Asian Markets Are Fun

Today there are so many Asian markets compared to when I was a child, I love it.  In my area you have larger chains like 99 Ranch, Uwajimaya, and H-Mart as well as the little family owned stores, some I swear are no bigger than my living room.  Ingredients that even just a few years ago were hard to find are now just a short drive away.  But for me, these are not some new stores that I’ve recently discovered, they are places that I’ve shopped all my life.  Granted, we didn’t have 99 Ranch and H-Mart, but we did have Uwajimaya and the little family stores.  My dad and I would go to Chinatown in Seattle to buy roast duck and pork, find vegetables for our stir fry, and of course some fun candy for me.  I so enjoyed those trips, to this day I think of them and now do the same with the twinadoes.  My dad would be so happy to see how excited my kids get when we go to our favorite place to get the duck and pork.  Thing 1 starts pointing yelling “meat, meat!!”.  The owner always gives him a little piece of pork while we wait.

Some people are put off when they see some of these stores when they see how small, dark or sometimes not as well kept as the major grocery chains, but I have never had an issue with this.  H-Mart and Uwajimaya are definitely not on this list, but mainly the family owned.  This to me is part of their charm and I don’t mind not having the blaring lights in my eyes or excessive decorations.

The non Asian grocery stores that are all over are getting better at stocking international items, but you still won’t find what you will at the above mentioned stores.  So for that reason, along with the fact that I really enjoy going to not just Asian stores but latino, middle eastern, and pretty much whatever kind I can find.  Today my family stopped in at 99 Ranch and H-Mart.

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First stop, 99 Ranch.  When we don’t head into Seattle this is the place we get our roast duck and pork.  I wanted to get a picture, however, I had the twinadoes with me and since we are not having it for dinner it seemed a tad mean to take them in the deli area to take a picture.

WP_20140309_001Bitter Melon, just as it sounds, this is very bitter but so good in a stir fry.

WP_20140309_004Curry leaves, smell wonderful and have a very distinct flavor that you just can’t get with anything else.  When I make upma I always put in a few of these.

WP_20140309_006It is rare for me to not have fresh shitake mushrooms on hand.  I’ve found them at a few of the grocery stores around my home, but what they charge is insane!!  You can also purchase them dried and just reconstitute them.

WP_20140309_007Durian fruit…stinks like you cannot believe and in my opinion tastes just as bad.  The texture is beyond strange, sort of fluffy, slimy and cottony all at once.  It was on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmer and even he couldn’t eat it, and that says something.

Since they didn’t have what I had really come for, galangal, I just grabbed a few vegetables and headed to H-Mart.

h-mart logoI’ve been to three of these in Washington and all were pretty much the same, though one was a little more dingy than the newer ones.  But you can really find some great stuff here.  Prices are not bad, especially if you are considering buying some of this stuff at your neighborhood Safeway (or anything similar).

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Look at all these beautiful vegetables.  I was half tempted to get some of the taro root to try and make some root chips, but I knew this week was not going to be the week to do it, next time.  One of the pictures/items that I really love (third to the last picture) is the selection of garlic.  Yes, they have the basic bulbs, but they also have already peeled cloves, containers of minced and paste.  It’s great, saves time and doesn’t have anything but garlic.  But that also means you need to be mindful of how much you get and only purchase what you will truly use before it goes bad.  And the mushrooms that are offered, so much more than just button mushrooms.  I could go on and on about the varieties of several vegetables, but it’s something you just need to go in and see yourself.  I’ll warn you, you might quickly get bored with your local grocery store offerings…

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Tofu, miso paste, and jarred kimchi.  Look at all the options for those, however, it can become quite confusing.  Look through recipes, online, talk to people and of course experiment.  Once you get familiar with ingredients you will be making food that will not only amaze and satisfy you but also your family and friends.

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The meat department is good when you are looking for something a little different, such as a whole duck, thinly sliced meats for hot pots or Korean bbq, pork ribs for sweet and sour, etc… Again, it’s a department that you can just peruse and get inspired.

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The seafood department…where to start, where to start.  It definitely doesn’t look like the seafood department you are probably used to, but that’s not a bad thing.  Yes, they do have the usual suspects, fish, shrimp, scallops, etc… but the varieties of fish you will find is amazing.  Not just salmon, cod, and halibut, oh no my friends.  How about those live fluke?  And the last picture, those were little eels in a red rubber tub.  There are a few seafood shops in Chinatown that offer live turtles, which, many years ago I purchased as a pet.

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The center aisles are full of fun and tasty stuff.  Vinegars, soy sauce ( you will be amazed at all your choices), tea, oils, pepper paste and oh so much more.

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Noodles, noodles and more noodles.  No need to buy that premade ramen stuff when you can make  your own.  Fresh rolls, make your own!!!  Phad thai, make your own!!  Are you seeing the pattern?

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Dried mushrooms, seaweed, and kelp (aka kombu), yes, they carry those.  I would also put bonito flakes in with this bunch, but I didn’t get a picture.  Kombu and bonito flakes are the two main ingredients for dashi, a Japanese stock that you use to make miso soup.

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By the time I hit the freezer section the twinadoes were about to bust up the joint so these were the pictures I chose to take.  Tocino, one word…. yummalicious.  It’s this sweet, but not too sweet marinated pork that you barbeque.  It is beyond delicious.  Moo shu wrappers, this is what I use when I make my mu shu duck, super easy (how in the world has that post gone missing…uuugggghhh!!!)!! This is also where you will find wonton wrappers, which I use a lot.  Stroll along some more you will find fish, fish cakes, premade foods, vegetables, and fruit, like the shredded coconut pictured.  I use shredded coconut in my coconut chutney.  There’s also the sweet section with the ice creams, mochi, and other delights.

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As we were making a mad dash to the check-out I had to stop and take pictures of the housewares and rice.  The picture of the housewares is a fraction of what they had.  There’s always something that I just need to have, so many beautiful dishes, cooking vessels, bento boxes, etc…  And the selection of rice…this picture doesn’t do it justice.  Not only do they have a large selection, but the prices, I find, tend to be better than the grocery stores.  Of course, if you are not a rice eating person/family, this large of quantity probably isn’t for you.

Quite honestly, I could have stretched this post into 20 pages if I had the time.  Asian markets are true gems that have so much to offer.  I’ve heard people say they are intimidated when they go in to one so they don’t bother sticking around.  Or they just feel so overwhelmed with so much food they have no idea how to use.  Or many other reasons for not going in.  What do I have to say to that?  Get over it and go in!!!  Take a friend, a recipe, whatever, just go in.  Take the time to go up and down the aisles and look at everything.  Once you go in you will be excited to go back and try more things.

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