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An Expert’s Guide to the Wonders of Seafood City

We go shopping with a Filipino chef at this Asian megamart.

Above: Red snapper ($6.99 per pound): The store’s fish section is self-serve, and you can ask the fishmongers to debone and fry your selection on the spot.
Photos: Nick Murway

Since Chicago’s first outpost of Seafood City—a 35,000-square-foot grocery store dedicated to all things Filipino—opened at 5033 North Elston Avenue in September, the crowds haven’t let up. The aisles are lined with pancit noodles and Spam, the produce section is stocked with purple yams and santol fruit, and there’s always a line at all three in-store fast-food spots. Overwhelmed? We asked Filipino chef Chrissy Camba to help us navigate the market. Here are her top picks.

Bagoong

Bagoong ($4.99)

“A condiment of salted, fermented krill or shrimp. The pink kind tastes like shrimp, but there’s also a brown, cooked kind that’s milder; I love it on fruit.”

 

Longanisa

Longanisa ($3.59 per pound)

“This sausage caramelizes when cooked because it has so much sugar. It has huge hunks of fat, too. It’s great on rice, which soaks up the juices.”

 

Grill City restaurant

“I love the barbecue pork sticks [$2.95]. The pork liempo [$12.95] is also very good: It’s a pork belly that they marinate and grill. When I visit, I always overorder. Everyone does—you’ll see people leave with four bags of food.”

 

Saba bananas (89 cents per pound)

“My mom’s excited about these. They’re smaller and less sweet than typical bananas. Cut and skewer a ripe one, coat it with brown sugar, and fry it.”

 

Greenshell mussels

Greenshell mussels ($8.99)

“These are very specific to Filipino cuisine—I don’t think I’ve seen them used elsewhere. They’re bigger and meatier than standard black mussels, and you can’t find them fresh widely, so you have to get them frozen.”

 

Ice cream

Ice cream ($6.99)

“You never see flavors like these outside the Philippines: buko pandan [young coconut], mango and cashew, corn and cheese. I love the ube-queso flavor—think cheddar cheese on a sweet potato.”

 

Coconut jam

Coconut jam ($5.39)

“This is a very important condiment. It tastes like caramelized coconut, and you can put it on bread. I put it on anything, actually—ice cream, toast, even cheese. But I usually make my own, with brown sugar and canned coconut milk.”

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