Orignally Posted on March 27, 2020 in the Archive
This article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread aggressively within the United States. Please keep that in mind while reading. The small grocery stores like the ones described in this article need our support the most right now.
Northeast Wisconsin is blessed with a large Asian immigrant community. Within a six block radius, there are a TON of Asian markets to explore. Chief of these is Asian Taste Supermarket, where my husband took me on March 1st to go hunting for ingredients we need for the Cookbook of the Month, Japanese Home Cooking. He has been on walkabout in the neighborhood more than once, taking stock of a few of these markets by my request when I’ve stayed home to clean or something. This one, he told me, was probably his favorite.
Despite the very cramped front aisles, I could see why he would feel that way about Asian Taste. You’re welcomed by an aisle of sweets, and from there on, you can find a variety of spices, noodles, canned goods, and even fresh ingredients. I saw a durian with my own eyes for the first time in their produce section. I smelled it too. Even before it’s opened, I can’t say I recommend the smell
I’ve always had a fascination with exploring new grocery stores, but ethnic markets are a rare treat for me. Where I grew up, we had a small hispanic market that I went to maybe once. An Asian market was in the next town over during my time in Iowa, but I never made the trip. The large hispanic population in Milford, Delaware led to my exploration of an honest to god giant grocery store, El Gigante. I had yet to experience something like Asian taste.
I have a passing knowledge of Spanish to get me by in a market, but I definitely cannot read Thai or Hmong. I also cannot read Japanese, Chinese, or Korean despite my best duolingo efforts. Most of the labels did have english somewhere on them to help me out, but very rarely was the english in a prominent location. I have no doubt I passed up some golden items during my shopping trip.
What I did manage to find has set me up relatively well for our foray into Japanese cooking this month. Furikake seasoning, for example, was available within Asian Taste, and it was one of the first things I snagged off the shelves. Sonoko Sakai offers to substitute in Thai red chilis or Korean Chili flakes in a few recipes, both of which were also available. I found a little jar of Sambal that has fascinated me since our time with the Lucky Peach Cookbook.
Botan rice caught my eye from across the crowded space, and by adding a bag of that to my basket, I had to pass it over to my husband to carry. We left with such a variety of offerings that I can’t remember them all as I sit down to write about my experience. Meats, vegetables, and soybean products were among the few areas of the store that I neglected since I am able to find most of these things at the regular grocery store.
The experience fills me with some hope for the current home cook that might be considering a challenging cookbook like Sonoko Sakai’s Japanese Home Cooking. Not everything has to come down from Amazon if a person has access to a place like this, even if the Japanese population in their area is minimal. If you are in a region like the one I grew up in, however, Amazon remains your only bet at sourcing a vast majority of the requested ingredients. It’s a point in favor of the opposition toward this cookbook.
It's staggeringly obvious that moving into ethnic cuisine is a daunting task for a home cook, especially one like Japanese cuisine where the ingredients are not widespread. Learning Hispanic cuisines has become much easier as the immigrant population grows so large that even towns as small as my hometown can sustain a Hispanic foods store when the growing aisle in the supermarket isn't enough. The best I can do at my regular grocer for Japanese cooking is soy sauce, Nori, and instant soups.
If the task of sourcing these ingredients is enough to convince you not to buy a cookbook, I can tell you now that Japanese Home Cooking won't be for you. If I were not in a good place financially at my new job, I might have already given up. You don't want to know how much I spent at Asian Taste much less on ordering shit from Amazon. Or maybe, you do?
The adventure of finding these different ingredients has given the whole thing more value for me. I've struggled to get myself into Green Bay proper beyond my apartment and my office since my health has been rough, and doing this for the blog was enough to give me the courage to go out and just do it. We talk a lot about doing it for the gram, but I'm doing it for the blog.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird. Pledge monthly to our patreon!