Co-owners Bunrith Pok and Mealy Khiev (pictured center) of
Haknuman Meanchey Asian Market. c Royal River Photo
My friend from Thailand taught me how to make real pot stickers and pad Thai. Now I’m headed to her favorite Asian market for ingredients. Forest Avenue heading North from downtown Portland, Maine, is so familiar I don’t even see what is here: power lines swinging like garland through the town’s brick buildings and cars flowing as naturally as blood cells. After the lit Domino’s pizza sign, I turn right into a narrow parking lot. Asian-Americans are spilling out a yellow building with a sign above it: Haknuman Meanchey. People are carrying bags of rice as big as couch cushions on their shoulders. We all do a good job of pretending that there’s no difference between those present and me, a third-generation Caucasian-American, born in Wisconsin, accustomed to buying rice in a sac the size of an aerobics weight.
Haknuman sells an average of 50 bags of rice each day and 100 phone cards. The owner and a bank estimated in 2003 that there were close to 10,000 Asians living in Maine. Everyday about 40 other non-Asians like me visit Haknuman, inspired by Asian friends. The store, no bigger than a coffee shop, is packed with a million things you’ve never seen before, like dried Croaker fish, 4 oz. of Turmeric for $1.59, and frozen small edible frogs. I want to ask questions without stopping for a year straight. I could spend my whole life learning in this place.
A woman whose name sounds like Merely Q helps me find things on my list: Twin Marquis Shanghai style dumpling wrappers, Thai Fruit tamarind concentrate, salted radish, Squid fish sauce, fettuccini-shaped rice sticks, palm sugar, oyster sauce and rice vinegar. She co-owns the store with her brother. His name sounds like Boon Drrred POW! He was the first to come to Maine of all the siblings in the their family. Now there are three in Portland (pictured, plus Merely Q’s son), one in New Hampshire, one in California, and five in Cambodia.
Boon was a teenager in the 1970s. After being separated from his family and forced into a labor camp to haul fertilizer into rice paddies, he eventually escaped, walking 48 hours through day and night with a group of 10 strangers. He had no bag and wore rubber flip-flops. At night, he remembers, it was dark and silent in the jungle but for the sound of leaves touching one another and the wind. The group would stop every once in a while to eat quickly. They made rice in a pot and slapped dried fish straight on the fire. “No time for oil,” he says. They evaded communist soldiers, thieves and mines, and finally made it to a United Nations refugee camp in Thailand where he lived for six years.
His first night in the States was in a hotel outside a New York airport. He marveled at all the lights in his room and water coming out of the faucet. The next day he flew to into Portland. He worked at Barber Foods for ten years, then as a truck driver for three more. In 2003, with help from a bank, he and Merely Q, who’d arrived in 1997, bought the store together. They’re open 7 days a week, 9 ‘til 7.
I highly recommend this pot sticker adventure. My kids, husband and friend all swooned at the finale sprinkled with fried garlic. Get the recipe at immigrantkitchens.blogspot.com and your ingredients at Haknuman: 803A Forest Ave., Portland, ME, 207-347-5029.
Copyright 2010 Lindsay Sterling
Royal River Photo
3. Set up where you’ll assemble and cook the dumplings. Next to your sink place the bowl of filling, the stack of dumpling wrappers, and a large plate or tray for your assembled pot stickers. Turn the faucet on cool drip. Put a pot of water on high on the stove for boiling them, and next to it a tray where you’ll place the boiled pot stickers to cool. Next to that, put a small dish of vegetable oil with brush for coating the hot pot stickers so they don’t stick.
4. Assemble pot stickers. If you’re online, watch the video in "see how to do it." For right-handed folks, hold wrapper in the palm of your left hand. Wet your right-hand fingers under faucet. Now wet the wrapper with them. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of the wrapper. Fold in half, sealing the filling inside by pressing the wrapper edges together. Now you’re going to make three pleats in the half-circle side of the dumpling so it looks cool and has that oh-so-satisfying pot sticker texture. On the right side of the half-circle, push your pointer finger from the back of the wrapper towards you and fold the raised part flush with the edge of the half-circle. Do this three times, from right to left across the half-circle edge, and it will look like a miniature lady’s clutch purse. Keep making more, getting faster each time.
5. Boil them, stirring gently at first to make sure none stick to the bottom. Once they’re all floating (about 4 min.), place on perforated tray with a slotted spoon and brush all over each with oil to prevent sticking. Assemble the rest of the pot stickers and cook.
6. In a large saute pan with 2 Tbsp of oil on med-high heat, brown about 10 pot stickers at a time on each side. Then toss a shot of water into the pan. Put on plate(s), drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with fried garlic or sesame seeds.
You can make these in advance so that all that’s left to do is step 6 - sauteeing. After step five, freeze them on the cooling tray, then transfer to an airtight container and store in freezer. Thaw before sauteeing.
Copyright 2009 Lindsay Sterling