Here are my top 10 "must haves" from the Asian Market. My pantry is NEVER without:
1. Sweet Chili Sauce - This isn't the brand I usually get but is just as good. This sauce is great for dipping or simply to add to rice. You can cook with it as well. Just make sure that what you buy says sweet chili sauce which is very different than plain chili sauce or sweet/sour sauce.
2. Hoisin, black bean and garlic, and oyster sauce. My favorite is the Hoisin.
3. Jasmine rice - The most fragrant and delicious rice around. It cooks well and goes with everything. We always have a 50lb bag in the pantry. It's cheaper in bulk, too.
4. Chinese 5 spice powder - a mixture of cinnamon, anise seed, cloves, ginger and fennel. This blend is often found in Asian cooking and is nice to add to many different dishes.
5. Soy Sauce
6. Fish sauce - this is more specific to Vietnamese cooking. It is used in an essential dipping sauce called nước mấm (nook mum). If you've ever had Vietnamese spring or egg rolls, you've seen this sauce. Warning: it smells. It is fish sauce, after all. But, the flavor it adds to your food is amazing. I use it in my fried rice. DO NOT SPILL. I'll write a post about how to make nước mấm and tell you about the time I spilled some on the carpet of my apartment (shared with 5 others) in college.
7. Coconut milk - this is fantastic in curry sauces.
8. Frozen dumplings - My favorite all time dumpling is what I've always called snow balls. They are large dumplings in a white thick dough, often with paper you peel from the bottom. I'll have to get back to you on the specific name. They are usually filled with bbq pork but can also be filled with regular pork and a quail egg. I prefer the bbq version.
Pot stickers are fantastic and can be purchased at your regular grocery store. Just read the ingredients to make sure you know what's in them.
9. Wasabi pea snack mix - If you are having a party or need something to take to a gathering, these are fantastic. They can be an addition to your bar right next to the peanuts. They always seem to be a hit. Simply serve in a nice finger bowl. My kids even like eating them as snacks.
What to avoid...anything with MSG. It will be listed in the ingredients. If the package doesn't have ingredients, don't buy it. Most of the packages will have ingredients in English.
As I wrote this post, my list grew quickly. I'm sure I've left out some items. Please feel free to shoot me any questions about items you've found.
I'll write a post in the next week or so about cooking tools. I'm not a huge cook and have regretted not learning much from my mom and grandmother. I've tried watching and participating but it's a challenge. They cook by memory and taste. I'm someone who needs written instruction. I'd like to master some of my favorite foods and share them with you. So, stay tuned if you want to learn with me!