Seaweed salad - why so expensive?
I love seaweed salad but am always surprised that at local restaurants, a small portion runs upwards of $5. A couple of days ago, on my initial visit to the huge H-Mart that opened in the area last fall, I asked for a small container of it. Not until I got home did I see that it is $12.99/lb, and since then see that it is $15.99/lb in another supermarket chain here.
I have found a bunch of different recipes but there's such a variation in type of seaweed called for that I never went ahead and bought the ingredients. Is seaweed all that expensive? None of the other ingredients seem to justify the price of seaweed salad.
the raw seaweed itself is really expensive. the "chuka" seaweed salad you're talking about that you can find at H-Mart, Mitsuwa, other Japanese markets and restaurants is usually made with varieties of wakame, and dried wakame can run anywhere from $2 to $4 per *ounce* depending on where you buy it. so yeah, considering that the dried seaweed is $32-64 per pound, the salad is costly to make.
There's a wide variety of quality levels in buying wakame. There's an industry standard mid-lower grade salad, the ubiquitous vigorous green color, with flecks of red chili pepper skin and some sesame seeds. This particular one (I'll need to go to work tomorrow to get you the brand name) is often discounted to restaurants and stores.
A Korean store will sell the salad as part of a ban chuan bar; therefore the price. Have you noticed how expensive hijiki is at these places when it's sold by the pound? Even kimchi and dried small fish are exorbitantly expensive when compared to the wholesale price they're sourced at.
A Chinese market will sell the mid-grade seaweed salad at the best price. Typically it'll have been portioned out into clear, rigid deli containers and priced by weight. Look for it in the refrigerated section near stuff like Japanese fish cakes (the magenta-colored things, sometimes in fancy wooden boxes), hijiki and pickled vegetables.
A Japanese store will sell the highest-quality seaweed salads. But you're going to pay dearly for it.
gregarious says she's got some recipes. If you can find decent wakame and the like in dry form, study the instructions for reconstituting it. As I recall, there's a very tricky way of getting the seaweed to become slimy without the sauce becoming overly viscous. And very good quality dark amber Japanese sesame oil is essential. Certain rice wine vinegars and Mirin combine with seaweed to result in a flavor aftertaste that's kinda like a funky saccharine flavor. Sadly I can't specify particular brands of condiments that'll help you avoid this. Suffice it to say that using better brands is your best (but more expensive) bet. Lemon juice makes seaweed sing, but the lemon-based sauce must be made to order and should be consumed right away as the lemon flavor loses it's "freshness" rapidly after it's been squeezed.
Have fun! I can't think of a more healthy, perfect food than seaweed with a side of good rice. Mind you, I, personally, don't eat that healthfully nearly as often as I should. Good luck!