Don't eat me!
Where most businesses strive for excellence, HT Oaktree Market revels in its mediocrity. The floors are dirty and littered with buckets to catch the drips from the ceiling when it rains. Tilapia swim miserably in murky tanks, waiting to become dinner. The pastry case has been empty each of the dozens of times I've been there. Service is regularly surly, and the produce is wilted more often than not.
Don't eat me!
Yet somehow, HT is greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps it's the variety of goods available--an international sampling that covers most of Asia, the Mediterranean, Russia, and Latin America. Maybe we're all just easily distracted by Asian snack foods. Whatever the case, there's always a line of full carts at the cash registers.
When I stop by HT's 10008 Aurora Ave. N. location, which I readily admit is a frequent destination of mine since it's closer to my Ballard 'hood than some of the more polished Asian markets like Uwajimaya, it's situation normal. It's dinnertime and I've come to pick up some of the barbecued pork or duck that's customarily hanging just inside the door, as well as a few of the packaged prepared goods that usually sit on a table nearby. But it's been the sort of day where everything is eight times more complicated than it should be, so I'm not at all surprised when there's no pork, no duck, no Vietnamese sandwiches, no plump humbow. In fact, the attached restaurant, called Ten Pou, with its few plastic booths, is empty, and the entrance is blocked off from the rest of the grocery store.
After only a mild, low-blood-sugar-induced tantrum, I opt for a taro bubble tea from the kiosk near the abandoned eatery. While waiting, the woman making my drink tells me that Ten Pou is closed while they repair the ceiling--I'm guessing fixing those leaky spots requiring the buckets.
I sip and chew my bubble tea as I wander the aisles for dinner ingredients, since I'm now stuck cooking. I wander into desserts first: roll cakes, packages of the sort of tiny mochi balls you get at frozen yogurt shops, boxes of fortune cookies, generic turnovers, and French rolls perfect for Vietnamese sandwiches. There's an entire aisle of instant ramen--covering Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, and Korean varieties, all likely better than the American Top Ramen choices--and another aisle of rice in 50-pound quantities. Much of the ingredients--bottles upon bottles of soy sauce, dried lotus seeds and shitake mushrooms, frozen dumplings and sea cucumbers, tubs of kimchee, fresh bittermelon and kefir lime leaves--are distinctly Asian, but there are also small sections devoted to other worldly cuisines, like kvass from Russia, fresh cotija from Mexico, pickled pattypan squash from Eastern Europe, and bags of dried chickpeas from the Mediterranean. The fresh fish look more appetizing than the meat selection, which features a great variety of hard-to-find cuts but in less-than-appealing shades of greyish red.
I pick up a few things for dinner, as well as a bag of Tapatio-flavored Doritos (why has no one told me of these yet?!). And I'll make sure to pick up some prepared goods from Ten Pou next time I'm there for groceries.