Learn what you should buy at an Asian grocery store and what you should buy at your local market.
If you get intimidated when walking into an Asian grocery store for the first time, don’t be. What awaits you at your neighborhood Asian grocer is not only some of the same stuff you would find at your local supermarket, but a larger variety of products with a vast array of brands to choose from, as well as cheap prices.
In our household, we cook American, Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotian food. I’ve been going to Asian grocery stores in Chinatown since immigrating to the United States in 1982. I’ve taken my now grown kids to the grocery store since they were little, and I’m writing this post to share with them Grandma’s favorite brands so when they get old enough, when they get nostalgic and want to recreate one of my dishes from their childhood, they can with the right ingredients!
Before Your First Visit to an Asian Grocery Store
For your first visit, you’ll want to make sure you know what to expect. Going in blindly will only cause you more angst. Read my definitive list on what to get at an Asian grocery store before you go into the store. If you don’t, you may find yourself picking up products and realizing they are not in English (or even with labels misspelled), getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of product options, and not knowing where everything is.
Once you know what to look for, you can save a ton of money and also know what brands and products that are tried and true.
I’m here to guide you through an Asian grocery store aisle by aisle and share with you my favorite products that I use for my family.
Are you ready to tour the market with me and allow me to share with you my recommended brands?
General FYI About Shopping at an Asian Grocer
Produce is generally less inexpensive along with a larger variety of exotic foods.
You can also get some of the things on your regular grocery list at the Asian grocery store as well. It doesn’t mean that you have to only be serving up Asian cuisine if you stop there!
To calm your worst fears, I just want you to know there is no crazy underhanded vegetable smuggling or black market conspiracy going on. Asian grocery stores don’t follow the middleman business model like most American grocery store chains do. They order directly from the manufacturer.
From a freshness perspective, the clients of these Asian grocery stores shop and cook differently than most Westerners. They are often making trips to the stores multiple times per week rather than how Westerners shop in bulk once a week. Often, product turnaround is fairly quick and that means that the food that you buy will often be fresh.
Snacks to Buy at Asian Grocer
I’ve written about popular Asian snacks that you should pick up before, but I wanted to highlight some of my favorites below as well.
Jelly cups are delicious, and your kids will absolutely love them. They come in all different types of cannisters, including cute little animals.
These snack foods are delicious and your kids will love them. You will find this at your local grocer, but they are in larger variety at the Asian grocer (and less expensive too).
Shrimp chips are absolutely addictive. They are a great alternative to a regular chip.
The sheer amount of wafer sticks dwarfs what you’ll find any any local grocer.
Soft Flour Cake
There are delicious sour flour cakes that are individually wrapped, sweet, and chewy that your kids will love snacking on.
Seasonings, Flavorings, and Spices to Buy at Asian Grocery Store
Spices are a lot less expensive at the Asian supermarket and they come in large quantities that you can just refill your empty containers at home with. I would recommend getting roasted rice powder, which is normally not found at your local grocer.
Pure Sesame Oil
You’ll find pure sesame oil at 1/3 of the price that you would at a normal grocer.
You won’t go wrong picking this up.
Soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauces can be found aisle after aisle, variety after variety. They’ll be less expensive by half the price (and taste better as well).
The mountain brand (green top) is my favorite soy sauce brand because it’s light:
Here are filtered fish sauces:
My favorite fish sauce brand is the squid brand:
Unfiltered fish sauce is called padaek in Lao, but you might want to avoid this because it is kind of scary.
Oyster sauces that I love are the Red Panda version.
Forget about sriracha (okay, don’t forget about it), but explore some other alternatives:
Curry paste comes in large varieties that are absolutely amazing to see. I personally love the red curry that comes in the small red can.
If you are wanting to make pho, you are going to need these little stars.
Pho Spice Packet
Instead of getting all the individual spices for pho, you can also get a packet:
Dry Goods to Buy at Asian Supermarket
Noodles are endless. There are a ton of noodles like rice noodles, vermicelli noodles, bean thread, glass noodles, and so much more.
If you like eating ramen, Asian markets have BETTER ramen noodles than the usual fan fare of Maruchan and Top Ramen that are found at your local supermarkets.
This is my second favorite ramen:
Spring Roll Wrappers
Spring roll wrappers are an amazing find here. I have a great recipe that you can follow in using these rice roll wrappers that is absolutely delicious.
If you love panko over regular breadcrumbs, you’ll find it way less expensive at the Asian grocery store.
There are so many flours you can purchase including rice flour, potato starch, sweet rice flour, the list goes on. Flour is so much less expensive at the Asian grocer than at a regular grocer.
Tapioca flour, rice flour and sweet rice flour are amazing milled ingredients that can make absolutely wonderful dishes:
Here’s a premade mixture for banh xeo, a Vietnamese crepe pancake:
Rice is a great product to buy at the grocery store and there is an amazing variety. Try getting Thai sweet rice, Thai black rice, or jasmine rice. If you buy in bulk 25 lb bags, you can save a ton of money if your family eats a lot of rice.
These stores will also sell smaller bagged versions of this rice as well:
Dried mushrooms come in a large array of varieties in an Asian grocer. The most popular are the wood ear mushrooms, which are used in egg rolls.
Canned and Preserved to Purchase at Asian Supermarket
Fried Shallots, Fried Garlic, and Fried Onions
Large jars are to had inexpensively. They are absolutely delicious.
There are so many types of asian beans, including mung beans.
Thai black rice (also known as purple sticky rice) is delicious and a great alternative to sticky rice.
There is such a large variety of coconut cream that you may get confused on what to get. These are all normally full fat creams and milks. The blue and brown cans are normally what I would recommend.
Premade sauces for some of your favorite dishes are also available, saving you a lot of hassle from finding all the other ingredients:
Canned fruits like longan can be found in these aisles.
There are other fruits that you can pick up as well. Make sure you refrigerate it before serving, because chilled longan is absolutely the best:
Try rambutan as well, it’s just as great!
Produce to Get at Asian Supermarket
Fresh vegetables are a great find at your local Asian grocery store. You can buy a larger variety than at your local grocer including lemon grass, snow peas, bok choy, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and so much more. Note: You’ll find a larger variety of mushrooms at the Asian grocer that you won’t find anywhere else. Grab chinese broccoli and bok choy.
Herbs are plentiful. You’ll find aromatic herbs like Thai basil lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, banana blossom, mint arrow, and so much more here (for cheap).
Fruit is cheaper in Asian markets. You can find things like persimmons, lychees, and mango. Korean pears are something you should get the next time you stop.
Even if you think you’ve found an amazing gardening store locally, your Asian supermarket will have seeds for some specialty items:
This is my favorite thing to get: Chinese Kale (also known as Chinese Broccoli) is used a lot in stir fry and has a taste between broccoli and cauliflower.
Refrigerated Section of an Asian Grocery Store
This is the most popular of the Chinese sausages sold because it is oily and used in a lot of fried rice to give it some flavoring.
Fresh Rice Sticks and Noodles
Fresh rice noodles come in bags and are generally used for dishes, for example pho broth.
You can also get fresh rice noodle sticks as well:
You get so much more wonton wrappers than the ones you get at the local grocer. In addition, there are a variety that you can choose from:
Pork Ham Roll (Cha Lua)
These nam sausages are very popular. If you are not a fan of weird textures, this might not be the right snack for you.
Fresh Rice Sheets
Tofu is a great thing to get at the Asian grocer!
Pork Ham Roll
Pork ham rolls are delicious, especially in the aforementioned banh uot.
They only take about 5 minutes in the oven, but they are delicious and chewy!
Frozen Section of Asian Grocery Store
Frozen foods you buy at Asian supermarkets are just as good as the ones you get at your local grocer, but at a lower cost! You can get things like pot stickers, egg rolls, edamame, and steamed buns.
Here is banh bao, which is hard to make on it’s own, but when it’s frozen, all you do is heat it up!
Mochi is a type of ice cream that is absolutely delicious. It’s a chewy dough on the inside with ice cream on the outside. It has so many different flavors.
Wonton and Egg Roll Wrappers
If you want to make your own dumplings and egg rolls, get some frozen wrappers where they are already sliced and ready to peel for you to roll!
Beverages to Buy at Asian Grocery Store
You are going to be bewildered by the vast array of tea available in loose and bagged varieties.
The most famous of these teas is jasmine tea, especially the one in this container:
Forget overpaying for coffee, there are so many varieties available at the Asian market!
You can find Asian beers and spirits readily available and cheap!
There are milk teas in a can, aloe drinks, sweet drinks, coconut juice – there’s just a large variety of drinks that you may stay in the aisle mesmerized wondering what all the drinks are. My grandkids absolutely love this one:
Soda Creamers – Pandan Hale’s
The green bottle is hands down the BEST and most delicious soda creamer I’ve ever had.
Meat and Seafood at the Asian Grocery Store
You’ll find a lot of different cuts, including pork belly which is used in a lot of Southeast Asian foods. They also carry specialty products like oxtail, intestine, tripe, pigskin, duck wing, frog legs if you are more adventurous.
Seafood is a great thing to get at Asian grocery stores because it is the cheapest place to buy super fresh seafood like fish, lobster, crab, octopus, and squid!
These are the best meatballs to use for pho if you are making pho meatballs!
Home Goods to Buy at Asian Grocery Store
There are a ton of kitchen utensils that you can get for half the price of your normal home store. Large spatulas, chopsticks, and skimmers, there are a ton to choose from if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
Woks and Steamers
Bamboo steamers are awesome for making dumplings.
Ever wonder how to steam sticky rice? Buy one of these and check out my tutorial on steaming sticky rice at home.
Mortar and pestles are generally used in a lot of Thai and Lao cooking. For example, papaya salad is one of the recipes that is best known for having a mortar and pestle handy. Learn the differences between Thai and Lao papaya salad here.
Near the Check Out Aisle
Bamboo plants can be found for sale as well:
Roasted pork belly and whole duck is often sitting in the integrated Asian restaurant. Be sure to grab the pork belly if they are available, it’s absolutely delicious (and will but your calorie counting for the day).
Near the check out aisle, there may be fresh foods ready made like spring rolls, banh uot, banh cuon, banh Tet that are already made if you wanted to take it home!
Premade snacks and foods can also be found close to the checkout aisle.
This is my absolute impulse buy because refrigerated desserts are simply my favorite way to end a successful Asian market shopping trip.
Conclusion of What to Buy at the Asian Grocery Store
If you’ve developed a fondness for Southeast Asian cuisine (maybe because of my blog) through restaurant touring, friends, and foodie Instagram accounts, you may now want to start making your own homemade version at home. Instead of forcing yourself to pursuing the single shelf at your local grocer of international foods, an Asian supermarket will allow you to browse a variety of products and brands that you never knew existed.
With the popularity of Asian food rising across the nation, Asian grocery stores have become a pretty prominent staple in most big cities. I hope this list helps guide you on your next shopping spree as you explore what your local Asian market has to offer.
If you plan on launching your first expedition to your local Asian grocer, check out my other post on how to navigate an Asian grocery store for the first time.
Check out my favorite pantry items as well as kitchen utensils.