Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oriental Field Trip

Chinese grocery stores are still very fascinating to me. Fubonn is the good one within convenient driving distance from me, and on Sunday I got a whole bunch of goofy things. I went partly because I was out of rice and vinegar, and soysauce, and partly in a spirit of adventure, and I acquired some stuff I don't usually get.

The little round cake at the left is palm sugar. I have never used it, but hopefully I will now. It tastes less sweet than brown or white sugar, is a little malty, and almost fruity. I could eat it like candy, it's quite tasty.

Pineapple cakes!!! I love these. Somebody brought us some when I was a kid, and I have had an inordinate fondness for them ever since. The cake part is very crumbly and sort of coconutty. I don't think the package is telling the truth when it says they are made with soybean oil. And when it says 'pineapple jam' it doesn't have a subset of ingredients for that. Very cryptic, if you ask me. I was super excited when I found a recipe online to make them. I haven't yet tried it, but I keep thinking about it.

Haw flakes. I got them because the first time I had them, I thought they were totally nasty, and I wanted to share how gross they were. But I find that they aren't nearly as repellant as I recall. They are slightly sweet, slightly fruity, in a tart, apple-ish way, and because they seem to be composed mainly of sugar, they are almost crunchy and granular at the first bite. Plus, they come in that super oriental paper wrapper.

Fish snacks. I actually like the ones that are made of raw dried fish and glazed with a sweet soy-based marinade. These may be pre-cooked, and they have a chili powder seasoning on them. Most charitably described as pungent. Fairminded persons would say they are totally foul. I like them on soup.

Vegetarian Mushroom Fluff. How could I pass up something that says that on it? It is delicious. From the picture, I would guess that it is made of shiitake mushrooms, seasoned and deep fried to a crisp, then pounded into a fibrous mass. In function, I think it is related to the japanese rice seasoning mixes which usually have a combination of seaweed and fish flakes in them. If the package does not lie, it is a vegan product. The flavor reminds me of a really good beef & mushroom stock, with some crispy nutty things going on as well.

Sesame paste. I hope I got the right kind. Sesame paste can be made of either raw or cooked sesame seeds. I wanted raw, but I haven't tasted it yet. It's pretty much just tahini, but the texture is a little finer. It goes in salad dressing, meat dishes and on noodles. And some baked things too, probably.

Dried shiitakes. Gotta have 'em for making soup. And chinese tamales.

Rice vinegar. Again for the salad dressing. It's milder and less pungent than cider vinegar, which is an acceptable substitute. But it really is better for seasoning sushi rice.

I got some chopsticks. These are the chinese kind. I don't like japanese style ones, they're too pointy.

Buckwheat soba. They have a grassy taste, and the texture is more assertive than plain wheat noodles. I got some fresh ones out of the refrigerator case one time, and I just didn't eat them up fast enough. The dried ones are just fine. They make a great cold salad for hot weather with green onions, ham slivers and a vinaigrette with a little hot pepper.

A couple things didn't make it into the picture: a bag of wide rice noodles, (yummy) the package of  pandanus flavored candies, (ick) and the mango drink which had little gelatinous chunks of baby coconut floating in it (woah). And a bag of basil seeds. I got an indian cookbook for 4 bucks, and it's got a recipe for a basil seed dessert drink. It looks like little tiny frog spawn once it's hydrated, how cool is that?


  1. One of the best things about where I'm living now is the Asian grocery down the street from me. Apart from the exciting array of sauces and condiments, they have fresh kai lam (on which I have some kind of fixation) and the enormous bags of dried shitakes which I slow-cook and use in sushi. Mmmm...

  2. And the smell! Chinese grocery stores have a particular aroma...