Wednesday, March 2, 2016

my first trip to an ethnic grocery store

Recently I found a fried rice recipe, which I'll post about later this week.  This weekend I went in search of two ingredients I would need:  oyster sauce and sesame oil.  I figured I could probably find them in the grocery store, but they would likely be more expensive; international foods usually are.  I went to several mainstream stores this weekend, as well as a couple discount stores, and although I could find them, it would have cost a total of about $11.00.  Not outrageous, but pricey considering the fact that I wouldn't get much use out of them and might have to throw them away before using them up.

Sunday I made the decision to try an ethnic grocery for the first time ever.  I've never had the need to try one until now, but I had heard that the prices are much better, and I would have a much better chance at finding exactly what I need and at a better quality that a mainstream store, which only carries one or two brands. So, I Googled and I went. 

The first store I tried supposedly carried Chinese, Indian, Japanese, etc.; however, it turned out they carried only Indian products, with a few Hispanic and British products mixed in. There was an interesting selection of foods, most of which I hadn't seen before.  There were some really large fruits with what looked like spikes on them, kind of like a cactus; I have no idea what they were.  What I found most interesting were the snacks.  Indian snacks are much different than American snacks.  There weren't piles of sugary cookies, cakes, candy and pies.  Most snacks were rice- or noodle-based, and were usually savory, rather than sweet.  And the selection of spices was nice.  No tiny little bottles that cost upwards of $5.00.  Most of the spices were in bags, which were quite large compared to what we get at a regular grocery store.  And the cost?  A large bag of whole cloves was $3.99.  Compare that to what you pay at Stop & Shop or Price Chopper. I ended up buying Tawa Fry Marsala spice blend, which was $2.49 for a really large container.  (Not a clue as to what I'll do with it. Ideas??)  I also bought a box of frozen pea-and-potato samosas (love these!) and a bottle of sesame oil.  The oil was double the amount I would have gotten at the regular store and cost only $4.49, which is cheap. But I still needed oyster sauce.  The cashier recommended a Chinese supermarket only two miles away, so I went there. 

The Chinese supermarket was quite large--roughly the same size as a mainstream store.  And the selection of foods was amazing.  I admit, there were a lot of foods that looked downright scary to me, but I'm a white girl whose never visited an ethnic market, so there you go. I also have to admit that I felt highly conspicuous walking through the store.  Although, no one seemed to pay me the slightest bit of attention.  It was my own self-consciousness, really.  Anyway, it took me awhile to find the oyster sauce, since I had no idea it's a form of soy sauce and that's where it would be.  I also decided to get more sesame oil, just in case the Indian version is different from the Chinese version.  Probably not, but you never know. The total for the two items?  $4.58 (versus $11.00 in a regular store)! I felt pretty good when I left.

I probably wasted the difference in gas driving to these places, but at least I discovered new places to go.  And places where I can get lots of spices on the cheap!

Anyone have any recommendations for me as to products to try?  What do you buy at these stores that you can't find in the supermarket?

Here are my goodies. 


  1. I LOVE sesame oil! That will make your fried rice taste amazing. I use it in veggie stir fries too. My most favorite thing at the asian store where i used to live is the tiny seaweed packages that have the squares of seaweed seasoned with salt or other spices. They are about 30 cal per pack and i love them as a quick snack. They replace my potato chips.

    One tip: You can substitute teriyaki sauce for oyster sauce. That is a bit more common in the grocery stores.

    No clue what to do with the Masala... I love indian food but never made any on my own. I did try my hand at making an entire chinese dinner once - I made fried rice, lo mein, orange chicken and beef with broccoli. Didn't turn out half bad, but the amount of work and effort i put in only made me wish i had ordered in.

    The next thing i am trying is cauliflower fried rice. That should be good!

    1. Ooh! Let me know how it comes out! I tried cauliflower pizza crust and it came out pretty good. I'm not a fan of cauliflower, but I don't mind it mashed or in a pizza crust.

      You're very ambitious making a full Chinese dinner! Sounds good, though. It seems like one of those things that maybe aren't worth all the effort. Kind of like making hummus. It was good, but for all the work I may as well just buy it.

      I'm thinking I can use the Masala and make a seasoned salt by mixing it with kosher salt. Then I can shake it on chicken and grill it. Maybe I'll try that soon.