Food Gal Giveaway — For Anyone Who’s Ever Been Mystified In Asian Markets

A handy app for anyone who shops at an Asian market.

Yes, that includes me.

I can tell you horror stories about circling the aisles at my local Asian market until I was dizzy to try to locate shaoxing wine, which is never stocked where you’d think it would be. Or the time I actually sweet-talked a fellow Chinese-American customer into helping me find just the right preserved fish from the countless jarred and bagged varieties available in the store.

Now, help is only an iPhone or iPad touch away with “Asian Ingredients 101” by my friend and fellow Bay Area blogger, Pat Tanumihardja.

All about oyster sauce.The handy-dandy app is a comprehensive guide to East Asian, Southeast Asian and South Asian ingredients that is sure to come in handy whenever you shop at an Asian market or travel to Asia.

Find info on 100 different ingredients, including spices, herbs and sauces. Along with photos, you’ll find the common names for the ingredients in different languages, as well as where to find the ingredients in the stores. You’ll also learn tips for selecting the best ingredients and what to use them for.

Contest: Now, one lucky Food Gal reader will get a chance to win the app, as well as a copy of Tanumihardja’s  “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook” (Sasquatch), filled with wonderful stories and recipes passed down from generations.

The contest is open only to those in the continental United States. Deadline to enter is midnight PST Jan. 22. The winner will be announced Jan. 24.

How to win? Just tell me the Asian ingredient you can’t live without and the one you’d be happy to never see again, and why. The most memorable response wins.

Here’s my own answer:

“Most favorite Asian ingredient? Of course, it has to be ginger. I love its versatility. It makes most everything taste more interesting. It’s a life-saver if you’re ever nauseated or suffering from a cold. Plus, it really does add spice to life.

Least favorite? Sea cucumber. Or as we referred to it when we were kids, ‘slime.’ I think that gives you some idea of what it’s like. I remember once meeting one of Chef Martin Yan’s cousins at an event. We got to talking about our hatred of sea cucumber. As he joked, ‘Every creature has a predator — except for sea cucumber. NOBODY wants to eat it.’ I rest my case.”

Winner of the Cheesy Giveaway: In last week’s Food Gal contest, I asked you to tell me something cheesy that you hate to admit doing.

The grand prize winner will receive two cheese books by Janet Fletcher, as well as her new “Cheese Plate” iPhone app. Thank you all for your hilarious and entertaining answers. Without further adieu, here’s the winner:

Robin, who wrote, “Back in grade school I used to think it was really cool to have slicked back hair. I would get up from my seat during break time, go over to the sink in class, and just splash water on my hair and slick it back. Then I’d go to my seat with water dripping down my face.”

More: A Recipe from “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook” — Deep-Fried Tofu Simmered with Tomatoes

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  • I’d have to say that I could not live without Sriracha Sauce, and would never miss durian if it went away for good!

  • Oooh, another great app! Great info on oyster sauce, that is definitely one product that has mystified me!

  • OMG!!! What a wonderful idea! This would be so useful for my better half- since I’m always sending her to the Asian market here in Jersey.
    One thing i can’t do withour is the Sirarcha hot sauce – havent found anything that is close to it. The thing i can do without is dried cuttlefish!
    Thanks for the giveaway!
    all my best!

  • Thing I could not live without: Sesame oil. It makes everything taste so much better, seriously.

    Thing I could most definitely live without: Honestly? That stinky tofu stuff. I feel like it’s a thing you either love or hate, kind of like a durian.

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  • I love oyster sauce and never make a stir fry without it.

    Bonito flakes. Yuk.

  • I like to think I’m sorta familiar with Asian markets (shopped in them every week as a teen with my family)but I still scratch my head at the crazy amount of spices and condiments on the shelves.

  • Great App!!!

    Five ingredients that I always have in my kitchen kecap manis, sambal ulek (that I always mahe from scratch at home), oyster sauce, fish sauce, and dried shrimp paste. For oyster sauce, I pick the non MSG one. Lately, the lee kum kee has the green label oyster sauce which reduce fat version.

  • I can’t live without fish sauce as an ingredient. I can live without fish sauce on its own.

  • I’m not eligible but I have to say that I still get befuddled in Asian grocery stores and I’ve grown up with a lot of this stuff-there is so much out there! 😛

  • Judith Neuman Beck

    Oh, dear, I have neither an iPhone nor an iPad, and i really, really want to learn all this stuff! As a celiac (who can’t eat wheat or many other grains), I shop Asian markets all the time. Have yet to find one here in Florida as good as those all over Silicon Valley, but still shop in them because they have so many rice-based products. I even found a frozen rice “noodle” that’s round and flat, and use a package as a substitute for gnocchi. Yum. So..anyway, I can’t live without gluten-free soy sauce (most contain wheat, but good ole LaChoy and Chung King don’t.) The Asian ingredient I don’t care for doesn’t exist. At least, I haven’t come across it so far.

  • It’s has to be fish sauce… If you’ve ever heard or seen the Frank’s Red Hot Sauce commercial, “I put that %@#! on everything”. Even in non-Asian dishes. It adds a depth of flavor like nothing else. Least favorite: Durian? No. Sea Cucumber? No. Dried Shrimp Paste? No. Dammit!!!

  • My favorite Asian ingredient is sesame oil…and the one that I can live without it is fish sauce 🙂

  • I can’t live without kelp and shirataki noodles that help me much in my weight loss efforts.
    I can live without dried fish. I can’t eat them with those eys looking at me.

  • I can’t live without sesame oil! It enlivens everything you add it to and the taste….devine!!

    I wouldn’t be caught dead eating the sea slugs! Excuse me while I puke…lol!

  • By the way, is “Asian Ingredients 101” available to read online or is it only an app for the iPad/iPhone?

  • wow I can’t live without sesame oil! the fragrance itself makes you tick! 🙂

  • I’ve been waiting for a book like this! Least favorite “ingredient” – tapioca pearls – yikes. Favorite, hmm, I love perusing the aisles at Ranch 99, looking at all the jars I can’t read – my current favorite ingredient is Yang Cheng black bean hot sauce – literally makes my mouth water!

  • Dianna: “Asian Ingredients 101” is just an app, not an actual book. However, there are books on the market that do focus on Asian ingredients. For instance, “The Chinese Kitchen: A Book of Essential Ingredients with Over 200 Easy and Authentic Recipes” by Deh-ta Hsiung is quite handy to have on hand. It’s available on Amazon. There also are other similar apps coming out. I know of at least one other that will debut this year.

  • One Asian ingredient we can’t live without is soy sauce. In addition to all the Asian dishes we cook with it, we also use it to add flavor to spaghetti sauce. I’ve even been known to eat avocados with it!

    As for least favorite Asian ingredient, I’d say balut (fetal duck). They say it’s supposed to be tasty but I can’t imagine putting that in my mouth, much less chewing and swallowing.

  • What a great idea for an app, Carolyn!
    I love sesame oil. Cannot stand dried fish.

  • Love that this is coming out having had many a spellbinding moment at Ranch 99 and New May Wah on Clement!

    Can’t live without item? It’s not original, but it’s a necessary item — soy sauce. We use it as an alternative to salt, to deepen flavors of our stews, to compel my kids to eat food (the food being the vehicle to eat the soy sauce, really), and I even remembering as a kid just mixing soy sauce with a hard boiled egg for my jook or mixing it with mayo for a quick artichoke dip.

    Live without item? Fish balls. Just can’t do it. There is something so not aesthetically-pleasing about the look or touch of them — those pale, springy, frozen-what-is-this-made-of-it’s-like-all-that’s-bad-about-hot-dogs-with-none-of-the-good-tasting-pork ‘things.’ Watching my husband eat them by the bowlful seriously has made me question whether we are (culinary) compatible.

  • Favorite: Soy sauce makes anything better. Least favorite: Fish sauce – I moved once and put everything I wasn’t moving on the street for others to reuse. It was a huge pile, but this was Berkeley, so everything got scooped up, including a half-empty ketchup bottle. The only thing left? Fish sauce! It smelled so bad, no one would take it.

  • Favorite: Fish sauce. Fish sauce rocks!!! (I am Vietnamese and this is the main reason I can not be vegetarian). It is pungent right out of the bottle but it is irreplaceable, taste wise.
    Least favorite: Durian. Dried, frozen, in a shake or in a cake, after many years, i haven’t acquired THE taste.

  • Ginger, in mostly everything, also Ginger Tea!!! Least favorite would be dried Fish!!!

  • I have to tell you, we have the exact same favorites and dislikes. I could eat ginger with just about anything. In fact, while writing this I can’t think of anything that doesn’t go with ginger- chocolate, yes- meat, yes- vegetables, yes, fruit- yes. See.

    Sea cucumbers have given me the heebie-jeebies since I was a little girl. Eating one is an absolute “you might as well just go ahead and kill me” issue. Growing up on the east coast and having them wash up on the beach and stepping on them- well, you can imagine. EEEWW.

  • I need this app! I’ve spent hours hunting down ingredients in our large Asian market. I’m constantly bothering other shoppers with questions, and even when I find an item, I can never decide which brand to buy. So glad to hear of this app and book.

  • I absolutely cannot live without soy sauce. Most people use it only for Asian cooking, but it has so many other applications. Naturally brewed soy sauce can be sprayed onto Thanksgiving turkey as a quick brine that produces very flavorful and moist meat without the soy sauce taste. It can be splashed in any number of foods from eggs to chili to barbecue sauce, adding a je ne sais quoi umami. Soy sauce is even used as a home remedy for burns!

    The Asian ingredient I can do without is also a soy bean product – natto (fermented soy bean). Though I am quite adventurous and have acquired taste for many exotic ingredients, I still cannot stand natto. A typical preparation of natto in Japan is to toast some bread, spread natto on top, and then pop it under the broiler for a minute to heat it up and bring out the “fragrant aroma”. Ugh!

  • I cannot live without Black Vinegar for my asian Tse Tsu meat marinade of Soy, vinegar sugar chile and garlic before stir frying…

    And like Patricia I can’t acquire a taste for Natto. My sushi chef has tried to give it to me in a variety of ways, but it just won’t go down.

    I’m also a stickler for very fresh Sesame oil. Must be nearly new and refrigerated. Bad oil can ruin any meal.

  • What a great idea for an app! Everytime I go to the Asian grocery I wonder what every different condiment is actually used for. My favorite Asian items are sriracha and kaffir lime. I use them so much I learned to make my own sriracha and grow my own kaffir lime. Least favorite? Slimy stuff like natto.

  • This contest is now closed. Come back Monday morning to see who won, as well as for an exciting, new contest to begin.

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  • I think you just haven’t has sea cucumber prepared right! I’m not a huge fan either, but I admit, it’s pretty darn good when properly braised until nice and tender. My mom makes it with pork belly and my husband is always begging her to bring some over. She makes a big pot so we usually have some ready to eat in the freezer. Not to mention the health benefits! My husband wants me to learn how to make it, but it is a lot of work to rehydrate and clean. Give it another try!

  • I would happily live in a bottle of Sriracha sauce {made something quite similar in my TM this week}, and would equally happily kiss fish or oyster sauce goodbye.

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