Asian Market Pantry Staples

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johnny tofu

Today on Good Food Evan visits Mitsuwa Market with cookbook author Andrea Nguyen. She guides us through what can often be an intimidating experience for those unfamiliar with the products in Japanese supermarkets. Even a seasoned pro like Andrea admits to using her Asian Market Shopper App when she can’t decipher the characters on the packages.  Find photos and Andrea’s shopping list of pantry staples below.

Soy Sauce: Andrea says to look for the country of origin on the label. Typically soy sauce made in Japan is a superior product and is geared to a Japanese palate. For example, when you see the typical Kikomon bottles, look for “Made in Japan” instead of “Made in USA.” She also says to look for bottles with a photo or drawing of the producer on it. If you see one of those, you know it’s a special product.

Dried Mushrooms: This is an instance where you pay for what you get. Look for thick meaty whole caps, not those thin sliced shitakes.

Seaweed/Kelp: This is essential for making dashi, an important stock in Japanese cooking. Do not confuse it with nori. You want to specifically look for kombu. Sometimes it’s called Dried Tangle or Dashi Kombu. You will notice that there is a white film on the seaweed. Don’t wipe it off! Andrea says those are natural glutamates (or nature’s msg).
Katsuobushi: These are the little dried flakes of fermented tuna, also known as bonito. They look a bit like pencil shavings. Look for large packets of small individual packages, not huge bags of flakes.
Meat: One benefit to Japanese Markets are the packages of individually portioned beef. The small portions mean they cost less and you can experiment with new cuts and flavors without sinking in a ton of money. Look for wagyu beef and berkshire pork. Often times they are shaved thin for hot pot.
Seafood: You can find great fish for sushi making parties at home. Sometimes it is already cut into sashimi and sometimes the fish are sold whole. Country of origin is labeled on every package.
Miso and Tofu: If it’s important to you, look for organic and non-GMO soybean products. While there is no law requiring GMO labeling, Japanese producers have noticed that some customers are seeking non-GMO soy products and label their products accordingly. If you want an all-purpose tofu, Andrea suggests buying medium to firm tofu. If you are going to stir-fry it she suggests a firm tofu. Johnny Boy is a trendy tofu brand by a surfer/skater in Japan. You can find it at Mitsuwa. Most large chains (Nijiya nad Mitsuwa) will also produce their own brand of tofu products.