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Chinese / Asian grocery and other shopping - what are your favorites, and where do you find them?

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7538...
The above specifically references 2 stores in Manhattan Chinatown and is in reference to the January COTMs by Grace Young, but I am (and I know many others here are) a dedicated Asian grocery store shopper and love to find things I need (or just want). What are you on the lookout for? What have you found that you really love? What are your staples? Photos would be welcome, as there are a number of products that are primarily labeled in Asian languages. I'll hunt up a few of my favorites and post photos.
In the meantime, these are always on my hit parade: Kimlan soy sauce, Kimlan rice vinegar (really all Kimlan products), Evergreen sesame oil (a recent find) - both brands are from Taiwan which is where I learned to cook Chinese; Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce, recommended to me by a dear friend originally from HK; Tiparos fish sauce from Thailand; Gold Plum black (Chinkiang/Zhenjiang) vinegar; chestnuts from Hebei province in vacuum pouches, good in a million things and dirt cheap; dried spices like cumin and cloves; potato and other starches...there are many more I'm missing.
In addition these stores are gold mines for serving pieces and implements that are useful in all sorts of cooking (mesh colanders, foil stove burner protectors, pasta forks, all kinds of things).
How about you? What are you happy to get your hands on?

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  1. We drive three hours to the nearest city which, thankfully, has a huge Asian store. I believe it is nearly 50,000 square feet of awesome goodness!! So, whenever we go we take along all our coolers and stock up like mad. We love things like live geoduck and razor clams, frozen goat, tons of condiments, Sichuan peppercorns (thankfully spices such as cumin and cloves are readily available in our grocery stores), big bags of rice flour, fresh mangosteens, fresh galangal and turmeric, fresh wasabi root, fresh kaffir lime and curry leaves, fresh pea shoots, frozen pandan, various kinds of miso, mirin, sake. Oh, and frozen pigeon. Love pigeon. Things we haven't tried from there are frozen turtle and eel. I've had fresh eel but I've never killed/cooked it before. We spend about three hours in that place and spend hundreds of dollars but going there requires an overnigh so we don't go as frequently as we'd like!

    7 Replies
    1. re: chefathome

      I just mentioned the spices because they're ridiculously cheap in comparison with grocery store prices here. Incidentally I saw you liike chestnuts, you really must try the Chinese vacuum packed ones in pouches, they are very good.

      1. re: buttertart

        I understand what you mean about spices - much cheaper at Asian stores! You're right - I am a chestnut fan and have tried the vacuum-packed ones in stuffing. So delicious.

        1. re: chefathome

          Yeah, and they (vacuum sealed chesnut) are not too expensive. About $1 per bag. This is what I don't care too. If I go to a normal grocey store for a jar of chesnut (not that they are the same thing), but a small jar of chesnut would have cost me like >$10.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Exactly. I haven't noticed any big flavor advantage in the French or Italian ones either, they are sometimes bigger though. Are European chestnuts a different genus or species?

              1. re: buttertart

                Personally, I prefer the Chinese variety. It's not as sweet, but it's more flavorful. It also stores better, and, as sweetness in chestnuts is a function of freshness, is more dependably sweet than the European variety.

                Also, they're often more expensive then either the European or Chinese variety, but domestic chestnuts are my favorite. A lot of these are the Japanese variety, which I like even more than the Chinese variety, but most are hybrids of the European, Chinese, Japanese, and native varieties. The American chestnut, which is pretty rare but becoming more available, is head and shoulders above all the other varieties.

                1. re: gadfly

                  In season I've seem both Korean and Oregon chestnuts at HMart (NJ based Korean chain). The Oregon ones are more expensive.

      2. I am lucky that in the suburbs of Hartford, CT lies an enormous Asian grocery store (A Dong in West Hartford). I buy noodles, condiments galore, rice, kaffir lime leaves, frozen dim sum goodies, cheap pork belly, whole fish...and probably more that I am forgetting.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mels

          I have been to that store. Its huge. Easily the largest I have ever seen. Truly authentic. The smell even reminds me of markets in Asia. Great place.

          Personally, I prefer Japanese markets and am lucky to have two of them close to me.
          Super high quality fish and vegetables, authentic noodles, sauces, teas, miso, rice, dressings and seaweed variations. I always spend a fortune.

        2. I buy tons of fruits and vegetables- baby bok choy, carrots, celery, string beans, bean sprouts, persimmons, mangoes, young cocnuts, napa cabbage, chile peppers. One of the best deals in the Chinese markets are mushrooms- button, cremini, shiitake, prince, enoki. I've bought enoki mushrooms for $1/package!

          Also.. soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, dried soba noodles, fresh noodles (egg and spinach), tofu, eggs, wonton wrappers, eggroll wrappers, sriracha sauce.

          Sometimes they have great prices on American groceries too- so I'll buy flour, sugar, yogurt, orange juice if it's cheaper than the regular supermarket.

          3 Replies
          1. re: cheesecake17

            I forgot about the vegetables. I buy bean sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, and peppers all for a fraction of what I can get them for elsewhere.

              1. re: buttertart

                fresher and so much cheaper. japanese eggplant is sometimes 79 cents/lb, when in the other stores it goes for over $2/lb.

                I'm always surprised by how many of the jarred/fridge items are marked kosher.

          2. Soy milk in a can (dow nee?). Seriously, I grew up w/ a lot of food that I didn't know the characters for, or what the translation would be in English. So, it's always a special treat to find something I loved as a child but never could ask, or find usually. I'm always in heaven exploring the snack area, especially. And, I love the variety of persimmons in season. All produce actually.

            1. One item I only see in Chinese food markets is......Iced Coffee in a can.....8 ounces for 50-60 cents ....a lot cheaper than a Frappachino..

              8 Replies
              1. re: fourunder

                Yeah, these are standard at the 7-11s in Taiwan. The Starbucks brand in small jars is about 3 times as expensive and half the size as the local brands, and there's little taste difference.

                1. re: fourunder

                  Can never forget an old friend: Mr Brown Coffee.

                  Was very handy to have in Taipei years ago in a first apt. with no a/c nor a fridge. An office really but that is for another board. CRD (Coffee Ready to Drink) - a precursor to the US military's MRE's!

                  http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Brown-Iced-C...

                  1. re: scoopG

                    Yes indeed, that's the brand. I buy it in the summertime by the case,

                    1. re: scoopG

                      I used to like Mr. Brown too but I stopped buying after the melamine scare/warnings in 2008.

                        1. re: fourunder

                          I don't know but there were articles about tainted milk resurfacing in late 2009/early 2010 and then later on in the year also.
                          http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/02/wor...
                          http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTR...
                          http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTR...

                          1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

                            For anyone who did not open to the link I provided, it says that Mr Brown Coffee only sourced their milk products from Australia....not China.

                            1. re: fourunder

                              Ahh I misread the link, the contaminated product was the instant stuff not canned.