Chinese restaurants are popular around the United States, but few of us cook Chinese dishes at home. Perhaps this is because there are many special ingredients needed, and theyre sometimes hard to find.
But if you look in Chinese grocery stores, you can find fresh vegetables such as bamboo shoots, white radish, lotus root, Chinese long beans and enoki mushrooms. While there, you can also find flavorings and condiments, including fish sauce, shrimp sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, black vinegar, ginger and chili sauce. And of course there are many soybean products; among them are tofu, pressed bean curd, bean sauce and soy milk.
Dried ingredients, essential in cooking Chinese food, are carried by almost all Chinese grocery stores. Look for dried mushrooms, Chinese tree fungus, lotus seeds, pine nuts and dried fish, oysters and shrimp.
Teas such as lapsang souchong, pu-erh, ti-kuan, and herbs including angelica, bai zhi, astragalus, dried Chinese yam, ginseng and many more can also be found at the typical Chinese grocery.
If you think these stores are only located in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, youre wrong. There are several excellent Chinese grocery stores in the Detroit area.
I usually shop at China Merchandise, at John R and 13 Mile Road in Madison Heights. Owner George Yau opened this store more than 25 years ago, and says it is one of the best Asian grocery stores in metro Detroit. The most popular items include seasonings, fresh fish, soybean products and herbal tea. His store is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Another branch is located on the corner of Grand River and Farmington Road in Farmington Hills.
You might also want to visit the Oriental Market & Restaurant, on John R near 12 Mile in Madison Heights. If you enjoy Thai food, youll like the various Thai seasonings and sauces found here.
In Troy, Tinsway Asian Food & Restaurant Supply Co. opened recently at 1785 E. Maple. Mainly catering to restaurants, their wholesale prices are good if you want to buy huge amounts of fresh and dried vegetables. Manager Hiu-Lan Leung says they are expanding their store and will add more items in the near future.
If you live near Dearborn Heights, visit Zhongshan Oriental Groceries at 5734 N. Telegraph. Owner Susan Lai recommends their herbal teas and sushi-making supplies.
Evergreen Supply Co., 20736 Lahser Road in Southfield, emphasizes Cantonese and Hong Kong-style foods. Cooked Chinese bacon, roast duck and lots of precooked foods will let you make Chinese dishes more easily.
Before shopping, read Linda Bladholms The Asian Grocery Store Demystified (Renaissance Books, $14.95, 234 pp.). It explains how to use the vast array of delicious stuff that can be found in Chinese grocery stores, and provides recipes for cooking your first Chinese dish.Yu-Ru Lee
Dont miss Arts, Beats & Eats this weekend in downtown Pontiac. The free festival has art, music and more; all proceeds from the food booths go to local charities. Wanna get a shot at being a milk-drinking celebrity? Get your photo taken in the Milk Mustache Mobile, which will be at the Michigan State Fair this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.