The first time I lived in Spain, circa the mid 1990s, ´I´m going to the Chinese´ generally indicated that I was going to the local Chinese eatery to feast on a generic Spanish variant on Chinese cuisine. Mono sodium glutamate in vast quantities was to be expected, as was a mere hint of spice (nothing too much for the delicate palates of the indigenous population) and meat that somehow managed to be both chewy and slimy all at the same time.
Fast forward almost 20 years and ´voy al chino´ has taken on a whole new connotation. You see almost every shopping street has at least one Chinese shop, bulging at the seems with odds and sods, some useful, but otherwise generally erring on the side of tat. Operating on different opening hours to your average Spanish shop, ie not shutting over lunchtime and the afternoon, the Chinese corner shop has carved out a niche for those last minute needs, you know the kind, when you´re one ´barra de pan´ short or find a fridge worryingly empty of Cruz Campo beer.
‘The Chinos’ are lifesavers, and as much a part of the Spanish urban landscape as the Estanco tobacco shop once was. But local feeling can be frosty, and rumours abound about dodgy deals between the Spanish and Chinese government allowing Chinese businesses to open up and operate tax free.
Ironically, in most Chinese supermarkets you’d be hard pressed to find any Chinese ingredients, apart from in my blog de jour, the ´Hiper Oriente´, found just off Plaza de Duque and in its sister shop near Santa Justa station. These two Aladin’s caves dedicated to Asian cooking specialise in ingredients for Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Indian food, so they’ve pretty much got the whole of Asia covered. They also sell some organic products like grains, rice cakes, cereals, and randomly gigantic bags of PG tips (for any British readers who miss their daily brew).
I find myself gravitating there every few months, coming away with an eclectic bag of delights, many of which have sat untouched in the cupboard for months. But one day I really will make something with the arame seaweed that I thought I couldn’t do without. Unused products aside, Hiper Oriente is Guiri foody heaven, and is perfect for those moments when you´re craving a Thai Green Curry and know that if you don´t make it, no one will.
Hiper Oriente I, Calle Aponte 8 (near Plaza del Duque)
Hiper Oriente II, Avenida Kansas City 1 (between Nervion and Santa Justa)