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Feb 19, 2009 06:41 AM

A book/guide to Asian or South American produce?

Can anyone recommend a book/guide to Asian or South American produce with good photographs and suggestions for use? There was lots of produce I don't recognize at the farmer's market north of Boston last summer, but the sellers speak virtually no English. When I'd point to something the seller would usually look forlorn, shake his/her head, and somehow express that it wasn't a flavor for me (typical white American of northern European descent). The most exotic thing I wound up buying was called, I think, "water spinach", which was tender green leafy stems that had no real flavor. Looked like a weed that would grow in my yard, and perhaps does!

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  1. If you've got some time, stand around and wait for a friendly shopper. I've made dinners based on just a few recommendations from folks that were buying things I didn't know about, and I asked what they were and how the were prepared.

    1 Reply
    1. re: HaagenDazs

      I got a recipe for stir-fried winter melon with shrimp through pantomime at the vegetable section (I think I got it). Fun and we both laughed during the rest of the shopping experience.

    2. The Asian Grocery Store Demystified by Linda Bladholm should do the trick for just about everything available in Asian marlets - and there's a Periplus "Handy Pocket Guide to Asian Vegetables". Have used the former and can vouch for it but not the latter.

      2 Replies
      1. re: buttertart

        Thank you! I'll investigate both - a pocket guide would be just the ticket.

        1. re: buttertart

          Bladholm also did a Latin & Caribbean Grocery Stores and an Indian Grocery Store book. All three can be found for cheap on ABE Books.

        2. I have a language barrier at my market too and asking about stuff gets results about half the time. (The vendor usually gives one word cooking instructions - soup, stir-fry, etc) You don't need to know the name of something before you cook it though. You can break off a piece to nibble and see if it tastes more like a salad green or something you would cook. Water spinach is fantastic - it should have flavour like spinach.

          1 Reply
          1. re: pepper_mil

            With a slight basil overtone, I always think. I prefer it to spinach.

          2. The book I use which is quite helpful "Asian Ingredients" by Bruce Cost.


            1. There is also The Latin & Caribbean Grocery Store Demystified. In addition to the illustrations/descriptions of produce, this series includes lots of info about jarred condiments and ingredients, etc. Very helpful when the labels are in other languages with little or no English!