…on good food, questionable judgment, and making life work
This is a tough post. There are exactly two ways I can discuss my very favorite store in Knoxville (and perhaps anywhere): succinctly or gushing. I have no middle ground here.
So, I’ll try this–pictures and a pantry list. Hey, I’m here for you. The international grocery store can be a perplexing place, and I think I can help.
Vegetarian? You should be shopping at your local Asian/International market. Vegan? You should be shopping at your local Asian/International market. Gourmet? You should be shopping at your local Asian/International market. Bored? You should be shopping at your local Asian/International market. Frightened by foreign smells and alternative alphabets? Well, get out more.
Here’s my shop, I love it so…
It’s situated in what was once a CVS or a Rite-Aid. It’s a large space with an ACTUAL butcher (whom I love and use all the time) and a fish counter–with lots of LIVE fish! They also have live blue crabs, and fish heads, and duck eggs, and quail eggs, and there are Russian foods, Middle Eastern foods, Jamaican foods, African foods, Indian foods…but, I’m starting to gush. Let us begin…
You need chili pastes. You probably already have Sriracha. You might even have sambal. If you like the spicy and savory, you should add these to your collection:
Next–dried mushrooms. You will come to rely on these to reinforce your non-Asian based stews, too.
I like to keep a bag of dried shiitakes and a bag of dried black fungus–also called “wood ear fungus”–(I know, it sounds terrifying) in the pantry. Two dried shiitake added to your beef stew or Boeuf Bourguignon will elevate your dish from tasty to amazing. I like to chop the mushrooms after they have cooked in the stew and then add them back in, but you can simply let them stew and then remove them, if you are afraid of delicious things.
Wood ear mushroom or black fungus do best in Asian soups. They are chewy, savory, and apparently pretty good for you. They are easy, too. Soak ’em in hot water for 20-30 minutes, slice ’em and add ’em to your soup, allowing 15 minutes or so for cooking. There is usually a tough part in the center–I just cut that out.
Gochugaru–Korean chili flake.
Seaweed. Do not be afraid.
I love noodles. Noodles are democratic. They know no borders. They can be made from nearly any starchy substance. They absorb flavors and are an ideal vehicle for proteins–animal or otherwise. You should experiment with variety noodles. *note–if you are a directions-following kind of personality, check the label BEFORE you leave the store, many instructions are not in English. (Also, some noodles are made with shellfish, so check the label if you are allergic or have religious considerations.)
Pictured above, clockwise from top left: rice noodles, egg (wheat) noodles, sweet potato noodles (I can’t wait to make some japchae)
So you like Vietnamese Spring rolls, huh?
Get some rice paper, and make ’em however you like ’em. Vegetarian, vegan, unadulterated meat? I’ll share my favorite dipping sauce in a future post. In the meantime, Google it, and enjoy some spring rolls in private–pants optional.
And now for the easiest way to acquaint yourself with the Asian/International Market…
Ramen & tofu. It’s a complete meal. Well, minus the fresh veg (but you can get that at the market, too!) Check out the Asian/International market if for no other reason than to step outside the Maruchan paradigm. There are some damn tasty ramens out there–I recommend Nongshim (get the Shin Ramyun–so spicy) and the Mama brand. Toss in a knob of tofu and pretend as though you are being healthy.
What I have not taken a picture of is produce. The produce section is what completely sold me on this market. Shallots? Grab a SACK for $1.49. Not per pound, mind you–the ENTIRE SACK IS $1.49. Scallions–3 bunches for a $1.00. Limes–the big, extra-juicy kind–5 for a $1.00. If you are trying to get more leafy greens into your diet, you can’t do better than the Asian market–I count no fewer than six varieties–and that’s not counting standards like Napa cabbage or spinach. You’ll find things like kabocha, durian, and jackfruit.
I have much more to add here. The produce alone deserves its own post. But when all is said and done and you are overwhelmed or confused by what you have seen or purchased, you can always go to the restaurant that is connected (quite literally) to the market: