If you’re willing to experiment in the kitchen, there’s nothing more fun that moving out of your comfort and cultural zones for ingredients. Have you visited any of the many Chinatowns in the US? That’s where I had my first bubble tea (over 14 years ago now!) and some delicious meals, but when I want to really go shopping, I search out the large grocery stores. My exploration started when I discovered a large Asian grocery store in Philadelphia and then Ming’s Supermarket in Boston. Leaving behind the large markets was one of the urban luxuries that I mourned when moving to central PA, but, as luck would have it, our little town has a number of Asian markets! While they aren’t as big as their city counterparts, they have a surprising amount of variety in a small space.
Side note – did you hear the This American Life episode on Coincidences? The Asian grocery stores in Philadelphia and Boston were both on Washington Ave. When still finding my way around Boston, that little coincidence was a sign to me that everything would be ok! Silly? yes.
What do I buy when I go to the markets? Anything that catches my eye! I went shopping a couple of weeks ago and took a few pictures to show you both what I buy and why I love the markets.
Calder loves to shop the ramen isle, and I have to admit that he’s turned me into a fellow fanatic (it was probably his cooking and watching Ramen Girl). There are so many options beyond your basic chicken Top Ramen or oriental Ichiban, but beware – many are spicy! If you buy a pack and are unsure about the spice level, you can always start by using just some of the seasoning and then adding more after you sample it. We love to make our own broths using miso as the base and adding some or all of the seasoning packets. We’ll also dress up the ramen with whatever ingredients we have in the fridge, from mushrooms and bok choy to leftover steak or salmon.
If you don’t like to use the ramen seasoning packets, you can find big packs of dry ramen noodles without seasoning. I often pick up a pack as well as other basic but non-traditional dry ingredients. How about black or purple rice instead of white? We have been working our way through a bag of black rice for a while now, and I usually just substitute it for white with whatever dish we’re making. For example, last week we had some orange lentils with Indian spices, and I thought it would be fun to add more color to the plate with black rice rather than brown. Of course, that’s not really pushing me out of my comfort zone, but our favorite Chinese restaurant uses the black rice in their fried rice, and I’m going to tried a homemade version of that soon.
On a no-wheat diet? Asian markets are a great place to shop for alternative grain products. There are all sorts of oat, rice, and barley products. Today I’m sharing a recipe for a cold oat noodle salad with a miso dressing.
- oat noodles
- 1 carrot shredded
- 3 Tbsp each chopped dill and cilantro
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- juice of half to a whole a lemon
- 2-3 tsp miso
- Cook the noodles. Add your oat noodles to boiling water, stir, and let simmer until they are soft. If your package has cooking instructions, you can follow the time on that, but often I can’t read the packaging (this is part of the charm!). That’s why it’s fun to start experimenting with noodles, because really, they aren’t hard to cook without instructions. When your noodles are ready, drain and rinse them with cold water.
- Make the dressing. Whisk the olive oil, miso, and lemon juice together, adding more or less lemon juice and miso based upon your preferences. I like to go light on the lemon and heavier on the miso.
- Mix it up! Toss your noodles with the carrots, herbs, and dressing.
This salad is so simple, but packs a flavorful punch with the fresh herbs and dressing. I think it goes really well as a side dish to grilled chicken or fish.
What about you, do you have any food shopping adventure that push you out of your comfort zone? Any special ingredients? What is your absolute favorite market?