When ordinary just won't cut it


Sooner or later there comes a point when the old standby meals you make at home get boring. Always the same -- the chicken, the spaghetti, the macaroni and cheese. What you need is an adventure, and it's as close as the shelves of Saigon Market

Walking through the aisles is like a trip to another culinary planet. Here you'll find red perilla, a licorice-flavored leaf eaten with sashimi, and Chinese rehmannia root (used by herbalists to treat fatigue). Bins of sapota fruit and artful strings of sataw (called stinky beans, and for a reason) share space with winter melon that gets cut open, filled with shrimp and baked. There's a whole aisle of fish sauces, and hard-to-find black rice vinegar that's sweet enough to use alone on a salad.

And grab a can of my favorite sweet, gelatinous, mutant coconut balls -- just to say you have 'em.