Last 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.
3) 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
6) 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…