It’s Saturday – a perfect day to brave the crowds at your friendly neighborhood Asian market and stock up on specialty goodies for your Paleo pantry.
If you don’t have an Asian supermarket near you, no worries – one’s sure to spring up before long. We Asians are EVERYWHERE. Mwahaha.
From 99 Ranch and H Mart to Uwajimaya and Nijiya Market, grocery chains stocked with Eastern delicacies are popping up all over North America. And piled high on the shelves of their cramped supermarket aisles? A dizzying array of treats that appeal to anyone who digs Asian cooking – even those of us Paleo eaters who recoil at the sight of soy and ramen.
Not sure what to pick up on your weekend jaunt at the Asian market? Here’s an idea: Bring along your shopping list for bò kho, a spicy Vietnamese beef stew like no other.
Ready for my tour of an Asian supermarket?
The first thing you’ll notice are the throng of weekend shoppers, all hunting for super-fresh bargains. There are plenty to be found. Don’t be intimidated by the mind-boggling selection. Sure, it can get a little freaky – you’ll no doubt lay eyes on row after row of super-processed, ultra-horrible, completely Faileo items on the shelves. Take, for example, this little gem:
Yes, that’s right: FRIED GLUTEN WITH PEANUTS. (“Also for vegetarians!”)
There are other downsides. In most Asian supermarkets, you won’t find a bounty of organic items, and the meat’s not labelled with a 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating. Although the butcher counters are stocked with super-inexpensive offal, fish, and meat, I usually steer clear. Finding good information about the sourcing and quality of the animal parts can be challenging – especially given my shamefully rusty atrocious Cantonese – so I prefer to buy my meat from trusted sources and farmers. Besides, childhood memories of coming face-to-face with a pile of smelly geoducks stacked on ice have scarred me for life. Those freaktastic bivalves are the stuff of nightmares.
(Nijiya Market is a notable exception – it’s stocked with tons of organic meat and produce, but the stuff ain’t cheap.)
Scared? Don’t be. If you take your time wandering the aisles, you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic Paleo-friendly finds for reasonable prices.
Let’s start our tour along the periphery of the store.
In the produce section, I normally stock up on fresh young coconut, sweet potatoes, unusual herbs, lemongrass, ginger, alliums, and bunches of sulfur-rich leafy greens. Don’t forget: some of these items don’t need to be organic. If I’m at 99 Ranch stores and I spy bags of California-grown organic Hokto Kinoko mushrooms, I grab a bunch. They’re priced much cheaper than at Whole Foods and the ‘shrooms stay fresh in the fridge for weeks.
Want exotic fruit? You’ll find longan, star fruit, pomelo, and lychee throughout the year. Even a spiky looking thing that smells like cat doodoo. None of this will be local or organic, but sometimes you just want to sample something different or you crave a sweet reminder of your last trip to Southeast Asia.
In the center aisles of the store, you’ll find some hidden gems tucked away among the walls of instant noodles and craptastic chemical blends that are labelled sauces. Some of my favorite shelf-stable staples include dried seaweed, dried shiitake mushrooms, Thai curry blends like the ones made by Aroy-D and Mae Ploy…
…dried spices (e.g. star anise, cumin, coriander, and cardamom)…
…and coconut milk. Lots and lots of coconut milk.
Some caveats: Read your labels because not all curry pastes have “clean” ingredients and some of the coconut milk may have preservatives or additives. Also, I’ve noticed that some packages of coconut milk I’ve purchased from the Asian market are noticeably thinner and less fatty than the the cans I’ve purchased from Whole Foods. Argh.
Now that you’ve hauled your Paleo-friendly Asian goodies back to your cave, it’s time to simmer a pot of bò kho. Every bite of this stew is an explosion of umami. Rich with the fragrance of lemongrass and star anise, this saucy stew is commonly served over rice and eaten for breakfast in southern Vietnam – but it’s just as delicious at dinnertime. (See? Brinner is universal!)
Take some time this weekend to simmer a pot of savory bò kho and you’ll have plenty of leftovers for lunches next week.
What are your favorite Paleo finds at the Asian supermarket? Share in the comments!