Super Cao Nguyen: Shopping Utopia
by Chris Fletcher
(Oklahoma City, OK)
I was going to start my contributions to this page by talking about some Vietnamese food in OKC, but I think I’ll talk about a grocery store first. Possibly the single biggest advantage to living in northwest Oklahoma City is living near what is, bar none, the greatest store of any kind in town: Super Cao Nguyen Supermarket.
Several years ago, a Vietnamese store in OKC’s Asian District called Cao Nguyen Supermarket moved to a new, much larger location and re-invented itself as SUPER Cao Nguyen. My friends and I just call it “Super Cow.” Super Cow is not just a typical Asian grocery. It is literally a shopping compound encompassing a city block between Western and Military avenues and NW 26th and 25th Street. The vast, Walmart-sized grocery store has attached to it an enclosed mall of other shops and services ranging from restaurants to law offices.
Westerners are sometimes put off by Asian grocery stores because they feel like they can’t get their “regular” old groceries there. Not so at Super Cow. They have milk in gallons right by the cash register—you don’t have to go all the way to the back of the store for it. Sure, they have a lot of bok choy, cilantro, mint, ginger, hot chiles and fresh turmeric in the huge produce section, but they also have onions, carrots, celery, potatoes and corn. Yeah, their meat department does carry beef tendon, hog maws, tripe, pig uteruses and chicken feet, but it also has ground beef, pork shoulder, chicken thighs and beef tenderloin. Across the board, on meat and fresh produce, Super Cow beats the hell out of the “regular” grocery stores on both price and quality. They also boast an enormous fresh seafood selection, including boatloads of live crabs and lobsters, and if you need a five-pound block of frozen cuttlefish, Super Cow is the place.
When one enters Super Cow—especially on a busy Saturday morning—one is immediately overcome by the delicious aromas emanating from the food vendor in the front entryway, busily selling churros and other treats. Venture just past that olfactory zone, and one encounters the delicious aromas of Super Cow’s huge prepared food counter. You can buy, by weight, a whole Vietnamese buffet’s worth of dinner to take home. The food is restaurant quality and inexpensive. If you’re fussy about what you eat or a newbie to Asian food, then it might be a bit intimidating because nothing in the steam counter is labeled, and the busy lady working the line has neither the time nor the inclination to explain every dish. We just point at what looks good and she boxes it up. This counter also offers a whole menu of delicious Vietnamese sandwiches—that wonderful French-Indochina fusion of crusty baguette loaded with an array of fillings. For $1.75, they can’t be beat. Right here, also, you can load up on kim chee. Bulk bins hold several varieties for a mere $2.00 for a container (about a pound).
At this point, however, you’d only be a few yards past the entrance to the store. If you want to cook your own dinner, rather than buy it ready made, there is a vast panoply of groceries to browse through. I’ve already mentioned the lovely produce department, and the fabulous meat and seafood counters, but the middle of the store is jam-packed with even more treasures: a large refrigerated and frozen foods section, deep aisles of dry foodstuffs, and a super cool gift/home décor area, festooned with lucky bamboo plants, paper lanterns and crazy statuary.
Wandering the dry food aisles, it becomes apparent that Super Cow is not a Vietnamese grocery so much as a true international food store. One can find products for Indian, Filipino, Korean, Japanese and Middle Eastern foods (even real pitas in the frozen aisle). British and other European foodstuffs fill a couple shelves and dominate a big selection of cookies and candy. They don’t have a lot to offer in the Mexican food realm (other than meat, fish and produce), but there is an end-cap stocked with tortillas, chips and salsa (but in OKC, finding Latino products is no more challenging than going to, well, any other grocery store). If I had to criticize this store’s selection at all—and I’d probably be a jerk to do so—I’d like it if they’d carry some cheeses. They have milk and eggs, and if they also had cheese, then I’d seldom ever need to visit another store.