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Food tour: Grocery shopping on Buford Highway? Bring your appetite

Oh, the joys of trips to H Mart, Buford Highway Farmers Market or City Farmers Market!

Whenever the opportunity strikes to shop for foodstuffs along and near Buford Highway, I am on board. And I assuredly will slow down the walk through the grocery aisles, getting mesmerized by umpteen varieties of cabbage and herbs that I can’t pronounce, and pondering whether to purchase the thorny durian that haunts my family.

(That particular fruit emits a powerful stench once opened. Both times I’ve bought one, my family has fled the house while I cheerfully remained, devouring the creamy, custardy orbs inside.)

Trips to ethnic markets frequently happen on a Saturday. If you’re like me, Saturday is errand day. And, with other to-dos to tackle, as enticing as it might be to sit down at Nam Phuong and savor a bowl of goat curry or settle into a table at El Rey del Taco for some lengua tacos, a margarita and a soccer game on TV, that kind of leisure time isn’t typically part of the Saturday daytime lineup.

What is possible is finding a quick bite from a food stall or a nearby grab-and-go spot. The eating is good, cheap, fast — and fun.

On Buford Highway, just outside the Perimeter, is Buford Highway Farmers Market. Its cafeteria is as full of surprises as the market itself — like borek, a Turkish-style savory pastry made with phyllo dough. At the cafeteria, they make this stuffed pastry from scratch, an employee said. Offerings include a most delicious cheese-spinach version, as well as one filled with ground beef.

I love a fresh churro and, while I’m more accustomed to dunking the funnel cake-tasting sticks of fried dough into drinking chocolate, here the near foot-long, not overly oily churros are piped with a hazelnut filling. Price tag: $1.

Plunk down another $1.19 for a bag of the Korean baked good deli-manjoo — mini corn cakes filled with vanilla cream. All of the above make for great mid-morning snacking.

Food samples are something I look forward to at Super H Mart in Doraville, like a wee quesadilla from the employee pushing whatever Mexican cheese was getting promoted that day. Or munching on dried fish.

But, dried fish does not a meal make. For that, hit up the T1 Bento counter in the food court. A sandwich board sign lists the $5.99 specials of the day that include Chinese, Thai and Malaysian items, and come with rice and an egg roll.

Among specialty items, try the Malaysian chicken curry — bone-in chicken slow-cooked with “curry and coconut flavors,” according to the menu. I asked the woman behind the counter what made this curry distinctly Malaysian. “It’s the way chef Tom does it,” she replied. Sorry that my sleuthing came up short there. But, I can report that this plate is delicious, if not very Instagram-worthy.

City Farmers Market, situated on Buford Highway between Chamblee-Dunwoody and Chamblee-Tucker roads, opened last fall. On a recent visit, I had hoped to find doors unlocked to Big Wong BBQ & Grill, which will make its home within the shopping complex. But, the debut of that Chinese barbecue restaurant, sister to the Big Wong BBQ at 5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd. in Norcross, was scheduled too late to meet the deadline for this story.

Instead, I went next door to Saigon Tofu and held up the lunch line with a large order of banh mis. Here, an entire family can fill up on Vietnamese sub sandwiches. One costs $3; purchase five and get the sixth for free. Tops among them were the special ham combo, aka No. 1, and the Vietnamese pork ham, aka No. 2; the bread here gets good marks as well.

While you wait for the staff to fill that crusty fresh bread, check out the grab-and-go offerings. I liked the chao tom — deep-fried shrimp on a (sugarcane) stick. Note: The only place to sit down and eat here is on one of two sidewalk picnic tables.

Just down the street from the MARTA Chamblee Station on New Peachtree Road sits Chinatown Mall. Even without the signage, the facade, the bilateral symmetry of the building and its green-tiled, gabled roof mark it as all things Chinese (except for a lone Mexican restaurant, Cocina Linda Vista, inside). Located around the side is a serviceable Chinese supermarket. Beyond the open courtyard garden, with its bright red bridge, you’ll find the Chinatown food court.

China Kitchen, Yanmi Yanmi, the New Lan Zhou Noodle people hand-pulling noodles … there is so much to choose from under one roof that it can be daunting. Thank goodness for display photos — and photo albums on the ordering counters. Flip through, then point to your pick.

At Top One Gourmet, the spicy seafood noodle soup was as described, zinged up with chile flakes, highly brothy and bulked up with noodles, shell-on and head-on shrimp, broccoli, sliced mushrooms and spinach. A bowl is easily enough for two.

There are numerous things that appeal about Chong Qing Hot Pot. I’ll steer you in the direction that the cashier led me when I asked her favorite thing on the menu: the No. 63, a plate of braised fish fillet with strips of skin-on Chinese eggplant. When you order this dish, you must ask for it with garlic sauce and go for spicy instead of nonspicy. The garlic sauce makes this dish sing, just like all the red hot chile peppers on Chong Qing’s signature spicy chicken make that colorful dish a hit.

At Hong Kong BBQ, the best way to get a taste of what they do is to order a mixed barbecue rice plate. Choose two or three proteins from among chicken, roast duck, crispy pork, beef tripe, cuttlefish or tofu. The finicky might not like that the chef chops the meat, bone and all, so that, after every bite, you have to pick out bones from your teeth, but I don’t mind. And, just like the fat and gristle left on the duck and pork, there’s flavor to be had there.

Flavor. Fun. You’ll find it at one of these international food stops.

As for buying that durian, I dare you.

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