Lost in the Seaweed Aisle

Asian food tends to be abundant on the vegetables and light on the meat as if it is there as an accent to enhance the vibrant colors and flavors of the veggies. I typically make an Asian-inspired meal at least twice a week so I am always looking for new, creative Asian cuisine. This poses challenges since most grocery stores have an Americanized Asian selection with lots of safe choices for excursions into Asian cuisine. Not being one who is able to leave "well enough" alone I find myself compelled to seek more stimulating possibilities. When presented the opportunity to shop at an international market I view it as a culinary-artistic adventure which results in many a foray into the unknown. How fun!

Most major metropolitan areas have an Asian store that is as large as any well-stocked grocery store. I love to go and wander through endless aisles of packaging that I can't read; that all adds to the adventure! It gives new meaning to the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words". If you are open to perusing aisle upon aisle of food that is completely unfamiliar then you are likely to experience some tasty surprises but the possibility is open to some icky flavors too (durian cookies come to mind--we will never get hungry for those). You can discern the nationality of some foods if you familiarize yourself with the overall look of the characters. For example, I can tell the difference between Korean, Chinese and Japanese characters (even though I have no idea what they say) which allows me to at least narrow the selection if I am looking for a specific item. Here's another secret, look for the ingredient list on the back, sometimes you will find these in English. You can tell a lot from the ingredients list like whether the item is sweet or savory, potentially spicy or salty or vegetarian. As an alternative you can always take the "deer in the headlights" approach and some kind person will ask if you need help picking out your seaweed; such was the case with us. We left the store with several options to experiment with thanks to an Asian-American woman who obviously noticed our confused looks and offered to assist. As a bonus, she also directed us to a terrific restaurant nearby which we thoroughly enjoyed! 

The photo above shows just a portion of the dried seaweed available. You can also find seaweed in both the refrigerated and frozen food departments. I am still on a search for the seaweed used in "seaweed salad" served in many Asian restaurants. I think the frozen food section is next. In the meantime I will find some artfully creative ways to use the items purchased on our most recent excursion.

Have you ever considered incorporating the Japanese art of origami into your meal presentation? You can use sheets of dried seaweed, wonton wrappers or other flat, foldable food items. Books on Edible Origami, Napkin Origami, and others can be used to provide an artful setting for any meal.
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