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Ethnic Stores

Bliss149 Mar 8, 2011 04:18 AM

Hello hounds,
We've got a large international market here that I've started to visit. It's pretty overwhelming.

Has anyone bought the "Guide to Oriental Market"-type books? The ones I looked at on Amazon were published in the 90's so - kind of old.

I want to learn but there's not a lot of help available there.

Thanks for any tips.

  1. scubadoo97 Mar 8, 2011 04:33 AM

    There should be enough info on the web to help get you started. Go slow, try things that are new, experiment and have fun.

    1. s
      sushigirlie Mar 8, 2011 04:43 AM

      I learn about new ingredients by reading authentic cookbooks and then shopping for recipe lists. Google Images is a great resource for helping you see what ingredients look like.

      1. Gio Mar 8, 2011 04:48 AM

        Usually "ethnic" cookbooks include a chapter listing and describing pantry items that are needed to prepare the recipes within. If you look at the Cookbook of the Month Archive you'll see the Asian, Indian, Vietnamese, and other such books we cooked from over the years and each had a full glossary and ingredient dictionary.

        Those books can be borrowed from most libraries or failing that, browse through them at bookstores.

        Here's a Goggle page with links to ingredient dictionaries:

        1. h
          Harters Mar 8, 2011 09:11 AM

          "Ethnic" is a pretty wide definition. It covers the whole world and I agree with the OP I'd be overwhelmed if there was just a single shop. It must be odd having the dolmades almost next to the dashi.

          Fortunately, I have a range of shops in my area, so can focus my shopping down on Italian, East Asian, South Asian, Eastern Mediterranean and so on, as I need to shop. Focussing down is what I'd recommend to the OP - rather than just thinking of the food as "ethnic", think of it as a specific things you want to eat and go and buy it.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Harters
            luckyfatima Mar 8, 2011 11:19 AM

            Very much agree with Harters.

            1. re: Harters
              Bliss149 Mar 8, 2011 03:57 PM

              Well, this particular market is very large and has everything from Korean to Mexican to Jamaican.

              What I'm most interested in doing isn't cooking an authentic Vietnamese dinner but rather taking some ingredients and sauces and incorporating them into my regular cooking.

              For instance I bought some Korean BBQ sauce and thought I'd do chicken or pork. Might have kimchee with it or just some roasted vegetables.

              I just wish I knew which brands were best. And it'd be so cool to have a cookbook that would tell you about ingredients and what to do with them.

              1. re: Bliss149
                escondido123 Mar 8, 2011 04:50 PM

                Many cookbooks of other cuisines will discuss what the different items are, but it would be dated quickly if they discussed brands which might not be available at all places all times. It can certainly help to go to a whatever restaurant and have some dishes--often times it will state what's in the dish and you can certainly ask. I've found people are happy to talk about their native cuisines. In fact, if you hang around the market you might find people buying for their own cooking who can share information with you--that's how I learned about Indian pickles last month.

            2. paulj Mar 8, 2011 04:21 PM

              I have the Indian Grocery Store Demystified book, and have borrowed a couple of others from the library. They are useful reading, though I don't regularly reference them. Publication date shouldn't matter too much; traditional ingredients aren't going to change much over a decade or two.

              Better cookbooks for particular cuisines have ingredients sections.

              1. greygarious Mar 8, 2011 04:31 PM

                I bought "The Asian Grocery Store Demystified", but it's not all that helpful. It explains the uses of some of the ingredients that are unfamiliar to Americans of European descent but there are no specifics about how to pick the best brands.

                5 Replies
                1. re: greygarious
                  paulj Mar 8, 2011 06:38 PM

                  What kind of brand guidance do you expect? Take soy sauce. Other than avoiding American hydrolized products, what is best? There are Japanese styles, 3 or 4 Chinese, Hawaiian, Philiipine etc. Each style and brand has its following. Or look at the 'best fish sauce' threads. Is a pungent one better than a mild one? For brand discussions, a search for online newpaper articles and blogs seems most useful.

                  1. re: greygarious
                    cheesemaestro Mar 9, 2011 11:32 AM

                    Linda Bladholm's books, The Asian Grocery Store Demystified and The Indian Grocery Store Demystified, do provide recommendations for brands. So does Bruce Cost, in Asian Ingredients. (In fact, he divides his choices into "Highly Recommended" and "Recommended." Cost's book covers severals far Asian cuisines and has better descriptions than Bladholm of how the ingredients are used. The trade-off is that Cost includes fewer ingredients in his book. It's probably fair to say that "best brand" is often a personal opinion. We've had numerous threads on CH about which fish sauce people prefer. Tra Chang, Golden Boy (my favorite), Three Crabs, Squid, Tiparos and others all have their advocates. If you like an assertive, salty fish sauce you'll like one brand; if a milder one, you'll go for something else. Cookbooks, websites, and sometimes store personnel who are natives of the country whose cuisine you are interested in are all good starting points for identifying a brand to use.

                    If you're really into Asian cuisines, a wonderful, comprehensive reference book for fresh and prepared ingredients is Charmaine Solomon's Encyclopedia of Asian Food. It also has a wealth of recipes, but, alas, no brand recommendations.

                    1. re: cheesemaestro
                      Bliss149 Mar 12, 2011 06:42 PM

                      Big help cheesemaestro...thanks!

                      1. re: cheesemaestro
                        hill food Mar 13, 2011 08:08 AM

                        hey no fair, I was going to recommend Cost's book! (I'm only 4 days late) true he doesn't list a lot of the ingredients available, but the ones he does cover are in great detail

                        1. re: hill food
                          Bliss149 Mar 14, 2011 04:58 AM

                          thanks, hill food. a second recommendation is good - 4 days late or otherwise!

                    2. v
                      Val Mar 8, 2011 04:37 PM

                      Sometimes you can find a video of an Asian recipe you want to try and they'll SHOW you the packages of what to look for at Asian grocery store--I have found this VERY helpful...Maangchi (Korean cooking) is one such website with videos where she shows you the package of the items needed (mostly)...and there are others I've seen too.

                      1. dave_c Mar 8, 2011 07:00 PM

                        I know what you mean.

                        The local chain Asian market, Ranch 99, has a 30 to 40 foot section of ramen type instant noodles! Japanese ramen, Korean ramen, Vietnamese ramen and Taiwanese ramen... etc. I'm only familiar with Top Ramen and Murachuan (sp?).

                        The same with soy sauces!

                        The "Guide to Ethnic Markets" may be a good start on how ingredient descriptions and how ingredients are used, but I doubt it provides brand recommendations. Check your local library?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: dave_c
                          paulj Mar 8, 2011 07:15 PM

                          A guide to instant ramen noodles would be about as useful as a guide to cold breakfast cereals :)

                          Now a guide to the dozen or so types of 'choy' in their produce section, or to the greens at HMart would be interesting. Turns out there is
                          'Beyond Bok Choy'

                          These days the Internet - including Chow - is the best guide to these stores.
                          seed catalogs are also a good source of info. For example here's an entry on one of my new favorites, Taiwanese cabbage

                          review blog of ramen
                          Ramen geek reviews

                          1. re: paulj
                            Bliss149 Mar 12, 2011 06:45 PM

                            well, if somebody had never eaten american breakfast cereals, it might be better than buying 847 boxes of cereal to find one they liked.

                        2. l
                          looz Mar 8, 2011 09:10 PM

                          When I first started shopping in Chinatown, the book I found most helpful was The Chinese Kitchen by Deh-Ta Hsiung. It's organized by ingredient, and each entry gives you a description, something about the history, how to buy and store, how to prepare it, and a recipe or two using the ingredient. It was published in 1999, so it isn't that new, but ingredients stay pretty much the same - I mean, a winter melon is a winter melon. It doesn't give brand names if that is what you're looking for, but it's very helpful in navigating general types of ingredients.

                          1. r
                            rochfood Mar 12, 2011 07:15 PM

                            Mr Burns to Homer after getting served breakfast.
                            "Donuts ? I told you..I don't like ethnic food."

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: rochfood
                              Bliss149 Mar 13, 2011 06:38 AM

                              LOL. Sounds like most of my family.

                              If they weren't eating it in rural Tennessee/Mississippi in 1950, they ain't a-eatin' it now!

                              Have to admit though that I have as many misses as hits on my "ethnic" experiments.

                              1. re: Bliss149
                                Naco Mar 13, 2011 07:40 AM

                                My grandfather hated Italian-American food with a red hot, flaming passion. Once, when he was in the hospital, I went to visit him, and they'd taped his meal preferences card to his door. Under "dietary restrictions", the nurse had written "NO LASAGNA/SPAGHETTI".

                            2. l
                              lemons Mar 13, 2011 07:47 AM

                              I have both the Demystified books mentioned here. I use them often for reference, and have occasionally taken them to market with me. Go for it.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: lemons
                                Bliss149 Mar 14, 2011 05:00 AM

                                great, lemons...at about $12 each, I had hesitated about getting these books. Especially since they're kind of old. But this market is one of the few good food resources that I have around here and it's convenient to my work so I want to take max advantage of it.

                                (They also have A TON OF WHOLE FISH WITH THE HEADS ON THEM! I'm working on getting up my nerve to try one some day...but that's another post.)

                                1. re: Bliss149
                                  lemons Mar 14, 2011 07:11 AM

                                  Usually they're cheap enough you can buy one just to learn how to cook it. (My advice: Leave head on. Slit belly, remove internal organs. Oil skin and broil. Do not forget to eat cheeks.) And I hesitate to say this; authors need royalties. But you can buy them used....

                                  The books, I mean, not the fish.

                                  1. re: lemons
                                    Bliss149 Mar 14, 2011 03:40 PM

                                    i think they'll even remove the innards for me at the store!

                                    It's just intimidating but you're right...it's not that much money and there's always PBJ if it doesn't come out.

                                    1. re: Bliss149
                                      Will Owen Mar 14, 2011 05:05 PM

                                      I think all of the Asian stores around here (LA County) will prepare the fish however you want it. You pay for the whole fish, so they weigh it first, but then you can have it anyway from simply eviscerated to scaled, trimmed, no head or tail. A few that I visit regularly have a list of operations so that you can order yours by the corresponding number. Helps not only us English-only folks but the swarms of people speaking every language from the Pacific Basin.

                                  2. re: Bliss149
                                    paulj Mar 14, 2011 08:19 AM

                                    Old books might not be good for the latest brand name products, but should still be good for produce and traditional spices and condiments.

                                    1. re: paulj
                                      lemons Mar 14, 2011 10:15 AM

                                      Those books don't concentrate on brands but rather on content, use, and alternate names. Quite usable now.

                                2. caseyjo Mar 13, 2011 01:03 PM

                                  You can always take a friend to the store with you, if you have anyone who's familiar with the cuisine. It's great to get recommendations from people who visit the particular market that you're checking out.

                                  1. Bada Bing Mar 14, 2011 03:46 PM

                                    Bruce Cost's book "Asian Ingredients" is really solid. The current edition doesn't have as many photos as the original, though (which is findable used). The photos depict a number of labels for easier in-store identification. But then again, that edition dates to the 1980s:


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