Ok. So really, this post isn't about looking for vegan ingredients. My friend, that happens to be vegan, has the same dilemma that I have. After years of shopping at Asian markets, there's one section that still gives me little bouts of anxiety.
The spice and condiment aisle.
Saying that there are many choices is a bit of an understatement. Now, I gravitate to what I'm familiar with, but what do you do if you have no idea what the product is? My key decision makers are being able to actually see the product through the packaging or in a picture, and reading the ingredients on the label. Even though they are Asian products, they should still have the ingredients clearly labeled in English if sold in the USA. So let's dive in to some staples to put in your pantry.
Here's what we got from Uwajimaya:
- Black sesame seeds
- Seattle tofu
- Rice flour
- Vegan kimchi
This is a Korean chili pepper paste. It has a bit of a smokey flavor and has a smooth and thick consistency. The spiciness is not as sharp as Sriracha, and builds up as you keep eating it. You can get this in different spicy levels, but usually it's at a medium taste. Gochujang is great for marinades, dips for vegetables and rice dishes. It's a staple for Bibimbap.
These flakes are from the same pepper that makes gochujang. Also having the smokier flavor, it's versatile in any type of cuisine. Seriously. I use it in everything I would with crushed chili flakes like pasta, potatoes, pizza or in the more traditional cucumber kimchi.
Black Sesame Seeds
No, they don't turn tan when you sprinkle them out of the bottle (I just forgot to take pictures of the black ones). But! They taste pretty identical. The black seeds are just not hulled, so it's the shell that's black. It's really for aesthetic purposes. They're easier to find when you're at an Asian grocery market. Use it anywhere you would use the tan version.
Seattle Local Tofu
Not all tofu's are the same. I still use whatever I can get my hands on, but if I have the choice, I go for the Thanh Son brand that is made in Seattle. They actually have a store with other products, but I usually buy their tofu at Uwajimaya or H Mart. There's actually more flavor and has a better texture than generic brands. Perfect for stir fry or grilling them up in a marinade.
This flour has a thinner consistency than all-purpose, but I wouldn't interchange the two. What rice flour is great for is using it as a coating for a baked/fried dish, and for making anything into a thicker consistency. Perfect for vegetarian gravy, because it doesn't clump as easily as other flours do.
And finally we have vegan kimchi. This is where I'll reiterate to read the labels, especially if you're vegan. There are a ton of Asian dishes that seem like they are vegetarian and/or vegan, but they will have fish and other seafood products snuck-in there. Kimchi is a perfect example of this, because there's usually fish sauce, shrimp or raw oysters used. Seeing the need to adjust to the vegan palate, there are more and more products available. Just make sure to read the label.
Hopefully the spice and condiment aisle at Uwajimaya doesn't seem as scary now. Heck, you're never going to know what something tastes like until you try it. Do I hear an Asian condiment tasting party happening soon? Oh I think so.