Don’t be intimidated by the aisles of exotic ingredients found at Asian markets. Once you dive in and start comparing prices, you’ll find that a lot of the same stuff you were buying at regular supermarkets costs a whole lot less at your neighborhood Asian store. Here are my favorite things to buy:
1. Fresh Vegetables
Snow peas, lemongrass, bean sprouts, Chinese broccoli, ginger root, and several types of bok choy and mushrooms are just some of the veggies you’ll find at your local Asian food market. I recently went to Fred Meyer for bok choy and was alarmed when I found it for $1.49/lb. I can find the same stuff for only $0.89/lb. at my local Asian food mart—$0.10 less than the national supermarket average.
Once you buy spices at the Asian market, you may never buy them at a big-box grocery store again. Walmart’s generic brand cumin is $2.44 (the cheapest)—the same spice you’d find for at least a dollar less at an Asian market. The variety of spices is better too; you may just need to buy refillable containers since a lot of them come in bags versus bottles.
Unless you have a talent for scooping fresh seafood out of the ocean yourself, you probably won’t find seafood for as cheap or as fresh as in an Asian grocery store. Some stores will not only clean and slice a fish (that was swimming in a tank moments ago) for you, they’ll even fry it for a small fee!
Don’t live in a coastal city where seafood is widely available? Check the frozen food aisle for an equally inexpensive selection of seafood.
Bigelow’s classic green tea (40 bags) is $3.59 at Walmart. Aside from the Bigelow brand, you may find Lipton, TAZO, and Uncle Lee’s brands as the only other name-brand options for green tea. Why not go to a store that has dedicated an entire aisle to tea? Loose-leaf and bagged tea—especially green tea—can be found in abundance at Asian grocery stores. They’re high-quality and cheap!
Rice: it’s a pantry staple in all Asian kitchens. Find it in spectacular variety at Asian markets. Basmati, jasmine, sticky, black, brown, short grain, long grain—whatever kind you like, you’ll find it in high-quality options by the 50 lb. sack if you want. I recently found a 25 lb. sack of jasmine rice on sale for $14 at my neighborhood Asian market.
6. Frozen Foods
Steamed buns, egg rolls, potstickers, edamame, ice cream in delicious exotic flavors…. If you like dumplings and potstickers as much as I do, you’ll end up ditching your local Chinese restaurant for your Asian market frozen food aisle. Instead of 6 dumplings for $6 at a typical restaurant, get 50 dumplings for $5.50!
In the mood for some Korean-style beef short ribs or planning to have a Japanese shabu-shabu party? Maybe you just want conveniently sliced meat for stir-fry. Head to your local Asian grocery store where you’ll find cuts of meat specifically for these dishes.
You’ll also find specialty meats and offal like tripe, oxtail, chicken feet, beef tongue, and even frog legs—perfect for new culinary adventures.
8. Condiments and Sauces
There were exactly four soy sauce options at my local Fred Meyer—and two of them were Kikkoman (less sodium and regular). I found the same stuff for nearly a dollar less plus dozens more choices (light, dark, tamari, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian…see the range here) at the Asian food market. Find varieties of fish sauce, chili oil, mustard, and more in the extensive condiment aisles as well.
9. Woks and Utensils
Woks, spatulas, skimmers, chopsticks, cleavers, and bamboo steamers are just a few reasonably priced kitchen tools you can find at Asian markets. While most bamboo spatulas cost around $6 on Amazon, I found several in the $2-$3 range.
Rice noodles, egg noodles, glass noodles…find it all at Asian grocery stores. And although the packages of instant noodles aren’t 5 for $1 like the Top Ramen and Maruchan brands commonly found at supermarkets, the quality and taste is so much better!