Ethnic-food Markets: What to Buy for What to Make?
Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern Europe, Mediterranean, Scandanavian, West Indian - - any ethnic cuisine: Please share what it is you make sure to purchase when at that ethnic food market (please specify which one) and what dish does it become a part of. Recipes too if possible. Thank you!
This is going to take a while...
rice paper sheets(for summer rolls)
palm sugar(sauces, beef in caramel sauce, general brown sugar replacement)
noodles(soba, udon, egg and rice noodles of different varieties)
bamboo shoots(fresh, for stirfries, casseroles, dumplings, etc.)
water chestnuts(fresh, for dumplings, salads, stirfries, etc.)
chili sauce(sriracha, sweet chili sauce)
soy sauce(light and dark)
oyster sauce and vegetarian mushroom oyster sauce
vinegar(rice, rice wine, black)
peanut oil(usually cheaper at asian markets)
mango powder(for drinks and desserts)
tamarind concentrate(for drinks and sauces)
dry chinese sausage(for fried rice, noodle dishes, omelets, or anything you mant to make taste good)
chinese bacon(for casseroles, BLTs, anything that benefits from combo of bacon fat, sugar and star anise)
dried everything(shrimp, plums, bean curd skin, etc)
chinese chives(dumplings, soups, omelets, etc.)
leafy greens I don't know the names of
young ginger root
jars of crispy deep-fried shallots and red onions(add to salads, noodle dishes, most everything else)
galangal(important in curry pastes)
coconut milk(thai brands are very good)
thai bird chilis and finger peppers(very hot AND delicious, not just hot)
dried fruit(apricots, raisins, currants, figs, dates, plums, etc.)
nuts(almondsand everything else)
whole and ground spices(sumac, coriander, cumin, whole nutmeg, cinnamon, licorice, mustard seeds, pomegranate seeds, etc.)
rice(long-grain persian rice or basmati)
lebanese olive oil
yogurt(labneh, thick middle-eastern style)
pita and lavash
pomegranate molasses(dressing for raw and cooked vegetables especially grilled eggplant, addition to bulghur salads, muhammara)
pickled turnips and cucumbers
slab bacon(for stews, breakfast, sandwiches, etc.)
sausages and ham
pickles(cucumbers, beets, red and green tomatoes)
fruit drink concentrates(black currant especially)
AJVAR!(eggplant and red pepper spread - food of the gods!)
canned tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and tomato paste
ginger beer and Ting Jamaican grapefruit soda
sugarcane(to chew on or use as skewers)
dried hibiscus flowers(for tea)
variety of dried peppers
tortillas, and masa harina(for making my own)
cheese(cotija, oaxacan string cheese, dry goat cheese)
chipotles in adobo and pickled jalepenos
nopales(cactus paddles, for salads)
chocolate(for molé poblano, drinks, desserts)
I know there are more things. I have lots of dishes with these things, didn't want to take up more room. looking forward to seeing other shopping lists(especially scandinavian - we don't have many of those in my neighborhood anymore, although part of Sunset Park was once heavily Scandinavian)
Ajavar is amazing if you slice goat cheese on top of it and put it in the oven so the cheese gets gooey and just a little brown. Serve it with toasted pita.....it's something we eat at least twice a week. Acutally, now that I think of it, we eat a LOT of ajavar (it's sooo good is scrambled eggs with mushrooms and yogurt!)
I think the possibilities are endless. You may as well ask what we buy at the supermarket, and what we do with it. I think the point is that it's all about what you like to eat, and whether you like to try new things.
I have a Thai shop nearby, so it's easy for me to get coconut milk, sauces (fish, soy, chili, sriracha, oyster), vinegars, oils, galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves, cilantro, Thai basil, fresh tofu, noodles and rice paper, spices, tamarind paste, curry pastes, dried mushrooms, choi sum, pak choi, gailan, pickled fruits and vegs, cans of bamboo shoots and straw mushrooms, dried shrimps, and various sweets (rice cookies covered in palm sugar--yum!). I use what I buy to make salads, soups, pho, curries, and other meat/veg combinations. I can use a lot of the ingredients in Indian dishes, too. Recipes come largely from Madhur Jaffrey and Diana My Tran (Vietnamese), when I don't make them up myself.
I regularly travel an hour by train to buy kimchee and other Korean banchan, noodles, and sauces. I also have to make quite a trek to get decent Italian canned tomatoes. I wish I had the variety available to me that ghbrooklyn has! I'd love to have a West Indian place near me!
You're right, my question is a bit broad and answering can be like any grocery list, depending upon what you eat. However, my experiences have often included visiting a busy, wonderful ethnic grocer, for example, and I get the feeling there's just something special I'm missing out on. Maybe I should simply pay more attention to the ingredients when I'm at restaurants of the same ethnicity or start reading up a bit more on recipes. That's what prompted me to write, I thought if I asked that a favorite recipe is included, I'd get a better flavor on what exciting products I should begint to search for. Hope this makes sense, and thanks for posting. I'm also thrilled about ghbrooklyn's reply, though I'm not sure what all the ingredients are for ... still, it's got me making plans to learn more about exploring some possibilities - - Thank you both!
Just a couple of thoughts:
One thing you can do is talk to the grocer! If you see some interesting item and you don't know what it's for, that's a great way to strike up a conversation with someone who does know. You could get some great ideas and suggestions.
Also, eat as much different food as you can. Try new things. For me, it was wondering if I could make the foods I love eating out that got me into cooking different ethnic foods. I've been driven to buy lots of cookbooks for that reason. The greatest thing is seeing strange and wonderful ingredients in cookbooks and knowing you can find them!
Rather than tell you my favorite recipes, I'd suggest that you discover your own favorites and use them as a starting point.
Chowdear, what part of the world are you in? If other users knew your location maybe they could give you regional suggestions for markets to visit. I know there are particular markets here in New York that I go to if I want to be able to get good information and help about using particular ingredients.
But I do suggest reading as much as you can - I have learned about a lot of the ingredients I use from what I read. The Oxford(or Penguin, in paperback) Companion to Food is a great starter reference, plus any of the more recent cuisine specific cookbooks that make a point of being very authentic to ingredients and techniques instead of automatically dealing with western(American, mainly) available equivalents.
As for recipes, I have found that if I buy something I have never cooked with before, I study it, smell it, taste it, and first cook it in the context of things I have cooked before, instead of trying to recreate a cuisine specific dish I might have never made. When I like something, I like to add it to my repetoire instead of simply having it as that thing that I buy when I want to make that one dish.
I'll second everything on ghbrooklyn's list, plus:
Mexican: queso fresco, aka farmer's cheese (look for stuff that's made in-house or isn't commercially packaged)--great on tacos or any other food that needs cheese
Asian: 5-spice powder
Greek/Mediterranean: Taramosalata--fish roe spread, best appetizer ever with crusty bread
What a great list, ghbrooklyn!
At my local Middle Eastern shop in Roslindale, Mass, I buy cans of french (sheep's milk) feta. It has a less salty and more creamy flavor than goat's milk feta. I use it wherever feta is used. I find that the Middle Eastern shops have a better price than, say, Whole Foods.
I also buy feta at middle eastern markets. My favorite here in Brooklyn, Sahadi's(which I think is one of the oldest in the U.S.) sells a fresh sheep's milk feta from Bulgaria which is the best I've had, especially baked with tomatoes, olives, oregano, cinnamon and a little olive oil.
Also canned chickpeas tend to be of higher quality at middle eastern markets.
I live in New England and have a pretty good growing list of places to visit (thank you Chowhound) on top of the ones that I have. I'm especially interested in learning what favorite recipe a person thinks of when they're in an Ethnic grocery store and gets all excited because that magical ingredient is on the shelf. Thanks to all for tips on immersing/learning/asking/reading/trying - - just wanted to start with a shortcut by asking and then following Chowhound suggestions!
My one additional suggestion is to check out the cookbook section of your library to borrow and read/use some ethnic cookbooks before you buy them. I know that several of my Chinese, Vietnamese, Israeli, Syrian, etc. cookbooks have ingredient glossaries that I find very helpful.
Good luck and have fun. p.j.