It isn’t very often that I see something and compulsively just need to have it. [Nothing will ever compare to the uncontrollable desire to buy the ’73 Ford. It may have been a short-lived relationship, but it was a passionate one.] However, (perhaps it was the matte cover?), something drew me to pick-up the book ‘bowl’ by Lukas Volger for a quick glance while grocery shopping. I had to have it! Now I didn’t compulsively buy it then and there. I first pondered it for a couple days, coming back to it again for a second glance. Then, after first checking our local library, for half the price and a few clicks on Amazon the book was in my position within a week. And I LOVE it!
So I’m definitely not a vegetarian, although I could be one easily, (if I were to actually put the effort into it), as the diet doesn’t bother my taste buds one bit. I’m also, obviously, not Asian or very cultured about their foods, but every time I’ve tried a food from a new cuisine, such as Tom Yum Kai, Pho, or anything in a wrapper – rice or wheat, I’ve loved it!
Part of the reason I don’t have a lot of experience with these types of food is the simple fact that we don’t spend money going out to eat very often, and since Andrew doesn’t eat anything from the sea it is very unlikely I will be spending much time in a kitchen that serves such foods and so abundantly. Plus it’s just more my forte. I love to shop/brows/peruse through the international markets we have in Anchorage. We are actually statistically a very diverse city. Several of our neighborhood schools (especially on our side of town) each boast 100+ languages spoken by their student body. There is a major Hmong population in particular right in our neighborhood so picking up some more specialized ingredients for those types of cooking can be quite easy, even at small, local, ‘Dragon Oriental Market’ down the street.
Long story short is that I’ve been wanting to incorporate more of the fresh flavors you get in dishes from Vietnamese, Japanese, and Thai restaurants, and to try some new ones like the now popular fresh ramen bowls, and the bibimbap a local place always has on special… without having to pay restaurant prices.
So today I took my son and his friend out to look for some fresher and more ‘real’ ingredients for cooking these ‘bowl’ dishes. There are many things I knew where to get and a few that I wanted to find:
Produce: Our local Fred Meyer does a pretty good job at offering fresh produce and a nice variety of herbs and spices. Add to that our local Asian market and The Red Apple in Mountain View and I can bring home quite a few unique and fresh produce items.
Grains: Fred Meyer has also expanded their health food selection, including grains, nuts, seeds, and such, and I know Summit Tea and Spice carries specialty rice if I desire it. I do plan to look for and try farro, though.
Noodles: I’ve used udon and rice noodles, but want to try Soba noodles, and look for Kansui liquid to try and make authentic ramen noodles.
One big desire I have is to try different types of Sea Vegetables: Kombu, Wakame, and different styles of Nori. I plan to do a little tasting session with my mom during her next visit.
I want to look for authentic soy sauces: good quality Koikuchi shoyu, tamari, and kecap manis. I again want to taste them side-by-side.
Not today, but sometime soon I will go, again with my mom, to try different salts, at a Carr’s store across town.
I want to look for a good price on dried Shiitake Mushrooms. I’ve never used them in my cooking and will need them to make good broths.
Then last but not the least at all, but maybe the hardest to track down a condiment: gochujang.
So how did it turn out? We did ok.
- I was able to find shiitake mushrooms, no problem.
- I was also surprised to find that Kansui liquid, but with a more generic label: Potassium Carbonate & Sodium Bi-Carbonate Solution. Now I just need to get some gluten and learn how to make fresh ramen noodles.
- Toasted sesame oil wasn’t really on my list but it is a common ingredient. I found Black Sesame Oil and wanting to compare it to regular sesame oil. Turns out that black sesame and toasted sesame are one in the same.
- I bought Chili Bean Sauce thinking it was the same as Gochujang, but they are a little different as I found the recipe for chili bean sauce in the book, so I have plans to make it later and compare.
- I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t finding anything more specific for soy sauces. There were a lot of vinegar varieties, but I wasn’t finding anything that looked like a truly brewed soy sauce. I plan to go the larger center town market this weekend because…
- I also did NOT have any luck finding Kombu or Wakame sea greens.
- The new supplies at Fred Meyer include black rice.
- And lastly, rambutans are in season so I got a few from the little market up the street.
- I also grabbed a few new wide and small bowls to go with my plans for more Asian and bowl-based home dining opportunities.
Long story short I say we did ‘okay,’ because we didn’t do ‘great.’
I was however able to get right to work trying my hand at Pho-From-Home for the first time. That was much more successful. In fact, Andrew enjoyed the broth very much.
As I’ve been reading more through ‘bowl’ I’m realizing a little more why I enjoy these styles of cuisine so much; sauce and side pairings! I LOVE having a variety of flavorful condiments, sauces, and herbs on hand to brighten, embolden, or heat things up a bit. I think my mission on this mini journey is two-fold: incorporate some new flavors and ingredients into our routine a little more, and help Nathan to create his own palate of favorite flavors that can be mixed and matched into simple meals.
So future plans:
- Hunt down and explore those Green Sea Vegetables.
- Practice making traditional broths to build meals on.
- Experiment some more with different noodles, dumplings, grains, and serving ideas.
- Discover and create new condiments to have regularly on hand.
Upon visiting the larger New Central Market in midtown I was able to find a TON of more options for vinegars and soysauces. We even did a soy sauce tasting to find out which brand we liked best. I was also able to find the exact types of sea greens I wanted, Kombu and Wakame, and dried Shitakes so I was able to make a traditional Dashi. In fact, having them on hand for Asian Style cooking made it perfect when I came across a recipe for a seaweed tartar in a “The French Market Cookbook”. I also found the true Gochujang paste I wanted and it is SO much better than the other fermented bean paste.
Adding new ingredients to our bowl has not only been successful but tasty! Perhaps you will be able to find the same kind of success on your next market adventure. I strongly suggest it!