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COOK•EAT: Asia

Asian Processed Foods

Soy sauce was the very first Asian processed food in our mainstream market, I am sure. Joy with surprise was my reaction when I spotted it in a local supermarket, not in California but in Ithaca, NY. I started dancing. That was in 1970, almost half a century ago. Since then Asian foods in packages have been appearing to our eyes and tongues. Many supermarkets now have shelves allocated for items of Asian, and also Hispanic or other ethnicity natures. It is a reflection of diversification of our population matrix with new immigrants, our curiosity for different tastes and food business for expansion. It occurs not only in big cities but also used-to-be traditional, rural communities. Today Asian foods become available from varietal origins, which could diversify our eating-cooking.

Let me take you to a specialty Asian grocery for your education to learn something new for probable uses. Once passing through the entrance door, you may feel warped into a different world, almost momentarily into a store in Hong Kong, Taipei, Soul, Tokyo or other locals in Thailand, Vietnam or Philippines. Large Asian stores are well organized similarly to its western counterparts with sections, while small ones are crammed with numerous items for customers who shop on a regular basis.

The most easily recognizable item may be tofu. Tofu is not all the same but different in texture depending on ethnicities: generally speaking, firm for Chinese, soft for Japanese. The firm is good for cooking, while the soft for eating with soy sauce as is or after short boiling. Tofu is good for you because of good plant protein, no animal fat, 85-90% moisture, and easy cooking-eating. A unique recipe is a tofu-shrimp patty or ball by mincing both together, shaped and steamed or fried.

Next: Bamboo shoots, both from underground and sprouted soft portions, cooked in water and canned. Not much nutrients, though its dietary fiber is good for digestion, which some claim reduces bad cholesterol. Its crunchy mouth-feel is enjoyable in chewing. In addition to many uses, my wife mixes chopped ones in a pasta meat sauce. Of bamboo, you may recall a Giant Panda which eats lots of bamboo leaves and soft braches. We would not compete with Giant Pandas much.

Noodles of rice or buckwheat can be good alternatives to spaghetti or other pasta in soup, casserole or pasta dishes. A buckwheat noodle salad was excellent at a brewpub in the Bay Area some time ago. Buckwheat pasta is not unique in Asia, but it is also found in northern Italy, I have heard. Rice noodles, green bean noodles, green tea buckwheat noodles or rice papers, all kinds from Southeast Asia, must be applicable in our cooking as alternatives to flour counterparts depending on applications.

On a sauce shelf, you would see all kinds including the Chinese out of fruits-legume, Korean BBQ-hot sauces, Vietnamese fish sauces, all kinds of soy sauces and Tonkatsu (deep-fried buttered-pork, similar to pan-fried Wiener Schnitzel) sauces. Many of them might be only for ethnic groups. Ask store personnel for details. You may find something interesting to create your own flavor. Do not jump into something unfamiliar from the beginning, I recommend, but rather try some first.You would get an idea for crossing culinary boundaries, good for you and your customers.

Once exited, you are back to the real world facing daily routines. Once in a while, though, you may try something different for your creative, enjoyable cooking/eating with Asian processed foods.

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