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Stock up at Asian specialty shops

One of my favorite excursions while traveling is visiting local food emporiums. There, I've learned more about the native culture than from geographical points of interest. Local ethnic markets afford a similar opportunity for cultural appreciation here in Charlotte.

Additionally, more and more recipes appear with that asterisk that denotes, "Found at Asian specialty shops." Finding items in specialty shops is infinitely more rewarding than stuffing that recipe in a file and waiting until the ingredient arrives at the Teeter. Look for markets that are owned by proprietors who are keenly aware that an ethnic market serves a dual function: providing home foods for natives and serving as an outlet for those hard-to-find ingredients.

One such proprietor is Korean native Grace Choe, who owns Asia Oriental Food and Gifts Market, specializing in Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Thai products in a space located above her husband's seafood market. Choe offers this advice about the primary differences in Korean and Japanese cuisines. To the Japanese, the look of a dish is important. Japanese eat for color. Koreans eat for taste and what's good for the body. Most of what you'll find in her shop is good-for-you foods. She has a stock of seafood sausages and an assortment of pickles: radishes, garlic, cucumber, plum and, of course, kimchee. In the refrigerated section next to the jellyfish (cooked, shredded and served in a summer salad) is tofu, both firm and soft. The dried food section offers some real values, with large bags of spices for only a couple of bucks.
Asia Oriental Food and Gifts Market, 919 S. McDowell. 704-375-1215.

Another shop specializing in Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese items is PePeRo Oriental Food. Korean native and owner Hwi Won Yoo relocated his shop to this larger location last January. In his shop are eight-pound jars of kimchee, dozens of different types of frozen dumplings, a half dozen kinds of salt (some in 10-pound bags) and a freezer full of whole frozen fish. One customer told me she comes in for the fresh Asian produce and baked potato crackers. In addition to groceries, PePeRo stocks house wares, toiletries and linens.
PePeRo Oriental Food, 10920 Monroe Road. 704-845-2107.

I first went to Lotte for sushi ingredients but ended up buying a basketful of products I had not found elsewhere in Charlotte. Lotte specializes in Japanese and Korean foods. The freezer is packed with primarily Japanese foods while the shelves boast everything from dozens of kinds of soy sauces to sushi ware.
Lotte Oriental Store, 4211 South Boulevard. 704-527-8949.

The Pakistani community has found a home in owner Shemina Dawood's Spiceland Groceries (and ASI International Gifts). She stocks vegetarian Pakistani and Indian foods. Inexpensive spices and teas cluster beside prepackaged dinners and bottles of ghee. In the freezer (without glass doors) are excellent frozen paratha, including a spicy aloo (potato) made in Malaysia. This store is quite small and also sells clothing, prayer rugs and videos. The English-speaking owners are extremely welcoming and helpful.
Spiceland Groceries, 5309 East Independence Boulevard. 704-563-6644.

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