So my women’s group tries to have one session each term run by one of the members because this is
cheap called “capacity building” and helps the government justify giving us money.
I put my hand up to do a “demystifying what is in the Asian supermarket” kind of session, and I need your help, because it’s on next Wednesday and I’ve just remembered. For many years now I have been wandering home with random bags of things from the Asian grocery and I’ve lost track of what might freak out your average whitegirl. I don’ t know it all by any means, but I know where to find out and I’ve quite a few Asian cooking reference books. I’ll be concentrating on Chinese and Vietnamese foods, as they’re the cuisines I know best.
I should be able to get whatever groceries we need, and I’ll take a rice cooker, gas ring and wok. I’ll also set up a table with the reference books. Ideally, I’d like it to be part demonstration, part chatting, part Q&A.
When I think about what would be the most useful things to show someone who was starting to learn about cooking Asian-style food, this is what comes to mind for me:
- why you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on a wok and how to season one properly
- light soy sauce and dark soy sauce, which are very nearly the same shade of black although that’s not the point
- what “hot” means (hint: fucking hot)
- that stir fries are much better if they have one or two ingredients (not counting oils or seasoning)
- bottled sauces that are worth it (eg toban djian, aka broad bean chilli sauce) and those that are not worth anything at all (black bean, plum, lemon, etc, etc, etc)
- how to make aromatic oils to dress veggies, etc, with
- the logistics of cooking a Chinese/Vietnamese dinner
I might pre-cook a red-braised dish, take the rice cooker, and do a veggie stir fry and maybe another dish – perhaps the insanely good steamed chicken from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. Enough for the 15 or so people to have a taste of a few different styles
I’m also wondering what “novel” ingredients it might be most useful to spend some time on – maybe fresh rice noodle sheets, jicama (aka Mexican yam bean, often used as a water chestnut substitute). dried black beans, kang kong (aka water spinach, aka water convolvulus), frozen edamame and ….
I’d be interested to hear any good or bad experiences you’ve had with Asian supermarket shopping, and what you think it would be useful to teach some noobs. If you and I were wandering through the Asian grocery, what foodstuffs would you be asking about? Would you just be so excited to use the word “foodstuffs” that nothing else mattered?
[Disclaimer: I am 5’11” and of frecklishly obvious Irish heritage]