Splendid Table host Lynne Rossetto Kasper has been shopping at the Twin Cities' Asian markets for years and she joined MPR News' Tom Crann to talk about some of her favorite markets, ingredients and recipes.
TOM CRANN: Big supermarkets have many international offerings these days, why specifically go to Asian markets?
LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER: You'll get better quality for less money. Often gourmet and specialty markets carry Americanized versions of ingredients. You want the real thing. A fresh bamboo shoot will put that canned out of business. Wait until you taste a fresh water chestnut. Herbs in Asian markets are a steal, so are vegetables, sauces, noodles and rice.
When I go, I like to watch what people buy, and ask a lot questions. It's a great way to try things you've never thought of before. It may change the way you cook forever.
CRANN: There are Asian markets everywhere, but you've singled out a couple of markets to try.
ROSSETTO KASPER: Yes, the first one, Phil-Oriental in St. Paul, is the only source I know of for Filipino ingredients. This cuisine is coming on strong with west coast food trucks and new restaurants opening around the country, and mainly because we will never tire of the foods of the Pacific.
My first impression of Phil-Oriental is that its an older grocery store, not big, worn around the edges, but clean. There's a wall of freezer cases of frozen seafood with names I've never heard of.
Sour and tart are beloved by Filipinos. So the vinegar selection is the first place to go for me. Coconut and sugar cane vinegars — new tastes, great for salads, fruits, and for the Philippines hallmark dish adobo (recipe here).
There are glass whiskey-flask-shaped bottles of marinade based on (coconut) nectar. The word "suzuka tuba" on the ingredients label is a coconut vinegar, but it can also mean the fermented juice of coconut sprouts.
You can also find wide bean thread noodles — clear, slippery, chewy, fast, which are great in rice noodle salad with these.
Here are a couple of other things to look for: Funky fermented and cooked shrimp pastes. Fermentation is the hallmark of Asian cuisines. A little shrimp paste in a stir fry is pure umami — it makes everything taste better.
You'll also find the best price on Chinese hoisin sauce. (Here's a recipe for ginger hoisin summer shrimp.)
You can also find a Somalian and Ethiopian presence at Phil-Oriental, with a selection of African beans.
CRANN: You wanted to talk about one other market, Dong Yang Korean Market in Columbia Heights?
ROSSETTO KASPER: Yes, Dong Yang is spiffy and organized, and serves the community beyond food. For instance, there's a cosmetic counter and gift section up front.
There is also a bonus at Dong Yang: a restaurant for lunch and dinner in the middle of the store. It feels a little like a cement bunker but with wide cuts in the walls. The dishes are pictured above the counter where you order. It's Korean home food cooked by businesslike women.
Every order comes with rice and six or seven small plates of condiment side dishes. Seaweed salad, marinated bean sprouts, kimchi. These alone with the rice could be a meal.
But don't miss the seafood pancakes, the rice cakes in sweet spicy sauce and the sweet-but-you- can't-stop-eating-them noodles in black bean sauce. One surprise: the overarching flavor is sweet.
CRANN: What else would I look for at Dong Yang?
ROSSETTO KASPER: There are these fabulous rice cake noodles, tubular shaped about the size of a finger that you simply drop into any soup or stew. There are seasoning sauces, noodles you've never seen before, dried anchovies to use like soy or fish sauce, and dry shredded fish of all sorts — which is a fast protein you can stir into dishes. You can also find seaweed, almost the variety you'd find in a Japanese market. Use it fresh with lemon and oil.
I came home with fermented soybean paste, some funky mushroom, some sweet, lots of meaty soy. And with a red pepper paste I'd read no one in Korea can live without — Gochujang — sweet, not very hot, with good funk.
You can also buy great stoneware soup bowls here. The heavy stoneware ones hold the heat forever and are tough.
CRANN: Give me an idea of how you use these ingredients at home?
ROSSETTO KASPER: Here's a quick Sunday night supper: Into a pot of boiling water, I put a generous scoop of soybean paste, a less generous spoonful of red pepper paste, and whatever vegetables were in the vegetable bin. And a package of those refrigerated rice cakes. After 10 minutes of boiling, it was delicious.
I don't know if it resembled a true Korean dish, but these two (soybean paste and red pepper paste) go next to the tomato paste as prime flavor boosters for anything we're cooking.
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