I love Asian supermarkets. I remember recently walking through the ‘New Yen Yen Supermarket’ at Eastwood, Sydney with a friend of mine, darting from isle to isle, handling, sniffing, and laughing at all the strange products we could find. My friend picked up a frozen baby turtle like it was a hidden treasure chest he’d just stumbled upon. At this a Chinese man in the isle started laughing and began to pull out even stranger items from the depths of the icy freezer: bullfrogs, abolone, and other things that didn’t really have a shape or colour, and i’m sure don’t have a translatable name.
But I love Asian supermarkets because there are a few things that I frequently use in cooking that are best bought there. Here’s a copy of my typical shopping list:
2L light soy sauce (much cheaper at the Asian Supermarkets and you can buy in bulk)
Shaoxing rice wine (this is a delicious, dark rice wine that with a tablespoon adds an incredible amount of flavour to your stir-fries)
Thai Palm Sugar (an absolute essential in Thai cooking and has a soft, rich, caramel flavour. Make sure you get the dark one in a cylinder and it should be just soft when you shave it)
Mao Ploy Thai Curry Paste (this is the best Thai curry paste you can buy and is the product that a huge number of Thai restaurants use. Be careful though, it has a lot more chilli than the western pastes)
Dried, smoked squid (this is the Chinese equivalent of Beef Jerky, but made from squid. It is the quintessential beer snack!)
Coconut milk (cheaper and usually richer in flavour at Asian Supermarkets)
Banana Leaves (a fantastic product to wrap fish in to barbeque)
Shrimp paste (this is the stinkiest product on the market, but an essential ingredient in South East Asian cooking; be careful, use more than 1/4 teaspoon and you’ll be tasting plankton shrimp for the next month).
Chinese Five Spice (a great spice mix that makes a boring stir-fry or braise taste great. Can usually get it cheaper and in bulk at the Asian Supermarkets)
I’m sure there is much that you could add to this list, and there is much at these Supermarkets than I’m sure I’m neglecting. Would love to hear the prized purchases of others when they frequent the Asian Supermarket.
(A friend of mine at college, Sam, gave me the idea for this post – thanks Sam!)