Connect me to:
Asian Grocery Store Demystified, The
by: Linda Bladholm
Los Angeles CA:
Renaissance Books 1999, $14.95, Paperback
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(4) page(s): 19
If you are lacking in knowledge, intimidated, or just mystified by what you deem exotic ingredients used by sixty percent of the world's people, then this book belongs on your bookshelf. Based on its size and configuration, it can fit into your pocket on the way to an Asian supermarket or a mom and pop shop, so that makes it even more valuable.
Each of the almost one thousand items are listed almost in alphabetical order within each chapter, but some are under sub-headings such as 'pickled vegetables.' Do not worry, there is an excellent index at the end of the book, an epilogue, also three short appendices titled: Basic Utensils which is about five of them, Basic Asian Cooking Techniques about seven of them, and a glossary of fifty-four items to help find things by names not listed where you think they belong.
The chapter titles provide ideas of what is included and where. They are titled: A Walk Through Mr. Lin's Grocery Store; Rice, Noodles, Starches & Flour; Flavorings and Condiments; Oils, Vegetables, Herbs & Aromatics; Fresh Fruit; Soybean Products; Eggs & Preserved Meats; Pickled Items & Preserves; Dried Goods & Spices; Canned Goods; Snacks and Sweets; Teas; Healing Tea & Herb Tea; Cooking with Chinese Herbs; Japanese Food Products; Exotic Items for the Cultivated Palate; and The Mosaic Melting Pot: The Rest of the Asian Market. Incidentally, Mr. Lin, like the book, is multi-Asian. He hails from Thailand and is of Chinese descent.
Ms. Bladholm has lived, worked, cooked, and shopped in at least ten Asian locales including China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. As a professional cook, she has also shopped and cooked in each of these countries. She is a regular contributor to the Miami Herald, has contributed to Asia Pacific Magazine, to other Asian publications. She is truly knowledgeable about Asian foods.
Some items are illustrated. There are about four hundred black and white photos included for about half of the foods discussed. There are a few recipes, nearly thirty of her favorites. They go from Plain White Rice to Spiced Pork Bone Tea Soup; they are many Asian countries. At first I thought it foolish to provide them, but when I came upon one for Red Curry Paste, an item I wanted once or twice but could never locate, I thought differently.
This book can be useful to the novice; for others it may disappoint. It can be of limited use if you are in a store and no one there speaks or reads English. Also, it fails to advise which specific Asian culture uses these items making the store you go to a gamble. Another minor shortfall is in some of its descriptions. For example, on page 190, under soup stock, it says: "Look for Thai-made Knorr brand cubes...." That is fine for Thai foods, but not when cooking Chinese or Korean foods. Knorr does make product specific tastes for many countries. Thus, a particular manufactured food made in one country is not always the same as its visual duplicate in another. The Knorr chicken soup sold in Chinatown in New York is not identical in flavor to the chicken soup sold in an American supermarket, nor is it always the same as one sold in Thailand, or in another country. This can true for other products, as well. Authors and readers need to be aware of these potential and sometimes substantive differences.