Asian market is my favorite. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Yesterday, I went to the one up the street and meandered around for a while, looking at strange food and impulsively hocking pieces of it into my basket. There are no carts at Asian market, only baskets with wire handles. And since all the food is either a) canned or b) heavy-ass rice, it digs little grooves into your palms while you shop. Doesn’t stop me from wandering through all the aisles, fascinated.
Asian market also always smells like dried shrimp and raw tilefish. It’s pretty foul, but it’s the essence of Asian market, so you kind of just get used to it and appreciate it for what it is. When I went yesterday, there were about 5 Asian people (I believe Korean, though I could be wrong and am too ashamed to my ignorance to ask), and they were stocking shelves, bartering in an ancient language that I didn’t recognize or understand, and milling around looking at cans of some of the craziest foodstuffs I’ve ever seen. Miley Cyrus and Rihanna blared in the background, which surprised me only a little. I’ve seen pictures of 10 year old girls in Japan wearing shirts that say random phrases like “Sex Panda Fireman,” so I think as long as it’s recognized as “pop-culture American” it’s at least a little stylish. Just like wearing anything “Hello, Kitty” in the US means that you’re Artistic and Free Thinking.
As I wandered, I noticed that people were periodically peeking around the corner of the aisles at me. I guess that’s not hard to explain, given that I was about 14 feet taller than anyone else in the store, and also erring on the side of albinism. But they gave me the freedom to search around, trying to read Japanese labels, scrunching up my nose at crazy-gross things when nobody was looking, etc. Like when I saw the corn-cheese ice cream. I ACTUALLY vomited in my mouth a little when I saw that. There are three people who could put something called “corn-cheese ice cream” in front of me and stand some chance of me trying it. Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz, and Morimoto. That’s it. Everyone else? No way in hell. And even with them, I’d balk.
What I ended up getting was a slew of nonsensical ingredients that I was curious about. I got some giant black pearl tapioca (for Boba Tea), roasted rice powder, galangal, lychee ice cream, several aseptic packages of tofu, rice punch (a Korean drink that has pieces of rice floating in it), some corn cereal that had a smiling rabbit on the front, duck flavored ramen noodles, tapioca in coconut milk, melon flavored agar jelly, lemongrass, strawberry Mochi (little japanese ice cream balls wrapped in a rice paper of some ilk), dried red peppers, boba straws, matcha tea powder with dried milk, Japanese strawberry starburst-y chews, black fungus (not ‘cuz I’m curious, ‘cuz I’m out), and God knows what else.
The advertising kills me. The slogan on my rice punch says “Korean taste. Better taste.” The corn cereal with the smiling rabbit says “A rabbit called DAFUNE RABBIT- How rabbit feels?” Then at the bottom, where another smiling rabbit is holding a giant piece of what I think is corn cereal, it says HAPPY BOLO! On the back, in the English explanation of ingredients, it says “Egg Boro biscuit” “Happy Boro!”
Here’s what I can’t figure out. Do they automatically change the American words on the front to be “Bolo” instead of “Boro” because they’ve determined that all of our “r” sounds are spelled with an “L”? Is it a joke over there, kind of like the reverse is over here? Hmmmmm….
I went to one of those dirty tupperware parties where they try to sell you vibrators (at the home of one of Chris’s coworkers…awkward) and there were smiley faces on the frenulum of the you-know-whats. I was informed, by smiling tupperware-dildo saleswoman, that the smiley faces are because in Japan it is illegal to produce adult toys. To get around this, they put smiley faces on them, and call them toys. This feels like it would be a no-brainer for the Japanese government to catch, but I guess governments are the same, world around. I don’t know how comfortable I would be having carnal relations with a smiling penis, but I suppose it might be a nice welcoming gesture. Like, “he seems friendly enough! Let him in!” I couldn’t bring myself to purchase any of them.
Anyway, the point of this post is that I made a completely ridonkulous vegetarian curry last night (Thai), and I made my own curry paste for the first time, instead of just buying the suspect little jars from the Asian market. Although panang curry paste is a thing of beauty, as long as I ignore the words “shrimp paste” on the ingredient list. Here are the things that were in my curry paste: Cilantro, galangal (Thai ginger, kind of), lime zest and juice, fresh lemongrass, shallot, garlic, serrano, red chile and cumin. I put them in my lil’ food processor until they were a paste, adding a touch of veg oil, salt, fish sauce (not vegetarian, I know) to help loosen it up a bit.
A word about fish sauce. Gross, I know. Totally gross. But if your Thai and Vietnamese foods don’t taste the same as they do in restaurants, it’s almost certainly because you’re not adding fish sauce. It doesn’t taste like fish, and I avoid smelling it because I’m afraid I’d never touch it again, but it adds an incredible depth of flavor and authenticity. There is no replacement. Period. Same goes for Oyster sauce in Chinese cooking. You can’t replace it, and you need it. If it helps, think about Worcestershire sauce, which is flavored primarily with anchovies, but doesn’t taste like fish at all. Fish sauce is also made with anchovies, so there you go. If you’re a vegetarian, they make vegetarian fish sauce that is supposedly similar enough to get by.
Then I made the curry itself, which was rife with colorful vegetables. Here are some vegetables that went in, along with very firm tofu (sorry, they don’t have tempeh at either Super Target or HEB, so I have to wait until my next trip to WhoFo or Central Market), and a touch of vegetable stock. I steamed the vegetables individually first, so they’d each be the exact level of doneness I wanted them to be, instead of praying they cook evenly in a curry. Then I stir-fried the paste in hot oil, adding the coconut milk and vegetable stock and allowed it to cook down by about half. I cubed the tofu, after pressing it to release any extra water, and tossed it in first. After a few minutes of flavor absorption, in went the veggies and out came a completely nutritious, delicious curry. It was so authentic in flavor and texture, and the whole thing was teeming with healthogens (measures of health that attack the fatness center).
We ended up full, but not heavy, with a creamy flavor in the mouth that lingered pleasantly. And then we ate lychee ice cream, and gave thanks that it didn’t have any cheese in it.