When I first began this Japanese cooking project in April 2007, I looked in my cupboards and thought that I already had a good start on the pantry staples I’d need. I’d collected many interesting ingredients related to Chinese, Japanese, or Thai cooking. My shelves indicated my interest, but I did not know much about any of those cuisines. As a result, I’d use something for one recipe and then not know what else to do with it. My cupboards were stocked with ingredients I did not understand.
Japanese food is not quite what I expected. My well-stocked pantry of Asian ingredients turned out to be of little use: rice noodles, Chinese bean paste, coconut milk, Jasmine rice, many jars of old spices… I went to several Asian grocery stores with my list of specific items I would need. After several months of concentrating on just one book, I’ve become familiar with many of the ingredients that used to seem exotic. Now when I buy a package of agar-agar, or potato starch, I have a good idea about what to do with it. Agar-agar is great for making all kinds of fruit gelatins. Potato starch is a very efficient coating for foods that will be fried.
That said, it is still an adventure to walk the aisles of an Asian grocery as an illiterate person. I often must try to figure out what I am looking at, and it’s difficult to ask because I don’t speak Japanese or Korean. Sometimes I’ll even buy something that just looks interesting, just for the adventure.
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