Monday, October 1, 2012

Adventures in the Asian Market

One of the best parts about living in the "ghetto" of North Austin is the proximity to really excellent authentic ethnic cuisine.  Within a few miles of my apartment in any direction, you can find several amazing taco stands, Vietnamese sandwich shops, Chinese barbecues, noodle houses, Indian buffets and more.  One shopping center in particular is jam-packed with Asian shops, including a positively massive market, so we decided to head over for a shopping adventure today.

I really love Asian food.  It's David's favorite cuisine, and his deep love of anime and all things Japanese make it much easier to convince him to eat outside of his comfort zone.  While he can be kind of finicky about some foods, he gets a lot more adventurous when the food in question is Asian.  I, on the other hand, am pretty much an equal-opportunity foodie, but I have a deep appreciation for the economical style of Asian cooking.  Using meat as a condiment, making a lot of soup, eating a wide array of grains, vegetables and legumes...if ever there were a cuisine that's hand-picked for my style of eating, it's this one.

Anyway.  We headed over to the grocery store today and were immediately greeted by a koi pond, where a few young Vietnamese children were feeding some exceptionally friendly fish.  That should give you a pretty good idea of what awesomeness was in store once we went inside.

The market is massive.  I've been in a few Asian markets before, but they've usually been fairly small.  This place, on the other hand, was about the same size as the local HEB.  It had an entire section just for rice, with more varieties than I've ever seen.  It had an entire wall of tofu.  One aisle was devoted entirely to preserved foods, pickles, jerky.  It had duck eggs, goose eggs and quail eggs.  The seafood section had tanks of live catfish, lobsters and crabs, and you could buy fresh raw squid, cuttlefish, dozens of different fish and even sting ray.  Basically, this place was like Disney Land for food nerds.

One thing I especially enjoy about shopping at ethnic markets is the ability to buy fresh produce that you don't normally see at the regular supermarket.  I love eating fresh foods, but it can get really boring when your options are all the same.

I tried not to go too crazy, but we did still go slightly over budget.  Nevertheless, here's the fun break-down of the shopping trip:

  • Celery - 1.99
  • Pork shoulder (2lb) - 4.03
  • Shitake mushrooms - 2.66
  • Tomatoes - 1.17 
  • Mint - .79
  • Soy sauce (1 liter) - 1.89 (this was such a great find)
  • Dill - 1.19
  • Lo mein noodle (2 packs) 2.49/each
  • Pork & veggie pot stickers - 7.49 (an enormous bag)
  • Eggplant (2.4 pounds) - 3.39
  • Ramen noodles (no seasoning, just the noodles, huge pack) - 3.79
  • Napa cabbage (3lb) - 2.80
  • Soft tofu - .99
  • Firm tofu - .99
  • Gekkeikan sake - 12.99 (enormous bottle)
  • Siracha - 2.29 (also an enormous bottle)
  • Red potatoes (5lb) - 2.79
  • Broccoli (2 heads) - 1.26
  • Dragon fruit - 4.07
  • Sugar plum (2lb) - 3.40
  • Vegetable oil - 3.99 (you guessed it - big bottle)
  • Rice (5lb) - 5.99
  • Sesame oil - 2.59
  • Bubble gum - 1.39 (snuck in at the register by a certain boyfriend who shall not be mentioned)
  • Eggs (18 count) - 2.69 (these eggs are enormous)
  • Ramune (Japanese soda) - 8.94
Obviously, I didn't buy too many really adventurous things, but I did pick up a few staples that I really wanted, and a few fun things to try.  The dragon fruit, for example, is something I've never eaten but am really eager to try out.  Tonight, dinner was pretty straightforward: pot stickers served with some cabbage-and-mushroom lo mein.  Totally delicious.

Anyway, a few of my projects I hope to make (and blog about!) soon:

  • Cha siu bau with the pork shoulder.  I've made pork-filled meat buns in the past, and they've always been delicious, but I've never nailed the cha siu.  So I'm going to try that this time around.  
  • A small batch of plum sauce.  It's one of those condiments you always end up running to the store for at the last minute (er, if you eat a lot of Asian food), and it'd be so much nicer to have some on-hand. 
  • A batch of homemade rice vinegar with the sake.  I've been itching to make some vinegar, and considering the amount of Asian cooking I do, rice vinegar seemed like the way to go.  
  • Hot and sour soup.  It's David's all-time favorite comfort food and I think he'd be positively delighted if I could make some up on demand any time he asked for it.  
Anyway, that's just a few projects that are knocking around in my brain right now.  Anybody have any other suggestions or requests for things I can try to use up some of those excellent ingredients up there?  Leave them in the comments!  

1 comment:

  1. So awesome. Another thing I'll say for Asian cuisine is that, at least to my palate, NOBODY knows how to use herbs like they do. I've never eaten anything that tastes as bright and clean as Asian food.

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