Tory Miller finds new ingredients at specialty grocery stores

Miller makes weekly trips to local ethnic markets
Tory Miller finds new ingredients at specialty grocery stores
Andrea Behling

On a recent trip to Asian Midway Foods on Madison’s South Park Street, Tory Miller picks up a spiky watermelon-sized durian fruit and puts his nose to it.

“It smells like Limburger, but once you get it into your mouth, it’s yummy,” Miller says. “But it’s really stinky.”

Miller or his orders porter, Abby Hampton, make weekly trips to the string of specialty grocery stores on South Park Street – Asian Midway Foods, Oriental Food Mart and Mercado Marimar. They have a list of items they need for Sujeo, L’Etoile, Graze and Estrellón, but Miller always keeps his eye out for other exotic products.

He picks up a taro root farther down the aisle at Asian Midway. “Very starchy,” he says. “Fries super well.” He points at a box of fruit that look like oranges. “Those are Ugli fruits. They’re harder than an orange, kind of like a grapefruit skin.”

He picks up another stalky vegetable. “I don’t even know what the hell this is,” he says.Tory Miller finds new ingredients at specialty grocery stores

While Miller knows his way around these stores — where he sources the sweet potato noodles for Sujeo’s japchae, rice cakes for tteokbokki and more — he still comes across products he’s never seen before.

That’s nothing a quick Google search or the market owners can’t help with, though.

At Oriental Food Mart, Miller browses coolers of kimchi, freezers filled with marinated meats and shelves of dried anchovies, bonito flakes, chili pastes and chili powders. He goes home with a stack of Korean shiso (perilla) leaves that he’ll use for lettuce wraps. At checkout, one of the owners gives Miller and Hampton a Korean canned drink to try. At Mercado Marimar, Miller points out some of his favorite specialty ingredients, including fresh tortillas, chicharrones and soft Mexican cheeses.

At the end of the three-stop shopping trip, the wild-card ingredient Miller goes home with is a bag of guanábana fruits. He remembers first learning about the pineapple/strawberry/apple-flavored fruit on a 2007 trip to Costa Rica. Miller holds up the spiky fruit to Hampton and says he’s bringing it back to one of his L’Etoile chefs to figure out how to use the ingredient. “I’m going to make chef Helen eat them, and we’re going to decide,” Miller says.