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Brands to buy at the Asian Grocery


TAPrice
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I'm lucky enough to live near an enormous Asian supermarket. gallery_2_2758_59780.jpg

I can't even begin to identify half the items on sale. And the things I can identify, I often have no idea which version to buy. Take fish sauce, for example. I've just about finished off a big bottle and it's time to stock up again. Last time, I bought Swarm of Crabs Brand. Why Swarm of Crabs? Well, it's made in Vietnam and I mainly use it to cook Vietnamese food. But honestly, among the more than a dozen options at the store, I got this bottle because the name was cool and the picture of swarming crabs was cute.

There has got to be a better way to make decisions in the future. I don't want to just pick a particular brand based on the pretty package, but I don't have much else to go on. I even have a copy of The Asian Grocery Store Demystifed by Linda Bladholm, but none of her recommended brands are among the many options at my store.

How do you choose a brand at the Asian grocery store?

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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When I haven't a clue, I generally go by price. Among Asian brands, the higher-quality ones are often the more expensive ones, unless they're "on sale." Also, look for ingredients lists that sound more like food and less like chemical names.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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What sort of products are you looking for?

It's less a specific quest than a general quandary. With many options for fish sauce, soy sauce, chili sauce--you name it--it's hard to find good criteria to make a decision.

Suzy's suggestion of buying the most expensive sounds like good advice.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Sometimes my choices are determined by how empty the shelves are. If a particular brand is low on stock my assumption is it must be good if the shelf is near empty. Of course this has some flaws as some good stuff may have been just stocked but hey, it's my method damnit. :biggrin:

Here's the thing too with stuff like fish sauce, soy sauce, chili sauce, etc. It should taste good to you. There are brands that Kasma recommends and they're a great starting point. But unless you buy 6 bottles of fish sauce and test taste them all chances are you will never realize the subtle differences between them. Given the fact that I don't cook Thai, for example, everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner it takes me at least a month to go through a large bottle of fish sauce. Each time I'll go buy a different brand and use it in my curry or stir fry and given all the other flavors of my dishes, I honestly cannot tell the difference. But if I taste them right out of the bottle side by side, I can tell the difference. But how does this difference translate to the food you cook? If I cooked the same dish with different brands and tasted them side by side, I may or may not be able to tell the difference.

What's my point? I don't know. HA.

I think in my current sleepy rambling state I'm trying to say it's probably not necessary to worry so much about recommendations and just go with your taste buds. The stuff is certainly cheap enough to do some experimentation with several different products. Buy a few different brands and see for yourself. It's very clear the differences between them when you do side by side tasting.

I might as well go home as I'm not being very productive here at work. :wacko:

Hope some of this made sense.

My Photography: Bob Worthington Photography

 

My music: Coronado Big Band
 

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From my knowledge, based on recommendations of a large number of people, Kim Lan or Pearl River Bridge soy sauces are a number one choice. La Choy by all means is garbage.

As for fish sauce, alot of people use the three crabs brand. It tastes a little sweeter, but it has hydrolyzed proteins and sugars added to it and I'm pretty sure some shortcuts are taken to process the fish sauce. Thais like to use Tiparos, which is very high quality but very strong. Golden boy and squid are good brands too. The ULTIMATE fish sauce though is from Phu Quoc, but due to alot of counterfeiting and lack of global representation, the real thing is pretty rare. I heard that Phu Quoc fish sauce is being made under the Knorr brand, but I heard it has all sorts of preservatives in it. I guess high quality comes at a price.

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I would like to second the suggestion of Kasma Loha-unchit's recommendations. I especially like the the Mae Ploy coconut milk and curry paste, and the 2 kinds of fish sauce with fat baby or weighing scale.

I took the North and South Thailand food tour with Kasma a few years ago. The food.....from street food (places we would never have eaten on our earlier trip) to nice restaurants was great, nobody got sick, we learned a lot, and we got a bit off the beaten track. She has published two cookbooks and really knows Thai food.

There are some very good recipes (and info on her food tours of Thailand) on her

website:

http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/recipe.html

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"Buying the pretty bottle" can be a pretty good strategy actually, I find. Companies that bother to spruce up their packaging enough to make it appealing to discerning consumers often produce better products. Not necessarily, but I usually find you can write off certain things by appearance with good success.

As Suzy mentioned, price and the ingredient list is also your friends. The really cheap sauces are often augmented with caramel colour, lots of preseratives, etc. Look for simple ingredient lists with 1-2 preservatives preferably. You can't always trust them, but labels like "traditionally processed" or "long fermented" can be an indication of quality. The more expensive premium types are almost always worth it.

Learn the brands, seek out good sources for the particular sauce/condiment your looking for. Lots of people have already done a lot of the experimentation for you, and they have noted their favorite brands all over the internet. Lots of old threads here and miscellaneous sites will recommend brands for their cuisine.

Every recommendation of Kasma's I've tried has been great, and I've also found a lot of good Thai products have "Thailand, Diversity and refinement" on the label in a diamond. To add to that I can think of Amoy, Pearl River Bridge, Koon Chun, and Kimlan for Chinese; Kikkoman for Shoyu and some japanese things; Tra Chang, Pantainorasingh, Healthy Boy, Dragonfly, Mae Ploy, and Golden Boy for Thai; Kecap Bongo for kecap manis. Oh and, golden boy fish sauce and dragonfly oyster sauce are the best I've tried, hands down.

Buying what everyone else seems to buy can be good, but their are problems with it. A local shopowner who owns a specialty store for ethnic products from around the world explained to me that often early generations of immigrants buy whatever is cheapest and establish brand loyalty, and retailers respond by stocking their shelves with the cheap, but bad, well known brands. I've seen old Asian ladies stocking up on 10 bottles of a brand of fish sauce at the market than I don't think much of, when other brands I like more cost the same or marginally more. Even Pim of Chez Pim fame has said before that she continues to use Tiparos because it's her family brand and it would just be weird to change brands; no offense to tiparos, but I think golden boy is far better.

And as Bob said, if all else fails, buy a bunch and experiment. In my experience, picking the right brands makes a big difference, but once your at a certain minimum of quality, the differences generally reflect individual tastes. There are some really outstanding sauces and condiments, but they can be hard to find. I can certainly taste the difference in my food made with good fish or soy sauce, particularly in simple stirfrys or other uncomplicated dishes.

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In general, I have found that Pearl River Bridge, Mae Ploy, and Chaokoh (it's "a-ok!") are solid, and that more expensive is usually better. It's worth noting that, of course, there are many different kinds of soy, fish sauce, chili sauce, and so on, so it's important to know what type you want.

Aside from the references here, I've also found that -- surprise surprise -- establishing relationships with shop owners is a great help. Then you can tell them what you're doing and ask for the proper item. There's also other customers: see what they're sticking into their own carts.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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For Japanese products I would stick with Kikkoman (only made in Japan products) for soy sauce, Kadoya for sesame oil, and Mitsukan (sometimes writtten Mizkan) for vinegar or vinegar based products.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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ask both people who are shopping there and the people who work there ....sometimes when I hover for a period of time someone will point and tell me what one to buy!

even when there is a language barrier I find that

when someone shows me what brand they use ..that usually sparks a conversation that leads to my getting a new recipe or method of cooking!

score!!!!

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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  • 2 years later...

Since I had that "Asian Flavors of Jean Georges" cookbook lying around for so long and have eaten twice in his Spice Market and liked the food I checked out my local asian supermarkets and was badly overwhelmed.

20 types of soy and fish sauces, chili oils etc.

What to pick?

So what are common high quality items that I should look out for in an Asian Supermarket. He recommends for example "Bangkok Market" brand Coconut Water.

What else is there? Pictures would be nice as well.

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I agree with all of the recommendations given here. The only thing I would add is that Lee Kum Kee products are very reliable and widely available--any Asian grocery will have a large selection. Their premium oyster sauce is widely considered to be the best in its category.

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I think the advice given here is good, even though I never thought of it that way. Having been blessed with a "cast iron stomach" and being a very adventurous eater, I use to walk in and if it looked good and saw it in people's carts, I bought it. Not the wisest of strategies, but I did come out with some good stuff and learned alot. Reading the ingredient list saved me many of times.

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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Another strategy worth trying if you're adventurous is buying items that lack factory English labels. (That is to say, it has only one of those B&W generic labels with nutritional information and ingredients on it; the rest is in Chinese.)

Recently, I went through one and then two jars of sichuan hot pepper oil/paste/muck with abandon, purchased on a whim one day when I had to get over $25 for a credit card sale. The jar had a B&W photo of one of the many unhappy women pasted on jars at my local store, and her stuff haunts me to this day....

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Globe and Lion Peanut Oil is excellent. It is made in Hong Kong and actually tastes like peanuts. One time my local Asian store had run out and I tried another brand. It was lousy.

Another Hong Kong brands that has been reliable is Amoy. California made Lee Kum Kee has been good as well.

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