If you're in the DMV, chances are, there's an Asian supermarket in your town. Here's a list of what you SHOULD be buying there.
Great Wall, HMart, Lotte, Global -- the DMV is crammed full of Asian supermarkets. Lots of people (non-Asian folk) don't like going there for their weekly food shopping for various reasons. I get it; the fish all have their heads on them, it may be a bit funky smelling, you can't read most of the labels, etc., etc. But despite all of this, there are SO many more reasons why you should be shopping there.
Yes, you can get instant ramen everywhere, but you won't find the variety and sheer weirdness at a "regular" grocery store. Don't worry if you can't read the labels -- peppers and flames mean hot, laughing squids mean seafood. You absolutely must try the Samyang cheese flavored hot chicken noodles; they're really good!
If you love tropical fruit, fresh veggies, and herbs, you'll save a ton of money at an Asian grocery store. I actually cringe every time I see my husband pay $1.79 for one bunch of cilantro when I know he can get it for a third of the price. If you need more convincing, limes are generally 6 or 8 for $1. How much do you see them for at your usual grocery store?
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3. Marinades/Seasoning Packets
Do you love chicken satay? I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Asians have pretty much perfected seasoning packets and marinades. The kind you buy in an envelope or random cube are actually pretty spot-on, and you usually only have to add water or coconut milk. My favorite seasoning packets to have on hand are satay marinade, pho broth, Chinese red BBQ pork, and Vietnamese salt and pepper batter.
Check out those prices. For a fraction of the cost, you can find imported sake, Asian beers, and plum wines to round off your next meal. Many come with tasting notes just like at a big wine store.
Forget your run-of-the-mill soy sauce. Have you ever tried sweet, thin, or mushroom soy sauce? You'll find aisle after aisle of intriguing sauces and ready-made simmer sauces. Try recreating some of your favorite restaurant dishes!
6. Chips and Crackers
If you're like me, you get a kick out of unique chip flavors. You don't really get much different than Asian snacks. Shrimp chips? Delightful! Wasabi crackers? Even better!
7. Sweet Snacks
Asian candies and cookies are somewhat less sweet than their American counterparts. There's a whole range of coated pretzel sticks called Pocky which also make great cake or ice cream decorations.
This is where you'll find imported blue and white china, all different kinds of chopsticks, and cooking vessels of every shape and size. They have vegetable peelers that leave ridged cuts, bamboo steamers, and Korean clay pots for the perfect crispy rice crust.
The only downside to the dozens of varieties of noodles at an Asian supermarket is that you may not be able to read the labels. Keep in mind that white noodles are generally made from starch or rice flour, and yellow is usually wheat-based or egg noodles of some sort. Cooking with fresh noodles can be a disaster if you don't know what you've got!
Hands down, this is the part of the store my husband hates the most. I think people just don't like seeing fish with their heads on, maybe? Regardless, you can't beat the freshness and variety you'll find in these seafood departments. Things like whole fish, live crabs, green New Zealand mussels, and razor clams are considered everyday staples, so start looking up some cool recipes to use them!
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Yes, you can find tofu in almost every grocery store, but here you'll find it already cubed, already fried, and sometimes already seasoned. Try fried tofu puffs in your next stir-fry for added texture. Extra soft tofu is a staple for Korean tofu stew. You can also try it with sweet ginger syrup for an authentic Chinese dessert!
Has any of this convinced you to give your local Asian supermarket a chance? You won't regret it if you do!
**All photos in this article are by Sarina Petrocelly unless credited otherwise.
What are some of your favorite Asian supermarket finds? Let us know in the comments below!