when I started asking about obscure ingredients. Right away I gathered a small crowd, with another young man really excited to meet a new second-generation person (his parents are Filipino but he’s raised here with perfect English). I called my mother as soon as I got home and shared stories, including asking what I could send her from here that she couldn’t get back in NY (answer: Polvoron, little flour-milk candies that were always a Christmas treat when she could get them).
My best find so far was a package of frozen calamansi juice. Calamansis are a unique Filipino fruit, like a small lime but with a wonderful taste. They’re very hard to get here, especially of decent quality. My mother has a small calamansi tree in a pot that she has babied for decades to get a few fresh fruits each year. The frozen juice was pure, with no additives or other impurities, and has about as good taste as you would hope for. It’s been adding the right (and missing) flavor to many dishes for the past few weeks.
So swing by Meechu’s if you’re feeling adventurous. Filipino food is unique and wonderful, and you pretty much have to make it yourself in this country. It’s worth a try.