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.
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.
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? ;-/)
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.
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. :)
"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)
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
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!
Steamy Kitchen is also similar
More Chinese and dives into specific regions of Chinese food
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 :)
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
Dried fruit and nuts
All your Asian sauces, lots of diff soys, hoisin, rice vinegar, toasted sesame seed oil
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.
re: Mr Taster
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.
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.
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.
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.