David and Jane Lee, from Shanghai and Hong Kong, respectively, came here decades ago as a young couple, like many new immigrants, to make a new life for themselves and their children.
They started out the hard way, working long hours in David's family take-out restaurant, Peking House, on Abercorn, before they found that area Chinese restaurants were in dire need of genuine spices and other necessary ingredients that friends complained they had to travel to Atlanta, and even as far away as New York, to purchase.
"Why don't you open a store with this stuff?" was a question he often heard, and finally, in 1996, David and Jane bought up the old McCorkle's bakery and started shipping in the genuine goods from China, New York and San Francisco.
Later, the business grew so large he built his own place on the corner of Price and Henry Streets.
I'm a veteran shopper there and have seen the growth in the market for years—not only Chinese restaurant owners frequent the place, but crews of Chinese students from SCAD make their way there each week.
It's like this: you know the old saying that if you want to eat genuine Mexican/Chinese/Italian food, that you look for those immigrants at the tables and not Americans beating down the door? That holds true for Chinatown Market as well.
Sure, the front sections holds your usual convenience store fare—chips, beer, white bread, pork n' beans—but throughout the store you'll find Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Korean families shopping for that special ingredient. And they'll find it, too.
David's a smart businessman and learned early on that retail is the way to go in the Asian food market. The orders still pile amazingly high from restaurants, both Chinese and American, who vie for his fresh vegetables, amazing array of sauces and variety of low-priced meats.
But the true source of customer satisfaction is the hordes of families and students who stop by daily to replenish their cupboards.
For many years now, that's included not only ex-military who yearn for those stuffed dumplings they had while stationed in Korea, but many ordinary Americans who just can't find that special brand of Shaoxing wine or those pork-belly cuts anywhere else in town.
Knowing how to cook a good Asian meal is getting to be high foodie fashion, and David Lee knows what you're looking for—if he doesn't have it in stock, he'll order it for you.
January 31 this year rings in the two-week Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, definitely the time of year you want to try out Chinatown Market. The store is a veritable explosion of every kind of festive sweet, candy, cookie, dumpling, sauce, spice and frozen delicacy you could imagine, with an entire aisle of woks, plates, bowls, platters and chopsticks to choose from.
He has the rice-cookers of all kinds, the tea-sets, the fine steel knives, the soy sauce holders, to provide your table with that authentic touch.
When you've finished eye-balling the kitchenware that piles up near the front door, fought your cravings for exotic sweets or picked up that loaf of bread or bag of Lay's chips, make your way to the back, by the butcher counter. There are fresh and frozen meats cut to your liking and available in several different low-priced packaged sets. Then go through the door with coolers on both sides, and prepare to enter China...
Every time I go it hits me: I walk through that door like Alice following the rabbit down the rabbit-hole, searching through tightly packed aisles and massive freezers stuffed with every kind of Chinese-Asian goodie I could imagine.
His array of sauces alone is awe-inspiring. Gather your recipes where ye may, but bring your grocery list here: frozen dinners, dumplings of every kind, eggrolls, pancakes, soups, meats you cannot find elsewhere and certainly not at these prices, like good-quality thin-sliced lamb, pork belly, fish like corvino (from the coasts of Peru, which has the largest Chinese population in South America), Peking duck, fresh and frozen seafood of every type, ramen and other noodle varieties beyond your dreams.
And don't forget to tour the two coolers packed with delicate, fresh vegetables, fruits, tofu, mushrooms, fish, bean sprouts, duck eggs and more. The shelves of fresh garlic and ginger are located on the left aisle, and any flavor of drink from all over Asia is available from multiple stacks.
Why settle for the dusty bottles on the "Asian/Ethnic Foods" aisle at your local supermarket or pay the high prices for fresh vegetables when you can take your time and browse through a little piece of China right here in the midst of Savannah?
It's colorful, the variety is mind-boggling, and, at least for an hour, you can find yourself among Chinese students, Korean housewives chatting over fresh produce, Vietnamese kids looking for sweets, and feel like you've stepped out of your everyday world into another continent entirely. cs
1215 Price St, (912) 238-8260
Sun. 9 am-3pm
Mon.-Sat. 9 am-8pm