Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Favorite Thing This Week

My favorite thing this week is Asian food stores!

Have you ever been inside an Asian grocery? Even if you can't read the labels, you'll find a multitude of new products suddenly available to you. Some may be familiar--things like rice, soy sauce, eggs, and meat. Others may be totally new to you, and you may find yourself asking, "What on earth are thousand-year-old duck eggs?" or "What's that weird-looking fruit?"

One thing I've noticed is that produce is almost always cheaper--things like fresh herbs, that can sometimes be several dollars at the regular grocery store, are less than a dollar at the Asian grocery. Eggs are fresher and delivered by pallet. And they have a great range of already prepared food, ranging from simple takeaways like bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) or rice balls, to more complex, like roasted duck or pork. The one I frequent has large fish tanks usually full of live tilapia and lobsters. And you'll always find recipe items that you might not find at your regular grocery store, like lemongrass and nori.

My store also has a "back room" that has a range of home goods, from bowls and spoons (the kind you may be familiar with from your local Chinese buffet) to rice cookers, to soaps and pajamas and hats. If you're looking for a set of chopsticks that say, "I know what I'm doing!" then I'd poke around your store to see if they sell home goods, too.

A great way to introduce yourself to the offerings of an Asian grocery store is to check out the snack aisle. Even though the labels are in an unfamiliar language (or littered with Engrish), it's pretty hard to go wrong with a bag of chips or cookies. Just be observant--Asians love seafood-flavored snacks!

Two of my favorite snacks are onion-flavored rings, and frozen bao buns. The rings are a bit like Funyuns, but lighter and crisper and they have a less fake-y onion taste.

The bao buns are in the frozen foods section; they are steamed breads stuffed with BBQ pork or chicken. You wrap them in a moist paper towel and nuke them for a minute or so. Mmm.

If you have an Asian (or other international) grocery store near you, I challenge you to visit it! Pick up at least one ingredient you're unfamiliar with and give it a try!

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