Favorite Ethnic Ingredients

Cooking and eating world cuisine is fun, but when it comes to shopping ethnic ingredients for the first time, it could be intimidating.

If you live in a large cosmopolitan area like San Francisco, and have access to many ethnic markets, there are so many varieties and brands, you have no clue which one to pick! If you live in a small town, you don’t even know where to get these things from.

When I first came to the US from Tokyo over 22 years ago, to East Lansing, MI, I was faced with the latter problem. I remember I could get soy sauce, but that was about it. There are no ethnic markets, let alone Japanese markets, and the choices at supermarkets were limited in the Midwestern college town at that time. So I had to deal with substitutes, or, to be honest, I didn’t cook much Japanese food at that time.

Now it’s a different world. Thanks to internet, you could order ethnic ingredients online. And yes, wherever you live, you are now faced with this intimidation and overwhelm of “Which brand shall I buy?”

What do you do?

You ask for recommendations from those who knows these ingredients inside out.

Many of you have asked me what brand of ingredients I buy and where, so I put a list together on Amazon, to make things easier for even those of you who don’t access to the ethnic market. They are mainly Japanese products for obvious reasons. For non-Japanese ingredients, I’ve asked the experts, and I tried and compared myself.

Disclaimer: Some listed are my favorite brands I’m familiar and use almost everyday, some are not, because the brand I like are simply not available online, so I chose whatever closest to what I’ve been using, based on their description. In that case, my criteria for choosing is if we had Amazon 22 years ago when I was in Michigan, which one I would choose. My rule of thumb is, just try something that sounds good, in the smallest size, and see if I like it. If you like it, you can continue buying the same one, maybe a larger size. If not, you know what to do. : )

Aji-mirin is a good example. I normally DO NOT recommend Aji-mirin, because it’s not real mirin (sweet rice wine). Alcohol contents are much low, if there’s any, and have a lot of additives. But when the other alternative on Amazon is over $20 per bottle or “on the catalog, but not available now”, or non-Japanese product that I have no clue with, I gotta go with what I know. Yes, I’ve used aji-mirin and it’s OK. Many people in Japan even use them.

Another example is wakame and nori. These are things I’d rather buy at the store, because you cannot see the quality on line, and it varies. But again, if you don’t live close to these stores, you either wait till you visit these market when you travel, or take a chance.

For some reason, on Amazon, they list the same products more than once, sometime in different quantities, ratings and prices. So shop around for the best price and quantity.

For more information about Japanese ingredients, check this out.

What are your favorite ingredients? Please write a short review, and I will create a “Fan Favorites” or “Readers Recommend” list.

Thanks for sharing your favorites!

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