A recent trip to Oriental Groceries & Crafts had me thinking: With so many options, what are the best offerings out there from this incredible Asian grocery? You’ll want to give yourself ample time to explore the aisles, but if you’re looking for an abbreviated visit, here’s a quick guide to what you should buy.
1. Ramune Soda
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It seems I’m late to the party on Ramune, the Japanese soda that kind of tastes like pixie sticks and that requires one to push a glass marble through the opening to unseal it. Ramune comes in several flavors—I’ll drink anything colored blue, including the mysterious Blue Hawaii flavor—and, depending on the day, Oriental Groceries will have a selection to choose from. Disregard the unsettling green color of the kiwi and opt for the original. The marble lobs around in the bottle, making a really fun noise as you drink.
2. Bamboo Shoots in Soybean Oil
Why haven’t I been buying these my whole life, you ask? Why, indeed. These soft-but-toothsome julienned shoots are wading in spicy chili-infused oil, like the spicy pickle you didn’t know you needed in your life. They’re the perfect accompanying condiment to pretty much anything, but I like them in my ramen (and if you’re unfussy about the seriousness of ramen, like any American raised in the suburbs, you’ll dress your MSG-laden dried noodle pack with stuff like this when you have no time or patience for tonkotsu). These are spicy, but not deliriously so.
3. Marinated, Dried Mushrooms
At the cashier, I was warned about the potency of these mushrooms. “Very spicy,” the Chinese woman told me. “I have to eat them with rice.” I’m not one to pursue a spicy battle of wits, but I bought them anyway, warning heeded. Yes, they’re hot. And yes, they’re chewy and really good. Marinated in chili, soy, sugar, sesame, star anise, and other odds and ends, these are good for snacking—though I’m inclined to agree that they fare well with the cooling influence of white rice.
4. Nata de Coco
I am completely, weirdly obsessed with these cubes of gelatinous coconut water that come from the Philippines. Coconut water is fermented and preserved with cellulose, which gives it a jellied consistency—like Jello, but firmer. Used in Thai and Filipino desserts, it’s also quite nice on its own, but I prefer it mixed with cream and fruit, my own personal version of the Asian dessert known as Halo Halo.
5. Sliced Beef Short Ribs
In Korea, the preparation using this style of meat is called Kalbi. Short ribs are sliced crosswise, making for thin, tender pieces of meat, as opposed to the short ribs we know and love that require hours of slow cooking. Soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, garlic, gochujang, ginger, and sesame oil is all you need for a rich marinade. Soak these stunners for a few hours and then throw them on a really hot grill. They take next to no time to cook. Since they’re in the frozen section, you can buy your short ribs now and eat them whenever you like.
6. Huy Fong Chili Garlic Sauce
Anyone who has traveled to Vietnam will recognize this iconic plastic bottle of chili sauce, green cap and all. It’s similar to the Thai Sriracha, though a little spicier (and also a little more garlicky, if you ask me). A little of this fiery sauce goes a long way. I use mine in a cucumber salad, which I finish with daikon, scallion, sesame oil, and a little soy sauce.
7. Canned Quail Eggs
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Have you ever tried working with fresh quail eggs? They’re incredibly fragile. Peeling them is a culinarian’s nightmare. They’re fickle, slippery little things. In the canned version, the work has been done for you, so you won’t have to worry about those shell fragments ending up in your ramen. Slice them in half and you have a picture-perfect soup condiment that’s ready to roll. In fact, they can fancy up just about anything you’re serving, from tuna tartare to tomato salad.
Oriental Groceries & Crafts, 2460 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook, open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., (631) 689-8787.