Shiro Kitchen & Asian Market: Eat In, Shop, And Share In Asian Cuisine
Harry Wu and Wei Wei Shi
It doesn’t matter if you’re an Asian food fanatic or not: You’ve got to be grateful for restaurateurs like Harry Yu and his wife, Wei Wei Shi, who, rather than bailing on a difficult marketplace, decided to stay put, make some changes, and work toward a successful solution.
They’re the owners of the former Shiro Sushi and Hibachi in Great Barrington, Mass. While it was moderately successful, the town’s changing demographics, the difficulties of finding and keeping staff, and surviving during the off seasons prompted them, after 18 years running a traditional restaurant, to find a new way.
Late last year, Shiro became Shiro Kitchen & Asian Market, a multi-use café, market, full bar and cooking school (more on that later). The market side is bright, clean and impressively stocked, while the café side is warm and casual. The ambiance is quiet and relaxed.
“To survive, we needed to cut down on overhead,” Wu said. “We wanted to come up with something unique. My wife and I know all the Asian cooking techniques, and the ingredients you need. For the market, I carefully select the products from safe sources, trusted brands that I use in my cooking. I’ve turned the store into my own private stockroom that I share with my customers!”
Yu came to the U.S. from North China at age 24, versed in many styles of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cuisines. Shi studied cooking in Japan. If you want advice on a dish you’re shopping for, they’re there to help.
“We want to share our cooking experience with others,” Yu said. “I like to watch what people are looking at in the market, then ask them what they’re cooking and if they need my help choosing an ingredient or need a recipe.”
Which is a very good thing, because the astonishing variety of sauces, spices, noodles and even Asian beverages on the shelves can be a bit overwhelming and certainly intriguing. Yu stocks an unusually large selection of gluten-free sauces for all of the cuisines, along with gluten-free ramen and other noodles. There are spices, endless varieties of ramen packets, dried seaweeds and mushrooms, and a multitude of teas and other Asian beverages. A cooler holds Yu’s takeout sushi, Shi’s homemade kimchi and other grab-and-go items, while several large freezer cases are filled with all manner of dumplings, pancakes, dim sum tidbits, mochi ice cream, and just about any other appetizer you’d order in an Asian restaurant.
The café’s menu varies frequently, but usually includes an entrée from each Asian cuisine. On the day I visited, Yu was offering an authentic North China ramen dish.
“I cook what I like,” he said. “We cook things you don’t usually see in Chinese or Japanese restaurants.”
Mainstays on the menu include traditional appetizers, soups and salads, and lots of noodle dishes. Customers order at the counter, pick up their food at the kitchen window, and bus their dishes when finished.
“People have their routines,” Yu said he’s noticed. “They order, and when they’re waiting for their meal, shop in the market. They finish eating and pick up dessert on their way out. On weekends, they’ll make it a lunch and shopping expedition.”
Yu said he’s surprised (and delighted) at how much knowledge his customers have about Asian cooking. And interest — the first cooking class, a Chinese hotpot cooking lesson on Jan. 25, is, at the time of this writing, almost sold out. February’s cooking class will focus on dumplings. The class is limited to 20 people, so if you’re interested, inquire now.
“I think we made the right decision in closing the restaurant and opening the market and kitchen,” Yu said. “We’re able to share our cooking experience. The best part is that we feel good about it and feel like we are making friends. “
The couple, who live in Dalton with their two young children, have also found relief in the relatively normal hours this new venture affords them.
“Even our mood has changed a lot,” Yu said. “It’s the first time we’ve been able to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s at home.”
Shiro Kitchen & Asian Market
105 Stockbridge Rd., Great Barrington, MA
Mon, Wed & Thu: 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
Fri & Sat: 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Sunday - Noon–4 p.m.
Tuesday - Closed
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