You gotta crawl out of the kitchen cave from time to time and explore the culinary delights of the big city. On a morning jog, I ran past Asahi imports on Burnet Road and scoped it out later that day.
My first impression was that the store was chock full of quickie noodle meals and Asian snacky packages. Upon more detailed inspection, I noticed a few interesting items such as 100% buckwheat soba, and many unfamiliar spices.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was this yuzu paste. Yuzu is a citrus fruit that is used to outstanding effect at Uchi and other upscale establishments. This paste left me wanting more, however. I found the flavor to be very monotone and overly heavy on the green chili, with very little citrus aroma.
Update – Yuzu kosho is apparently a common condiment in Japan and here’s a site showing it made fresh – http://www.japanesefoodreport.com/2011/12/chef-abes-fresh-yuzu-kosho.html. And here is a great recipe showing yuzu juice as an ingredient – http://rosemaryandthegoat.com/2011/12/13/bitter-greens-with-yuzu-dressing/comment-page-1/#comment-1848
This spice, shichimi togarashi, lured me in with an intriguing blend of roasted orange, red pepper, ginger, and sesame, etc. I’m honestly still trying to put my finger on this, but it’s not nearly as flavorful as I hoped. Perhaps the cold I’m recovering from is still stunting my sense of taste. If anyone is familiar with this seasoning and its proper use, please drop a note! I’m thinking if I grind it in a mortar and add a bit o’ salt, that might help the flavor pop a bit more. Perhaps toast it in a dry saute pan.
Lastly, I decided to stock up on pickled ginger. Not excited about the artificial coloring going on here, but I compromised.
Lastly, I was behind a guy checking out with about 15 pounds of dried soybeans saying he was going to make tofu. I was impressed and let him know how cool that sounded. He responded by handing me his card, paying his tab, and leaving summarily. Before I could introduce myself, he was gone, but I realized that he was Shawn Cirkiel, the Culinary Institute of America-trained executive chef of Parkside, a noted restaurant here in Austin. Perhaps he’ll give me an externship later this summer since we’re such good buddies now – ha!