a trip to the chinese grocery

chinese-grocery-items-3Last weekend I had some errands to run near Oakland Mall.  Normally I hate going to this part of town, but when I do have to venture out that way, I make a point to try to stop by the 13 Mile & John R area (in Madison Heights), where there is a little cluster of ethnic grocery stores.  On the southwest corner there’s Saigon Market, as well as a middle eastern grocery in the same strip mall.  Across the street (north of 13 mile) is another strip mall with a Chinese market, a place selling barbecued duck, and a small Hispanic grocery.  I love going into the Asian stores and wandering the aisles looking at the various sauces and condiments, picking out new things to try, or just puzzling over what something could be (often the labels are vague and merely tell you it’s a “food product”- not sure how they get that past our ever-vigilant FDA! haha).  This time I went to the Chinese place, but honestly based on the products it seems more Southeast Asian or at least Pan-Asian.  So this is what I ended up with (from left to right):

1) A bag of dried chilis, the kind you’ll find floating whole in a Thai curry or Indian Dal.  I believe they’re referred to as bird’s eye chilis.

2) a bottle of Banana Sauce, a popular Filipino condiment akin to ketchup.  It contains no tomatoes; I think it’s dyed red.  I had this somewhere once when travelling but can’t recall where; I was hoping it would jog a taste memory. 

chopsticks-close13) a 6-pack of boxes of coconut milk- I liked the fact that these are a smaller size than the cans, because I often open a can and don’t use it all.

4) some nice simple bamboo chopsticks with pretty metallic red characters on them (anyone know what they say?)

5) some dried squid- I had this as a snack in Japan and thought it was pretty tasty- it’s basically like jerky

shredded-squid6) a small bottle of mustard oil- I had read about this in one of my Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks and was excited to find it, although after smelling and tasting it, I think vegetable oil plus a little dry hot mustard powder could potentially be substituted. 

7) “Dried Black Fungus Sliver”- these look like the kind of mushrooms you see in Hot & Sour soup, or at least that’s what I’m hoping they are.  I plan to use them that way, to sprinkle in soups.

What’s the most exotic item you’ve ever picked up from an Asian market, and how did you use it?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments section…

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5 responses to “a trip to the chinese grocery

  1. Great grocery haul! I like eating the dried squid dipped in soy sauce and vinegar and eaten with rice.

    The banana sauce is amazing too.

    Most exotic item….not sure.Dried fish and squid seem pretty normal to me. 😛

    oh and…I am back on this side of the state. I live in clinton township now.

  2. I’ve bought shrimp paste because I’m a big fan of fish sauce but my western palate/sense of smell couldn’t handle cooking with it. Maybe I should give it another try.

    I love the black fungus. If they’re like the ones I’ve bought they are the mushrooms in hot and sour soup, which are also called wood ear mushrooms. They add a great crunchy texture but you have to be careful not to over cook them. I made the mistake once and had slimy brown noodles instead of the mushrooms I wanted.

    I need to get to an Asian grocery and stock up before our move.

  3. Every time I see the durian quarantined in its own freezer , I’m tempted to buy one and try it.

    • I saw durian in the Thai market and was tempted as well. They had fresh and frozen, but the fresh ones didn’t smell; I was confused because I had read they smelled terrible. I tried to ask the lady at the counter about it, but there was a bit of a communication barrier.

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