Asian Cuisine #1- Picture Tutorial of an Asian Market

Someone asked me the other day if I was African American. The answer is yes, I am somewhere around 300th African American (give or take a few zero's...I'm not really sure). I'm also Norwegian, English, Scottish, Irish, German, Jewish, Native American, Italian and French (I think).
My-great-aunt-the-genealogy-whiz hasn't uncovered any Thai in me, but I'm sure it's there. How else can you explain my fanatical love of Thai food? It borders on the truly obsessive, and I never get tired of it. If someone gave me a choice between never having chocolate again (ever) or never having coconut curry again. I'd give up the chocolate without batting an eyelash. I'm serious.

However, fondly appreciating platefuls of miso, sushi, pad thai, and dim sum as they make their way to my tummy, is far easier than trying to cook any of it myself. Asian cuisine can be intimidating...and expensive. So this week we're going to do a series of posts dishing our opinions on Asian food (pun intended) and maybe demystifying some of it in the process.

Shall we get started?

Welcome to our local Asian Market. 99 Ranch Market is a chain-store like Albertsons, Giant Eagle or HEB, so check your local listings... you might have one near you. If you don't, you might have something similar

Watch out though. This store is always bustling and busy. The aisles are full of cute, tiny old ladies maneuvering their carts like they're in Ben Hur's chariot race. The parking lot is even more dangerous.

Keep your cart going straight ahead and plug your nose if you don't like the smell of sea creatures, because this is as fresh as it gets.

Hang a quick left and pick up some coconut milk. Yes, they sell it in regular grocery stores, but it's between .69-.99 cents a can here. They charge $2.69 a can for the same exact brand at my local Vons. My fingers got a little tingly and faint just typing that.

Next aisle is soy sauce. Have fun here. Literally a whole aisle of just soy sauce on one side and a plethora of other sauces on the other side. I used to pick recklessly and plentifully based entirely on the prettiness of the bottle. Now I have a few favorites. I'd steer clear of the $30/bottle kind. No one has explained to me how it can cost so much for a bottle of sauce, but I'm sure there's a good reason.

Further on down the aisle my eye caught on this. Cola flavored sauce? What is that?

Next stop: Noodle and rice aisle. Barely wide enough to squeeze one cart down, and it's always one of the busiest aisles. Go figure. A couple of picture was all I got and even those were paid for with several excuse-me's and a few I'm-so-sorry's. But look at this. Really. 59 cents for a package of gluten free noodles? This is why we eat lots of stir fried veggie and noodle dishes when money is tight. Yum. Being poor never tasted so good.

There are several aisles dedicated to candy and dried foods, but we'll have to skip those for today. There are also several aisles of freezer goods where you really need to stop and grab some mochi. But we're running out of time, and we haven't even gotten miso or produce aisle yet, so make a beeline for the refrigerated section.

All tofu. Beautiful.

Miso. Even more delicious.
You can also pick up everything from buns, to lunchables here. No joke.

Ok, we're finally in the produce section.

There are lots of strange looking things here. This is Durian fruit, it smells like a cross between wet dog, hamper full of dirty laundry, and a teenage boy who hasn't showered in three months. ... tastes even worse. When I was in Singapore there were signs posted on the subways and taxi's forbidding you to take carry Durian. It's that bad. Some people love it though. Their taste buds must be dead.
Here's some more recognizable stuff. Green onions, limes and cilantro. Something Latin America and Asia share a fondness for.

Dragon fruit. Watch out for the little baby hand trying to steal this tasty looking treat.

Avocados. I told you this store is inexpensive. If you didn't believe me at first, this should convince you. Just down the street you can buy these same avocados for 1.99 each.
Stock up. Everything in this produce dept is half what you'd expect it to cost. I'll be waiting in the check out line munching on sesame cookies (also gluten free... seriously it's like a kid in a candy shop for the gluten intolerant).

That's it folks. Now go find your own Asian market, I'd love to hear what you think about it. Later we'll tackle actually cooking all this stuff.

Disclaimer: I don't have the foggiest clue what any of the non-English labels say, so if I'm terribly and horribly misusing something and abusing the honorable art of Asian cuisine. Lets talk! I want to be enlightened.
3 sprinkles of fairy dust:

I LOVE Asian markets! We don't have any near us but I used to go to them in PA all the time. Such cool stuff! You're right about it being stinky though. lol

You have inspired me to go visit one. I don't really cook much with Asian ingredients, but I need to broaden my horizons. Maybe I will just call it a field trip. =)

I've heard about this market! It makes me want to hop in my car and hightail it to the boarder!