An Ode to Ranch Market


Photo by Tori Burris

Luke Bellinger, Staff Writer

If you drive north past the corporate office buildings in Irving and brave the five-over-one apartment complexes of Richardson, you will eventually arrive at a magical place called Plano. Growing up as a Chinese-American, my story is similar to many others, and almost all of those stories revolve around the standardized Chinese supermarket. When I was growing up, my family went to Plano once every month because my grandparents were unable to drive on highways, but wanted to buy specialty Chinese vegetables. We would drive to the same grocery store every time we went to Plano, the 99 Ranch Market.

Every time I go back, I am filled with nostalgia, from the hagwons above the store to the various hole-in-the-wall restaurants lining the strip mall, to random shouting matches in the parking lot as we walked in the blazing sun to get a cart.”

— Luke Bellinger, 12

The 99 Ranch Market is a quintessential station for all Asians who want to buy durians, live fish, bubble tea, fermented corn, or any other staple food that can’t be found anywhere else. There are 54 locations across the country although we always went to the same one on Spring Creek Parkway. Every time I go back, I am filled with nostalgia, from the hagwons above the store to the various hole-in-the-wall restaurants lining the strip mall, to random shouting matches in the parking lot as we walked in the blazing sun to get a cart. Every ranch market is essentially the same; this structure can be applied to many Asian grocery stores across the country. 

I’d like to paint a picture of what you can expect at the Ranch Market. When you walk through the doors, you see a line of kiosks lining the inside of the store, catering to the unique tastes of old Chinese people. You will always find an open-air store that sells cheap Japanese massage machines. There’s an apothecary which sells all sorts of strange Chinese medicines, at a discounted price, of course. But past that, you will find a bustling megastore filled with old Asian people all looking at incomprehensible goods on the aisles. 

If you see a Chinese grandma slapping a watermelon, you’re in the right place. (If the watermelon sounds hollow, it”s a good watermelon.) The produce section sells every fruit and vegetable imaginable: 30-pound spiky jackfruits, two-foot-long eggplants, assorted gourds of various sizes, and hundreds of alien vegetables that I have no idea how to cook. My grandparents would spend hours here, slapping various fruits and vegetables to ascertain their ripeness or quality. Usually, I would pick out a couple of staple fruits, lychees or jackfruit, before running to the rest of the store to find other hidden treasures. 

Why take your child to an aquarium when you can go to the grocery store? The fish section smells awful, not the least bit because of the cut-price seafood, but instead because of the giant fish tanks behind the counter—the Chinese version of organic. Giant fish tanks with eels, clams, crabs, and any other critters you can imagine, are stacked behind the seafood counter. Here you can buy anything that swims: tilapia, beltfish, shrimp, eels, live crawfish, bullfrogs, turtles, or anything else someone might contemplate eating. In the freezers, you’ll find the fish ball station, frozen organs, and some sketchy fish sausages.

Past the fish is the meat section, which is notably smaller than the fish section. The meat section is a veritable mortuary of animals, containing literally every organ you can eat. Would you like a pig uterus? What about a pig ear? Beef aorta, chicken feet, swine rectum a la mode! As a rule of thumb, if you need an organ, you can probably buy one at the Ranch Market—for a very reasonable price as well. Once, I saw a sign at the meat counter: “Filet Mignon – $1.99/lb”. In general, people don’t expect the highest quality of meat at the Ranch Market.

In between the vegetables and the bakery stand approximately 20 aisles, filled with every single shelf-stable good imaginable. This location is where you’ll find the white people, gawking at the hundreds of flavors of chips or trying to espouse their knowledge about ginseng tea. But beyond that, there is a world of fascinating food to buy. An entire aisle dedicated to noodles, literally just noodles, and another dedicated to dry grains, soybeans, sorghum, and millet, vacuum packed in bricks. Going further, an aisle dedicated to bottled sauces, and the opposite aisle dedicated to jarred sauces (apparently, there’s a difference). Dried vegetables, fake trillion dollar bills, 40 different types of steamers. After the overload, you finally get the freezer section which contains frozen buns and dumplings, more seafood, and the rarest sight of all—Asian dairy products. (90% of east Asians are lactose intolerant) A half-gallon tub of ice cream will set you back $11, but they have flavors that no one else carries. You got ube, halo-halo, red bean, corn and cheese, jackfruit, macapuno, and finally, the king of fruits–durian. 

The best thing you can buy at 99 Ranch Market is the bread. The concept of “bakeries” as standalone businesses that sell bread is not very common in America, especially after the advent of shelf-stable wonder bread. However, the 99 Ranch Market maintains a bakery in every store, and the experience of going through a Chinese bakery is nostalgic to every red-blooded Chinese American. You grab the plastic lunch tray and tongs and walk through the aisles full of the most Chinese pastries imaginable. Green onion sausage rolls, pork sung buns, curry puffs, red bean stuffed rolls, Bo Luo bread, and the most important item of all: Assam Milk Tea. Ranch Market’s Assam Milk Tea costs three dollars and is, 100%, the best milk tea I’ve ever had.

The Ranch Market is the most nostalgic Chinese supermarket to me, and to a generation of Chinese-Americans who grew up visiting the Ranch Market every weekend. The Ranch Market carries every single fruit, vegetable, dried grain, and animal organ imaginable, and their bakery pumps out pastries and teas that people stand in long queues to buy. But, most importantly, you must get the Assam milk tea. Also, be ready to be yelled at by some old Chinese people.