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Just Discovered an Amazing Asian Market - What Should I Try to Make???

So, I went to this an amazing Asian market for the first time and while I picked up a basket of goodies, I was pretty overwhelmed. It's a whole grocery store filled with imported goods and a lot of it I have no clue about. I want to branch out and take advantage of the Asian ingredients I suddenly have access to, but I'm not sure where to start.

Any advice?

What are some things I should pick up next time I go?

What should I try to make?

Is the unpackaged fish really safe to eat?... It scares me a little.

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  1. You CAN spend quite a bit of time in the jarred condiment aisles alone!
    Do not overlook the butcher or fresh fish section if theres is one. Asian markets usually have better pricing and somewhat different selection than mainstream places (I don't know, whole pork belly, fresh pigs feet, ox tail, seasonal fish, etc).

    Maybe pick up some Japanese rice condiment (I understand its called Furikake), sesame oil, chili oil, but maybe that was in your basket of goodies already? ;-/)

    1. Unpackaged fish safe?

      If it's on ice, the eyes are clear and the fish doesn't smell fishy, it's probably good.

      Asian markets are usually an inexpensive source for pork belly. Braised pork belly is delicious.

      Other aisles that are fun are the...
      Produce aisle. Unique fruits to try
      Noodle aisle. Many unique ramen flavors or different noodle types.
      Meat counter - ground pork. Ground pork is surprisingly difficult to find in a regular supermarket. Makes for a meat base for dumplings.

      2 Replies
      1. re: dave_c

        I'm a pescatarian, so no pork for me, but the fish guide does give me a little more confidence. :)

        I picked up some fun beverages, a couple different types of curry, prepared dim sum and fish balls, kim chi, thai basil, amazing juicy shitake mushrooms, and quail eggs. Not sure what I'll do with the quail eggs, but they were just $1.50 so I guess I can just play around. :)

        1. re: dave_c

          "If it's on ice, the eyes are clear and the fish doesn't smell fishy, it's probably good."
          Good advice. I'd add taking a look at the gills. In general bright red=good, brownish=not so good.

          (to OP, I didn't realize what you meant by "unpackaged". If you meant fish, by weight on ice (as dave_c describes), I'd trust that more so than packaged mainstream stuff)

        2. I'm making a cookbook of Asian recipes for my MIL in Stockholm as a gift this Christmas, it includes some jars of basics... To get started and make sense of things, here's a few links that are useful:

          15 basic ingredients for Asian cooking & their uses
          http://www.thekitchn.com/15-basic-ing...

          Rasa Malaysia's recipe index - her recipes are super easy and delicious! Includes popular things you see at Asian restaurants (Chinese, Japanese, Korean...). She has popular and all time favorite recipes at the top - great first dishes to try!
          http://rasamalaysia.com/rasa-malaysia...

          Steamy Kitchen is also similar
          http://www.steamykitchen.com/recipes#...

          More Chinese and dives into specific regions of Chinese food
          http://appetiteforchina.com/recipe-ar...

          Hope that helps! :) Just choose something that looks interesting and start buying ingredients that will be handy for many recipes. For example, I always have on hand:
          - garlic black bean sauce: great for a basic stir fry, seasoning/marinading meats, on tofu
          - sesame oil: usually used to finish a dish or marinade
          - white pepper powder: rarely use black pepper, white pepper has that light sting
          - soy sauce
          - fish sauce: used a lot in Thai/Vietnamese dishes
          - hoisin sauce: dipping condiment, sweet
          - oyster sauce: used for sauces and marinades, salty

          Those are things I've used in the last two weeks for dinner. I tend to choose Asian dinners as weekend quick dinners because we can stir fry some things together in 20m and eat.

          ---

          Unpackaged seafood: safe if it looks firm, fresh and supple. Don't go for anything with clouded eyes or smells bad. Typically unpackaged seafood is fresher (though sometimes it's just defrosted seafood behind a counter). Try to buy some fresh shrimp, crab or shellfish from a tank of water. It's less intimidating than a floppy whole fish :)

          1 Reply
          1. re: bobabear

            Rasamalaysia.com is one of my favourite sites. The recipes *always* work. The others I'm not familiar with, so thanks, bobabear. :)

          2. Fish: fish balls, baby octopus, shrimp
            Meat: pork belly, spare ribs
            Poultry: whole chicken, duck or duck parts, eggs
            All the makings for homemade egg rolls, dumplings and buns
            Assorted rice noodles, dry pastas, fresh lo mein noodles, soba
            Better buys on spices, pastes, basic kitchen stables
            Better buys on produce (ginger, lemongrass, chilies, thai basil)
            Green tea ice cream or pops
            Green tea powder and tea bags
            Great buys on kitchen gadgets and cookware
            Asian sweets
            Dried fruit and nuts
            Canned lychee
            All your Asian sauces, lots of diff soys, hoisin, rice vinegar, toasted sesame seed oil
            Their bakery

            37 Replies
            1. re: HillJ

              I actually did pick up some thai basil! I was so excited when I saw it. I figured I'd had my last when the plants in my garden finished for the season. A big bunch was just $1.50. :)

              Lychee - I've had lychee bubble tea and that was really good, but what do you usually do with it?

              1. re: gastronomics

                You can eat lychee if you peel the skin off.

                You can also soak it in sake or vodka to make lychee infused alcohol for cocktails.

                1. re: gastronomics

                  Don't laugh but I open the can and eat them :) I use the liquid and a few lychees for a martini. I love lychee canned, dried and fresh-and you can buy all three at the Asian market!

                  1. re: HillJ

                    You've convinced me. I'll have to get some next time I go. :)

                    1. re: gastronomics

                      With canned the center pit is removed and the outer shell. With dried you remove the pit; with fresh you peel the outer shell and remove the pit (didn't know if you knew this, wouldn't want you to choke).

                        1. re: HillJ

                          Hmm... where should I bring it then? Have you tried it?

                      1. re: HillJ

                        "Durian :( Let's not go there! Stinkkkkky."

                        But Anthony Bourdain loves it, and I love him! n.n' Have you tried it?

                        1. re: gastronomics

                          I came close about a year ago and changed my mind. A friend bought one, opened it outside as suggested here and that was all the introduction I needed at the time. But don't let me discourage you.

                          1. re: gastronomics

                            I've had it. The taste, to me, was fairly mellow. I was indifferent to the taste but not keen on eating something that smelled like hot trash...

                            1. re: Hobbert

                              So I chickened out over the smell and never experienced the taste. Did I miss anything?

                              1. re: HillJ

                                Nah. The taste is mellow and uninteresting. I believe it changes with ripeness but I didn't see much need to try it again.

                                1. re: Hobbert

                                  Thank you, then I'm moving on to greater flavors!

                              2. re: Hobbert

                                *nods* I'd mostly like to try it to have the experience and say I did.

                                1. re: gastronomics

                                  Yep, that's why I tried it. It was pretty hyped and I'm glad I did but I won't have it again.

                              3. re: gastronomics

                                We picked one up a few years ago and wondered what all the fuss was about. It was somewhat stinky, but not the putrid, rotting onion/sewer smell.
                                I am told that Durian are frozen before being imported here. The freezing apparently mutes the stinkiness.

                              4. re: HillJ

                                Canned lychee is very good.
                                Maybe look for ramboutan (lychee's furry cousin) stuffed with pineapple. The added bit of pineapple adds to the mix.

                                1. re: porker

                                  I have actually and I really did enjoy them. I'm also seen ramboutan fresh for sale. These look like something out of Star Trek- tribbles.

                                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ6LC-...

                                2. re: HillJ

                                  Re: the canned lychees in syrup? Try them with some excellent jersey cow cream, not mere whipping cream. Lychees, syrup and that cream! Cuts the sweetness! Say "thank you lychee tree" if you really like the combo!

                                  1. re: GTM

                                    I appreciate the kind recommendation GTM but those lychees are terrific all by themselves! Open can, enjoy!

                                      1. re: porker

                                        that's right! Lychee puree in martini!

                                    1. re: GTM

                                      I'm actually not much of a sweets person, so this may be a good option for me!

                                3. re: HillJ

                                  Has anyone tried salted duck egg or durian? They have both of those there and I'm curious.

                                  1. re: gastronomics

                                    Salted duck egg is best in rice dishes - sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf with salted duck egg inside, or rice porridge with salted duck egg. Usually not for eating alone or other uses...

                                    Durian :( Let's not go there! Stinkkkkky.

                                    1. re: gastronomics

                                      If you get durian, don't bring it in your house!

                                      1. re: Hobbert

                                        Re: durian. ALL durian on sale in the USA has been frozen before shipping. That is the equivalent of de-fanging a cobra. There is hardly any "durian" remaining there, a mere apology and an excuse for charging a high price.

                                        Have you tasted frozen mango or pineapple sold by Dole? They are not bad as bits of cold, sweet-tart chewy, wet edibles go, but do they taste of fresh, prime ripe pineapple or the best quality mango to you? Same here.

                                        1. re: GTM

                                          >> ALL durian on sale in the USA has been frozen before shipping.

                                          What is your source for this information? I'm very curious to know.

                                          Mr Taster

                                          1. re: Mr Taster

                                            GTM,

                                            I have been very curious about the answer to this. I have been unable to find any legal mandate on the USDA website that requires durian to be frozen before arrival in the US.

                                            There may, of course, be the practical consideration that the fruit might spoil on the boat as it travels from Asia, and that could be a valid reason for freezing. However, my experience buying durian in Los Angeles doesn't support this.

                                            I see you're probably in New York, and New Yorkers are known for thinking they have access to the entire world (I'm from NJ and my sister lives in Brooklyn, and my grandparents are from Queens). But the practical consideration is that NYC is awfully far from SE/S Asia, so it makes sense that from a New Yorker's perspective, all durian arriving in NYC markets would be previously frozen, due to economic and spoilage considerations.

                                            I live in Los Angeles, and during the season (autumn) it is common in Chinese and SE Asian markets to regularly see (and smell) fresh, funky durian (at a premium price, mind you). The frozen, nearly odorless (as you say, "defanged") durian is available all year at a much cheaper price, sold as whole fruit in freezer bins, in packages in the freezer case, and also thawed and "peeled" segments sold in styrofoam trays covered in plastic wrap. I don't have any proof that the durian being sold as fresh was previously frozen, but it sure as hell doesn't smell that way to me. (I spent 6 months traveling through SE Asia, and several more months in Taiwan where durian is a very popular Thai import, and I know what real durian smells and tastes like.)

                                            So I am still curious to know if your assertion that "ALL durian on sale in the USA has been frozen before shipping" is solely a reflection of your own personal experience, or if you can point us to some factual documentation supporting your assertion. My gut tells me that fresh durian would need be transported in cold storage from Asia, but would not be fully frozen. But that's not based on any documented fact-- just my intuition and personal experience with the frozen and fresh versions of the fruit.

                                            If you have some actual documented proof of how this sensitive fruit is transported, I'd be very curious to read it.

                                            Mr Taster

                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                              GTM, where did you go?!

                                              I emailed the USDA about the fresh/frozen durian question and, miraculously, got an incrediblty detailed response.

                                              This is excerpted from an email from Chris Bembenek, Customer Support Communications Specialist, Team Leader
                                              United States Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

                                              "Frozen durian for consumption should be admissible into the United States from all countries that do not have sanctions against them (North Korea, Cuba, Iran, etc.) with a “Frozen Fruit and Vegetable” permit based on PPQ form 587. Fresh durian for consumption is admissible from Thailand with a permit based on PPQ form 587."

                                              So there it is! Fresh durian is absolutely available for sale in the US, (as my nose suspected) as long as it comes from Thailand.

                                              If anyone is curious for more details, I can forward you the email from Chris.

                                              Mr Taster

                                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                                Yeah, but now everyones gonna want durian from North Korea, Cuba, and Iran.
                                                I wonder if we can get cuban durian in Canada?

                                          2. re: GTM

                                            I've only eaten durian from street vendors in Thailand but thanks for the info, I guess. I also don't eat frozen fruit so couldn't compare your other examples.

                                        2. re: gastronomics

                                          I love durian, but don't expect to be very popular after you eat it. There is no middle ground with durian....you either love it or hate it. Just be forewarned that the majority of people hate it.

                                          1. re: EricMM

                                            >> Just be forewarned that the majority of people hate it.

                                            That's an awfully generalized statement. I'd say it depends on what continent you're referring to. I know an awful lot of people who absolutely love it, though most of them are not Caucasian.

                                            Mr Taster

                                          2. re: gastronomics

                                            Salted duck egg is a bit of a chameleon depending on the cuisine. I usually blend the egg yolks with tomato water, Sriracha and a touch of vinegar to create a dressing for a tomato, onion and salted duck egg white relish that is killer with grilled fish or meat. A little chive and cilantro never hurts as well. Others might take a simpler approach, mincing the eggs to top like seasoning on mildly flavored dishes like congee or pork mince. Also traditional, but perhaps more interesting for a Westerner, is using the eggs as a savory contrast to sweets like bibingka or mooncake.

                                            As for durian, I probably have a weak sense of smell since I'm not much bothered by its scent, let alone that of kimchi. Durian flavor and texture, however, is best described as onions and custard. So go ahead and open a durian in my kitchen; just don't offer me any.

                                            1. re: gastronomics

                                              I lived in Singapore for a few years, and learned that stinky cheese is a great analogy for durian -- the reaction there to stinky cheese is essentially the same as the common reaction here (USA) to durian. Not that many people grow up around both -- you're more likely to like the one you grew up with, and might not understand how anyone could like the other one.

                                              There are different varieties, which vary greatly in stinkiness. The custard-like texture is amazing. I liked it OK the first time I tried it, and loved it by the second or third time. However, the frozen one I had once here in the US was really disappointing in taste and texture.

                                              1. re: gastronomics

                                                Heh. People tend to either love durian or hate it. And by hate, I mean you cannot transport durian on public transportation in Singapore without risking a substantial fine. It's on the warning posters along with no food, drink, or smoking. :D

                                            2. If they have a BBQ section, get some crispy skin roast pork and/or BBQ pork and/or BBQed duck.
                                              Its ready to eat just like that (which I prefer), or can be incorporated into dishes.

                                              4 Replies
                                                1. re: porker

                                                  Yeah... I like meat a lot too, I just don't want to support unethical practices. I'll eat it if I can know for sure it was raised ethically, or if a hunter friend wants to offer some, but that doesn't happen often. :/

                                                  1. re: gastronomics

                                                    If this is true, I'd advise strongly against eating meat from Chinese supermarkets. Some Korean supermarkets in Los Angeles are making inroads to certified organic and grass fed beef, but the Chinese markets are trailing in this regard.

                                                    Mr Taster

                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                      I wouldn't eat meat unless I knew the specific place from which it originated - and it was a good environment.