My next-door neighbor has been singing the praises of our local H-Mart, the Asian-American grocery store chain, ever since I met her. Each time she returns with sweet Chinese sausage or dried Chinese mushrooms, I look on with envy. And then I invite myself over. (Ha!)
But now after going myself, I too, extol the wonders of an Asian grocery store.
These stores can be a gold mine for hard-to-find produce, noodles, sauces and if you’re lucky, fresh takeout and baked goods. There’s so much there, it can be hard to narrow down a list, but I’ve picked just a few of my favorite things to look for at your own local Asian grocery store.
I suggest grabbing the kids and making it a Saturday morning adventure… and if you live in New York, inviting me over for dinner!
PS. For more inspiration, check out our weekly meal plans, where more often than not you’ll find we include some of our favorite easy Asian-inspired dishes.
10 items you should be buying at your local Asian grocery store
1. Kick-ass Asian sauces and condiments
You can stock up on all your staples (soy, hoisin, sriracha) plus seek out any rarer sauces you’ve been eyeing (oyster, fish, cooking wines) from around the continent. Plus, you’ll find pure sesame seed oil and shelves of condiments like gochujang, the crave-worthy Korean hot red pepper paste.
2. Fresh kimchi
I think my gut health improved just by looking at all the fresh kimchi at my local Asian grocery! This fermented Korean condiment is not only good for your health, but it also ups the flavor in everything from rice dishes to vegetables — try it with roasted brussel sprouts, my favorite! And it’s perfect for adding an extra kick to the grownup dishes in your house, too.
3. Noodles galore
Ramen is just the beginning! Find lo-mein, udon, soba, rice noodles, you name it. Plus all the ones I can’t name just yet — but I’m working on it.
4. Unique fruits
I love that Asian markets offer fruits that range from terrific kids’ lunchbox staples like Asian pears, to Korean melons, to the notoriously stinky Durian fruit which is native only to Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia. Browsing the produce section in your local Asian grocery store is a great way to expose your kids to new names and tastes.
5. Stir-fry greens
I am seriously impressed with the produce department of my local H-Mart. Be sure to make a stop to stock up on fresh bok choy, scallions and pea shoots, as an easy way to liven up stir-fry and noodle dishes.
6. Chinese-style sausage
My neighbor swears by Chinese-style sausage. And I remember reading once that it tasted like “meat candy”. Um, yes please. Opt for the packaged, softer-style sausage as opposed to the drier smoked sausage.
7. Frozen meals and convenience foods
These may already be a staple in your home (thanks, Trader Joe’s!) and an Asian grocery is a place to find even more variety. Score easy weeknight dinners with an array of frozen dumplings, Filipino-style egg rolls called lumpia, vegetable buns, edamame and soooo much more.
8. Fresh prepared meats
All sorts of quick-cooking marinated meats are sliced and ready to be tossed on the grill — and offer so much more flavor than that rotisserie chicken you may be used to from your traditional supermarket. It makes weeknight cooking so simple. And I’d say it’s must for all you Korean barbecue fans.
9. Japanese soda and candies. No eyerolls.
My kids aren’t of soda-drinking age just yet, but there are so many fun treats in Asian groceries for older kids — and you! My neighbors’ boys love the odd-shaped bottles and flavors that are far more fun than a typical cola. Shown here: Japanese Bubble Soda, which is as fun to open as it is to drink. (There are dozens of flavors, but the original lemon-lime, strawberry, and lychee are big kid favorites.)
There are also some candies adventurous kids will love trying, from gummies and jelly candies, funky mints, red bean paste candy bars, to milkshake candies. Just keep in mind that sweets may abound throughout the store so keep that in mind if you’re with the kids and used to just skipping one candy aisle.
10. Mochi ice cream
And lots of it. Enough said.