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50 Best Asian Finds

Cutting-edge cooks are grilling fish in Japanese cedar paper, buying Thai pancake pans online and eating at restaurants that specialize in Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. Here, F&W highlights our favorite Asian ingredients, shops and trends in America, from Venice, California, to Duluth, Georgia.

Green Tea Time

U.S. imports of green tea—grown mostly in China and Japan—have increased an astonishing 650 percent over the past eight years. While green tea is a great source of healthy antioxidants, it is appearing in some decidedly hedonistic new incarnations.

CREAM PUFFS Some East Coast outlets of the Japanese cream puff chain Beard Papa's now sell pastries full of silky green tea–infused custard, far left ($1.55 each; 212-799-3770).

FLAVORED VODKA The Napa Valley boutique distillery Charbay is using real tea leaves to make its supersmooth green tea vodka, with hints of citrus ($35 for 750 ml; 800-634-7845).

FACIAL MASKS The tea extracts in Naturopathica's new Green Tea Wasabi Mask help protect skin ($42 for 1.7 fl oz; 800-669-7618).

Try It Chef Laurent Gras uses his Japanese bonito shaver to slice truffles extra thin.

The Specialists

Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches The best seller at this new Manhattan banh mi shop is the classic: ham, pâté and pickled vegetables (150 E. 2nd St.; 212-388-1088).

Kokekokko This L.A. restaurant, whose name is Japanese for "cock-a-doodle-doo," serves piping-hot chicken yakitori (203 South Central Ave.; 213-687-0690).

Tebaya Opened by a former sumo wrestler, this New York City shop specializes in deep-fried chicken wings (144 W. 19th St.; 212-924-3335).

TAOIST ELIXIR Chinatown, Bond No. 9's new fragrance, has hints of peach blossom, the Taoist elixir of life ($178 for a 3.3 oz bottle; 212-228-1940).

Wasabi Savvy

More sushi chefs are buying fresh wasabi flown in from Japan. But the root can cost upward of $100 a pound—not including a sharkskin grater (from $12 at Korin; 800-626-2172). Other ways to sample top-quality wasabi:

BUY INFUSED OIL Tokyo Kaneku recently began adding wasabi leaves to extra-virgin olive oil; the pleasantly pungent oil is excellent on fish (from $10 for 100 ml; 908-351-1433).

GROW YOUR OWN Seattle's Frogfarm sells wasabi plantlets; grown in moist, shaded soil, they'll produce six-inch roots in about 18 months ($7.50 each; 206-361-1981).

EAT OUT Chef Budi Kazali at the Ballard Inn in Ballard, California, tops tuna carpaccio with peppery wasabi sprouts (2436 Baseline Ave.; 805-688-7770 or 800-638-2466).

Leaf Motif

Tatsoi A sweet-tasting cousin of bok choy. Rodelio Aglibot of Yi Cuisine in Los Angeles tosses it with a spicy peanut vinaigrette.

Mitsuba A parsleylike herb. Masaharu Morimoto of Philadelphia's Morimoto tops octopus carpaccio with it.

Rau Ram Also called Vietnamese coriander, this herb has a slight peppery flavor. Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco mixes it into green papaya salad.

Shiso This minty leaf also has a slight pine aroma. Josh DeChellis of New York City's Sumile uses it in mojitos.

Kaffir Lime Leaves Shiny and citrus-scented. Ian Chalermkittichai at Kittichai in Manhattan chops this edible leaf finely to add to curries.

Shungiku A.k.a. chrysanthemum leaf. Patrick Feury at Nectar in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, uses this slightly bitter green in a salad with water chestnuts.

Consider It The U.S. exports more than 400,000 tons of rice to Japan each year.

Zen Chocolatier

Kristy Choo, chef and co-owner of Los Angeles's two-year-old Jin Patisserie, developed her love of sweets in the most jet-setting way: Before going to cooking school, she was a flight attendant and sampled pastries around the world. In a tiny, minimalist space with a tranquil garden out front, Choo sells the chocolates she painstakingly makes and paints by hand, including her tart lemongrass-scented truffles. She's just as meticulous with her macaroons, in flavors like lychee (1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA; 310-399-8801 or jinpatisserie.com).

Flavor Saviors

1 Shichimi Togarashi A Japanese mix of seven spices including dried chiles and seaweed that can give yakitori a kick.

2 Shrimp Paste Pungent and salty kapee (its Thai name) is used to flavor many Southeast Asian curry pastes.

3 Fermented Soybean Paste Similar to miso, this Korean paste is mixed into soups and stews.

4 Preserved Beans These salty black beans can be a wonderful complement to Chinese seafood dishes.

top tea houses

Imperial Tea Court, San Francisco The 12-year-old Chinatown original (1411 Powell St.; 415-788-6080) and its outpost (1 Ferry Bldg. Plaza, no. 27; 415-544-9830) serve exceptionally rare teas, including a Pu-erh aged over 20 years.

Ito En, New York City The three-year-old U.S. flagship store of the world's leading green tea producer offers about 30 varieties (822 Madison Ave.; 888-697-8003).

Cha Fahn, Jamaica Plain, MA This nearly two-year-old spot offers inventive blends, like Korean ginseng root with Sichuan peppercorn (763 Centre St.; 617-983-3575).

BAMBOOZLED Housewares company Bambu has started importing hand-coiled bamboo bowls from Vietnam in eight colors, from bold tomato to bright cantaloupe (from $8 for a six-inch bowl; 877-226-2829).

Pack It Zojirushi's Ms. Bento containers keep lunches warm or cool (800-733-6270).

Essential Web Sites

katagiri.com
The online division of this Manhattan institution offers everything from fresh Asian herbs, like mitsuba, to kitchen equipment, like a rice ball press.

ikoreaplaza.com
Korean items here vary from dozens of different types of ramen noodles to hard-to-find specialties like dried balloon flower and bellflower roots.

templeofthai.com
A great site for Southeast Asian ingredients; items range from rice flours to over a dozen curry pastes. Cookware includes a Thai coconut-pancake pan.

sushifoods.com
This San Diego–based company can ship dozens of kinds of fresh fish overnight, including horse mackerel from Japan and flash-frozen yellowfin tuna.

The Asian Superstores

Kmart has an Asian counterpart in the U.S.: H Mart. In the 23 years since South Korean–born Il Yeon Kwon opened his first grocery store, his H Mart empire has grown to 15 stores (with two more opening soon) selling Asian foods and housewares. The newest branches are well-stocked: The 60,000-square-foot Duluth, Georgia, store sells five different kimchi fridges, to preserve the freshness of the pickled vegetables, including a $2,200 one (hmart.com).

Sticker Shock

The over 200 Trader Joe's specialty food stores nationwide sell great pot stickers with tender wrappers, well-seasoned fillings like pork and chicken, and a price tag of less than $3 for 21 dumplings.

Taste Test: Soy Sauce

The F&W staff sampled 30 soy sauces available in grocery stores and Asian markets and chose these as our favorites.

WAN JA SHAN ORGANIC Earthy flavor, with a deep, roasted taste. Good as a dipping sauce and for cooking.

KAGAYA A rich, full-bodied soy sauce with an almost misolike flavor. Great as a dipping sauce and for cooking.

KIKKOMAN Both the naturally brewed Sushi & Sashimi and Light Soy sauces are pleasantly tangy and mild.

Cook It Chefs are using Korean stone bowls, which get incredibly hot, for oven-roasting.

Book Smart

Minori Fukuda and Kit Shan Li's new Sushi: A Pocket Guide, with photos and helpful phonetic instruction, can help you tell the difference between uni (sea urchin) and unagi (eel). The postcards work brilliantly as flash cards (book, $9; postcards, $10).

Candy Land

Fanciful and invariably chewy Asian candies are so popular now that 12 Hong Kong Aji Ichiban stores have opened around the U.S., specializing in sweets of every shape, from penguins to ears of corn to mini sunny-side up eggs. They also sell sesame and peanut brittles, fizzy sour grape balls that numb your mouth and taffy-filled firecrackers complete with fuses (866-833-3888).

Chefs' Pantry

Kanzuri At Sumile in Manhattan, Josh DeChellis marinates fish with this blend of chiles, salt and malt. The chiles are buried under snow to ferment.

Long Peppers Graham Elliot Bowles at Avenues in Chicago grates Thai and Balinese peppercorns tableside to lend an incredibly fruity, sweet aroma to lamb dishes.

Matsutakes Stuart Brioza at Rubicon in San Francisco loves to pair these highly prized mushrooms, which have a slightly piney flavor, with persimmon and rosemary.

Mishima Beef While this rare variety—raised on the small island of Mishima, Japan—can't be imported to the U.S., Jonathan Krinn at 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia, uses an exceptionally tender, well-marbled approximation of the real thing for his beef tartare with quail egg.

Tonburi A Japanese seed also known as "land caviar." James McDevitt at Restaurant Budo in Napa uses it to give his octopus salad a snappy pop.

Paper Trail

U.S. chefs are starting to cook with papers from Japan, using them for everything from grilling to wrapping sushi rolls.

CEDAR PAPER Made from superthin cedar shavings, it gives food a woody flavor. Edward Lee at 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky, wraps salmon in it before grilling (from $48 for 100 sheets; 800-626-2172).

SOYBEAN PAPER Produced from dried soybeans, this paper is a milder alternative to nori. Tyson Cole at Uchi in Austin rolls it around salmon, avocado and sun-dried tomato before deep-frying (from $17 for 20 sheets; 888-817-8744).

Blade Runner

Chef Michel Bras, based in the knife-making town of Laguiole, France, has (scandalously) chosen Japanese company Kai to make his eponymous set (from $240 each; 305-448-7367).

Drink It Hitachino Nest's gingery White Ale is made in a 182-year-old sake brewery.

RESEARCH BY EMILY HALPERN, EMILY WHITE AND ANN PEPI

Published September 2005
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