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Throwdown: Which store has the best Asian ingredients?

Throwdown: Which store has the best Asian ingredients?

Regular readers of this site know we like to celebrate the international flavor of the Central New York region. Usually that means we cover the international foods served in CNY restaurants, but in this latest article, we’re focused on helping you find the best Asian ingredients for those times when you want an authentic meal at home.

Every foodie know great meals start with great ingredients. When your goal is authentic cuisine, you need all the right elements, and every CNY foodie also knows that the region is home to a world class grocery store.

Wegmans is already the standard against which all other US grocers are measured, so in this edition of Throwdown we matched the specialty Asian markets against the Rochester-based behemoth on a cuisine-by-cusine match up.

Korean Food: Round 1
Korean cuisine—as with most Asian cuisines—is dominated by rice and vegetables, and those vegetables are typically minimally cooked which preserves their texture and flavor, but it also punishes any grocer that cannot supply fresh produce. For that reason, Wegmans is the winner in the vegetable supplier category. So many people shop at Wegmans the the turnover rate for produce guarantees you’ll get fresh greens. Add to that the fact that Wegmans carries a ridiculously diverse array of international produce, and you have the clear winner.

Kimchi is arguably the most important ingredient in Korean cuisine; image by Dongtan Ko, pixabay.

Korean food: Round 2
The single most important ingredient in Korean cuisine is probably kimchi, and the clear winner for the best kimchi in Syracuse is Han’s Oriental Market. Han’s carries a number of kimchi types—napa cabbage and korean radish are the most popular—and according to Carol Kim-Masiclat, Han’s is the best tasting kimchi to be found. When she shops for Korean ingredients, she visits both stores.

“There’s no way to avoid two trips.” says Kim-Masiclat. “Hans has types of vegetables and ingredients (spices, sauces, and even brands of rice) you won’t find at Wegmans, like the kimchi. But Wegmans wins on the quality and variety of more mainstream items like spinach, scallions, and garlic, for example. Wegmans simply has a better selection of these items. To their credit, they‘ve tried expanding their offerings, like Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi so you know they’re trying. (Save your money, it’s expensive and just not good.) But Wegmans just doesn’t have exactly what you need to do Korean food right. Take cucumbers, for example—the Wegmans cucumbers are English type: bland, squishy, big. For Korean food, cucumbers need to be the small, crisp and super-flavorful pickling type. Ideally you want them to be so crunchy you can’t hear someone talking to you.”

Indian food

The fresh-plus-authentic theme continued with our next throwdown as we searched for Indian ingredients. According to Shrishti Mathew, a graduate student from Channai, India, you have to shop at 2 stores when stocking up for an authentic Indian meal, but in her case, Mathew actively avoids the ethnic food aisles.

“There’s nothing I won’t buy at Wegmans,” says Mathew, “but I generally avoid the Indian sections of most grocery stores because I’m used to having spices growing fresh in my back yard. I can’t buy spices in little glass jars.”

To find the best South Asian ingredients, she shops at the India Bazaar on East Genessee Street in DeWitt.

“I buy roti, mint and coriander chutney concentrate, and these frozen kababs from Pakistan, as well as spices from south India. Poha flattened rice for making a nice breakfast, Okra, tiny eggplants, serrano peppers.”

That idea—that you shop at Wegmans for the advantages of a big chain, and then a small shop for authentic ingredients—is something that has been a part of the Syracuse food experience for generations. It’s a part of what makes Central New York a great place to live.

The very large Italian community has shopped for years at both Wegmans and Lombardi’s, and the new immigrants to Syracuse are bringing their flavors and spices to the region. It turns out the best Asian ingredients are like the best Italian or the best irish ingredients, they’re found in many places throughout the area. It’s something that enriches all of us lucky enough to call the region home.

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This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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