Every Wednesday morning, the unassuming green Quonset hut transforms into the Inland Empire’s multicultural epicenter. Customers come to wallow in a cosmopolitan smorgasbord of fresh bread, fruits, vegetables and spices. “Everybody knows to come in Wednesday,” said Jerry Tyson. “That’s when everything is fresh.” Some come for an exotic taste adventure; others come for a taste of home.
Tucked deep in Parkwater’s industrial district, the Oriental Market has been owned and operated by the Tyson family – Jerry, his wife, Pon, and their son, Tom – for over 40 years. It started with a craving for home cooking.
Jerry, a career Air Force medic, transferred from Thailand to the Fairchild Air Force Base survival school in 1976. “When we came back from Southeast Asia … there was nobody else doing anything with Southeastern Asian food,” Jerry said. “We looked into it, and started doing it ourselves.”
Over the years, the inventory expanded to cover all of Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, most of the Mediterranean, Sub-Saharan Africa, the West Indies, the South Pacific and Latin America.
World conquest happened by request. “As the refugees came to Spokane, they would come to us,” Jerry said, “Sections get started, basically, with … one thing.” Sections grew as customers embraced each new flavor palate.
“We are smaller, so we can do special orders,” said Tom, “and we don’t have to order 17 trucks like a [supermarket].”
Pon runs the show from the front counter. While a few customers will seek out Jerry or his son, Tom, most of them prefer to deal with Pon, who speaks over a dozen languages. “If you walk in here, she can talk to you,” said Jerry. “We get a lot of people that can be hard to talk to … she gets along fine with all of them.”
The market has a loyal and enthusiastic clientele. Laurie Jackson called it “a great little store” and Rona Smith-Langley said it’s the only ethnic market she shops at. Many of the regular customers follow the market’s Facebook page, where the Tysons post recipes every day. “You can go back for several years,” Jerry said, “and find all kinds of things.”
A pungent cacophony of spices greets each customer that walks through the front door. “[Customers] expect this environment,” said Tom. “This is what a store is like in foreign countries.”
“We kept it old school,” he laughed.
Hot and Sour Prawn Soup with Lemon Grass
Pon and Jerry recommend this sour, salty and spicy recipe from Dakota Kelly. The ingredients can all be found at the Oriental Market.
1 pound tiger prawns with shell
4 cups chicken stock
3 stalks lemon grass
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
10 keffir lime leaves, torn in half
1 cup straw mushrooms
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
4 red chili peppers, seeded and chopped
2 green onions, chopped
Shell and devein the prawns, reserving the shells. Rinse the shells and place them in a large saucepan with the chicken stock. Bruise the lemon grass stalks, and add them to the broth along with half of the lime leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until the lemon grass changes color, and the stock becomes fragrant, about 5 minutes. Strain the stock and return to the saucepan. Discard the solids.
Return the stock to a simmer, and add the mushrooms and prawns. Cook until the prawns are pink. Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, 2 tablespoons green onion, cilantro, red chilies, and remaining lime leaves. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. The soup should be sour, salty, spicy and hot. Garnish with remaining green onions.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
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