The greater Kalamazoo area has a number of small-scale grocery treasures, each with a unique offering of foods and finds. This series takes a look at those grocery stores and the unique foods savvy shoppers can find at them.
Pacific Rim Foods was opened in 2008 by wife-and-husband team Xin and Anson Liu. The store, at 1926 Whites Road, in Oakwood Plaza, sells produce, meats, rice, candies, dry goods and frozen foods from countries in Asia.
“Xin and I are both Chinese so inevitably we lean toward Chinese food a little bit more, but we try to have a little bit of everything — Korean, Japanese and Malaysian,” Anson Liu says.
Pacific Rim Foods’ customer base pulls from both the Asian and Asian-American population of Kalamazoo as well as from non-Asian Kalamazooans, who make up about 60 percent of the customer population, Liu says. The store has continued to grow since 2008, a trend Liu says they didn’t initially anticipate.
“We actually talked to Tim Timmons, the landlord and owner of Oakwood Plaza, about taking half the space originally,” he says. “But Timmons said we wouldn’t be able to make it on such a small amount of space. He really helped a lot — gave us a break on rent the first couple of years so we could build — and now we’re so happy we have all the space because we need it.”
In online reviews of Pacific Rim Foods on Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook and Foodspotting, the most-talked-about aspect of the store is its Friday offerings. Every Friday the Lius drive to Chicago’s Chinatown area to bring back a selection of baked goods, roast pork and duck and fresh produce, and in the summertime fresh star fruit, dragon fruit, lychee and sometimes fresh crab. They return with the goods mid-afternoon and often sell out before the next day.
“I like the atmosphere on Fridays,” Liu says. “It reminds me of the small markets (we had) growing up in China.”
If you go to Pacific Rim Foods, whether it’s for the first time or as a regular, here are five must-try items, according to Liu and local online reviewers.
One suggestion is the Daifuku mochi — pastel-colored sweet Japanese rice cakes stuffed with sugary paste filling. There’s also ice cream mochi, which have ice cream fillings.
Apparently mochi snobbery exists, and the pecking order is shelf mochi (least desirable), packaged mochi in the refrigerator section (more desirable) and fresh mochi (most desirable). One reviewer says although the Daifuku mochi is refrigerated and not fresh, it’s “good mochi” and “so much better” than anything on a shelf. Whichever mochi you opt for, there are several flavors to choose from in either the ice cream, refrigerator or shelf sections.
One of Pacific Rim Foods’ most popular items is frozen dumplings, and the store has an ample selection, which can be narrowed down by filling, dumpling size and country of origin. Liu says the ease of cooking these dumplings — just put them in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes — makes them popular.
“Since this is a college town, we have a lot of students come in, and one of the things they like to buy are dumplings,” Liu says. “It’s easy for them to make.”
From the Friday delivery …
Of all the types of meat the Lius pick up on Fridays in Chicago, Anson Liu recommends trying the roast duck because “it’s so delicious.” They also pick up roast pork and delicacy items such as pig ears and chicken feet. The chicken feet draw attention for their strange cuisine appeal, and both delicacies get some recommendations online from market-goers.
Another Yelp and Foodspotting recommendation is the bean paste snowball, a sweet rice pastry filled with bean paste, not unlike mochi, but the soft pastry offers a different taste and texture.
An item that seems to get as much attention as the chicken feet is the barbecue pork buns that come from Chicago bakeries on Fridays.
“I like the sweetness and doughiness of the bun mixed with the savory,” one reviewer says.
Pacific Rim Foods is open 10 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Monday –Saturday and noon– 6 p.m. Sunday. For more photos of foods featured here as well information on store events, find Pacific Rim Foods on Facebook.