Sample day at the Asian Food Market in Plainsboro. My friends Angela and Humphrey Chang agree to meet me there to make the rounds. What a help that was, since some of the people giving out samples spoke little English. But friendly, smiling faces abounded, and it was a lot of fun to try these different things. In no particular order:
On the right you see one of my favorite lunches, the steamed glutinous rice dumplings known as zongzi. They are usually filled with a bit of pork, red bean paste, maybe Chinese dates (are those jujubes?), peanuts and maybe some egg, and wrapped in bamboo leaves. The different colored string tells you (well, not me, but maybe if you knew the “code”) what is inside. The ones here were being heated up for samples. I brought home two, and will heat them at the office for lunch a couple days this week (mental note-take soy sauce to work!).
Two different companies offered mapo tofu, and this one, from a Japanese company, Ajinomoto, “CookDo”, was pretty good. You cook minced or ground pork, add the sauce packet and cubed tofu (I like soft tofu best for this comfort food dish), and then at the end add scallion and a thickening potato starch/water slurry (little packet of potato starch is also in the box!). You can buy jars of mapo sauce, too, in the canned good aisles.
I finally found a green tea ice cream I like, from Maeda-en, below. Not so strongly medicinal as those I’ve had in restaurants. It’s not overly sweet (compared to American ice cream), either. I’ll definitely try the mango and lychee too.
Above left, feast your eyes on prepared spicy pork ear and beef tendon and tripe. The variety of prepared foods at an Asian supermarket is astonishing. This is the Chinese home cook’s secret. Meals are often a combination of home made and prepared foods. Very sensible. I love the roasted meat case at the Asian Food Market. Whole suckling pigs with crackling skin hang in a tall glass case next to (also hanging) ducks, chickens, strips of BBQ pork…the smell makes me swoon. You buy your meat, then use it to jazz up rice and noodle dishes at home. The “meat as condiment” idea, got it?
(What meat did I take home? A piece of fresh pork shoulder to make Mexican posole – go figure!)
Also, I didn’t get a photo, but the little Wei-Chuan dumpling I tried was delicate and delicous. They come frozen, you just steam them. The Asian market is definitely the place to buy dumplings, wontons, all those wonderful things you might not take the trouble to make yourself. The variety in the frozen cases is huge.
Also, I have made great finds in the housewares aisle, so be sure to give that a good look when you go.
Last we have…well, um…I look upon products like Choco-Pie and wring my hands, especially since it’s aimed at children. I blame America. Our addiction to all things sugary, sweet, and made of refined flours and chemicals has been exported to Asia and Asian foodways in the U.S. Our bad.