6 Foods You’ve Got to Buy at Your Asian Grocery

Food Lists

If you spend most of your grocery-buying time in a American supermarkets, it is incredibly easy to miss out on the cuisines of entire cultures, as these massive one-stop-shops center on appealing to those of us firmly in the middle. At your neighborhood grocery store, the “Asian” aisle is likely a mix of sauces and condiments from a few Asian cuisines — predominately Chinese, Japanese, and Thai — and most of them just aren’t very good.

Those sodium-packed noodles and sugary sauces are pretty delicious, but they’re not at all comparable to the goodies you can find at a supermarket that specializes in Asian cuisine. Beyond that, there are plenty of hidden finds for home chefs at these grocery stores that will totally surprise you. Venturing out of your own neighborhood and comfort zone may be a little challenging, but these eight Asian grocery finds will definitely be worth expanding your horizons.

Exotic produce

The selection of fruit and veg at most major supermarkets is pretty lackluster, and it’s rare to find a basket of rambutan or baby bok choy on special. At Asian grocery stores, you can find peak-fresh exotic produce, from lychee and durian to baby bitter greens and an incredible assortment of mushrooms. Even if you’re not sure how exactly to use dragonfruit in your own cooking, be adventurous and pick some up. The Internet can teach you how to cook just about anything, and more often than not, you’ll end up totally addicted to your new find.

Gluten-free goodness

Many Asian staples, like rice noodles and paper, are naturally gluten-free, which makes them an ideal stop for those who are intolerant of or otherwise avoiding gluten. When it comes to condiments like tamari and fish sauce, you’ll want to inspect labels closely for hidden gluten, but it is likely that you’ll be able to find at least one variety that is completely g-free. Alternative flours, made from rice, coconut, chickpea, and other non-wheat starches are also a cheap gluten-free find at the Asian grocery.

(Healthy) salty snacks

There are plenty of deep-fried, weirdly flavored chips — spicy shrimp and cheese, anyone? — on offer at Asian grocery stores, but there are also a number of healthy options. Look for Korean ramyun that is never fried, baked versions of the aformentioned shrimp chips, and most importantly — seaweed snacks. At Whole Foods, a package of seasoned seaweed snacks will run you upwards of $4. At your Asian grocery, you can score a 12-pack of snacks for just about the same price.

Fermented foods

Fermentation is impossibly trendy right now, from craft beers to at-home sourdough bread making kits, largely because people believe that the bacteria that develops in these foods makes the digestive system healthier. You don’t have to be much of a DIY-er to reap the benefits of fermentation at an Asian grocery, where miso and kimchi and fermented sauces of all kinds are abundant. You may not like every funky fermented flavor, but you’ll surely find something to love.

Spices

Those little glass bottles of spices you buy at the store are one of the biggest rip-offs in the kitchen. Bulk spices, sold in bags and large canisters, are a much more budget-friendly way to season your meals with even the luxe stuff. Search out unique blends, like Japanese togarashi, in addition to kitchen staples like cumin, star anise, and coriander. Save a few empty bottles and jars and you’ll have a seemingly endless supply of spices that are stored perfectly.

Candy

You probably shouldn’t be adding much more candy into your diet, but the finds here are all worth a sugary splurge. If you like Kit-Kat bars, you’ll love green tea and strawberry Kit-Kats from Japan. We’ve also found that Asian grocery stores tend to do a better job of stocking fancy European brands than the supermarket, so you can stock up on Toblerones and Milka for those days that only a piece of chocolate is standing between you and a serious meltdown.

Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. She’s really into green tea Kit-Kats. Find her on Twitter @aemccarthy.

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