Let’s face it, finding and selecting Asian ingredients can be a test of endurance. I’ve had readers, friends, chefs, and little Asian ladies tell me how confusing Asian markets and ingredients can be. Some have carried my books to the market while others have used this website as a mobile resource. Add to that the countless times that I’ve asked and been asked about which brand to buy or where to find something.
Those factors seeded the Asian Market Shopper (AMS) app, a nifty new multimedia resource that helps you understand, navigate, and use Asian ingredients. I’ve been working with San Francisco-based Chronicle Books to develop this app for about a year. It’s been a lot of fun and a real learning experience, combined with a few beads of sweat and drops of tears. Finally, it’s here!
Chronicle Books is launching the AMS this week. In this initial rollout, the app is for Apple products -– iPhone, iTouch, iPads. The Android version will come later.
I’m extremely delighted to have this information in a mobile format. Who can remember all the types of Japanese miso, Thai curry pastes, and grades for dried kelp (kombu)? Or what their foreign names are? The AMS is a shopping buddy for you at the market. As a handy problem solver, it helps you to explore and understand Asian ingredients for your cooking needs.
What content is in the app?
At core, the Asian Market Shopper is a reference tool that contains 100 ingredient entries. Each entry comes with a photo and in-depth background information. There are details on how to select, store, and use these ingredients too. You can enlarge the photos and show them to a store clerk. Tap the audio icon (right side, at the top) and you’ll hear me pronounce the ingredient’s name in a foreign language!
Not only will the photo and audio help you find the ingredient, but you’ll definitely make new friends at Asian markets. They’ll be flummoxed by your fluency. I did the voice recordings in a neutral tone to help non-native speakers master the terms. Ask native speakers for the inflections and they’ll get a kick out of your earnest curiosity.
But wait, there is more! To help people use the staples, the Asian Market Shopper app also contains 25 recipes that link back to the ingredient entries. The recipes represented are iconic classics such as kung pao chicken, shaking beef, and pad Thai. I developed these recipes (they’ve all been tested) so you can easily make these favorites. (Many thanks to testers Diane Carlson, Candace Grover, Doug Grover, Sue Holt, Dave Weinstein, and Lea Yancey.)
As with the ingredient entries, each recipe comes with an audio pronunciation of the dish in its native language. People often ask me how to pronounce something because it’s part of appreciating and mastering a dish.
Linked in the recipes are short videos on foundational Asian cooking tips and techniques. You’ll see me discussing how to break down a crab, buy fresh fish, and make perfect rice. The videos are not intended to be recipe specific, instead, they present elemental, takeaway cooking concepts. In the recorded audio “Introductions” you’ll get extra pointers. And, the shopping tab lets you create personal shopping lists to keep you organized at the market.
In short, the Asian Market Shopper is designed as a nimble reference tool. While the app contains a terrific collection of authentic recipes, it was also written and designed to work in partnership with cookbooks or recipes that are already in your collection. Had we included a large collection of recipes, then it would be a cookbook and not a shopping reference tool.
How were the 100 ingredients selected?
I cross-referenced cookbooks and other sources to compile a list of the 100 most commonly used staples in Asian kitchens – which include East Asia, Southeast Asian, and South Asia. I also considered the kinds of Asian markets where most people shop. For example, Chinese, Korean, and Indian markets offer different inventories, though there is a little overlap.
In writing the ingredient descriptions, I tried to pack as much information in the text without overwhelming the user – who is trying to get through the market. For example the entry for bamboo shoots covers canned, frozen, and fresh bamboo. Coconut milk includes a discussion of coconut cream and the differences between canned, frozen, dried, and boxed. Japanese fermented soybean paste (miso) includes information about Korean doenjang paste.
As I did the research, I learned new bits of information too, such as how Sichuan peppercorn is widely used in many parts of Asia. I hope you spend a little time reading the entries because they’re chock full of details. Even if you don’t use them all, you’ll amaze people with your knowledge!
Where do you buy the app?
It’s a click away at the Apple App store, selling for $3.99 – the price of a decent cup of coffee. Check it out, pass it around, and share your reactions. [9/29/11 Update: Just posted a demo video of the Asian Market Shopper app in action at a Chinese market!]
"Never be Lost in an Asian Grocery Again"
-- Lynn Andriani, Food Editor, Opraph.com, read full review
"I read about the Market Shopper App on your blog the day before my new Ipad arrived. Perfect timing! It was the first app that I purchased once I had it in my hands. What a brilliant idea! This is just what I needed. In the past I have been lucky to go to Chinatown with a Chinese or Japanese friend and learned a lot from them. I have also been approached by people in those markets that were totally confused and desperately looking for somebody who spoke English...The app is great and very useful."
-- N. Fischer, via email
"Just saw your article to win the Asian market app but alas it was too late I've already purchased it. I AM ALREADY A WINNER! A great app and highly recommend it to anyone out there. Like so many items from your cookbooks to your website are top notch and this app follows as well!"
-- T.G. Hansen, via email
"Our favorite apps, however, exist as stand-alone creations: The Asian Market Shopper ($4) app can act as an extension to any of your favorite Asian cookbooks. It helps users identify ingredients thanks to a gallery that includes photos and descriptions of 100 commonly used Asian staples, and its series of videos with preparation tips is like a cooking school in the palm of your hand."
-- Tasting Table National, read more
"I like the idea of approaching a grocery store employee and saying, 'I'm looking for . . .' and then whipping out a phone, rather than standing there for five minutes butchering the pronunciation and getting a blank stare."
-- Michelle Woo, OCWeekly.com, read more
"Learning how to cook Asian food is not that difficult. But you are going to need the right ingredients to get started. Having someone show you how to prepare your food wouldn’t be too bad either. Asian Market Shopper is an awesome application for anyone into Asian food.”
-- iPhoneappsfinder.com (rating: 8.8/10), read more
“Asian Market Shopper serves as a great introduction to Asian cuisine… A great addition to someone’s iOS virtual bookshelf.”
-- Jennifer Allen (rating: 3.67 stars out of 5), read more
“Asian Market Shopper from Asian culinary expert Andrea Nguyen is the ultimate resource for understanding and buying Asian ingredients with 100 quick reference guides to the most commonly used ingredients in Asian cuisine at your fingertips from fish sauce and Sriracha to tamarind.”
-- Everythinghapa.com, read more
Related VWK posts:
- Asian Market Shopper Resources - Links to databases for finding markets in America and information on Asian chain markets. You may be surprised where they are!
- How to find Asian markets and ingredients – Useful pointers for getting what you need to cook with!
- A Tipsy Baker Cooks from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen - From Sunset magazine, this is a story about a Marin-based blogger who brought my hefty book on a shopping trip to a San Francisco Asian market.