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Some of the many snack options at Asian Market

Run by husband and wife Yi and Bi Feng, Asian Market has been a reliable source for Chinese and Southeast Asian goods since 1995. With aisles of snacks, desserts, ramen and infinite sauce, the store located behind Dutch Square Mall can be a daunting task to navigate. As ever, Free Times is here to help, reviewing some of the best items the store has to offer.

Shin Ramen/Nissin Tonkotsu Ramen

With a whole aisle dedicated to instant ramen, searching for the right packet can be intimidating. But amid the myriad options vying for your attention, there’s two old faithfuls that you can count on any day of the week. The shin ramen packet by Nongshim is like the golden retriever of the ramen world. Always dependable and, most importantly, available, the instant ramen has sturdy, chewy noodles and a salty, spicy flavor packet that’s hard to resist. The noodles themselves are great for a quick stir fry or in just about any situation you’d need a noodle in a pinch. 

For a monstrously rich, flavored ramen, the Nissin tonkatsu is almost as good as the real deal. Accompanied by a packet of black garlic oil and a tonkatsu flavor packet, this ramen is amazingly fatty, porky and fragrant for a tiny package. With slightly fancier noodles, you could fool just about anyone into thinking you actually made it yourself with one of these. 

Filipino Pan

Short for pandesal, which is actually Spanish for “salt bread,” pan is a popular yeast-raised bread commonly eaten for breakfast in the Philippines. Asian Market carries a variety of stuffed pan from a California company called Orient Bakery in the open freezer section. Best of all is their pan de ube, which comes filled with a sweet purple yam stuffing. Though seemingly simple, between the lightly crisp crust of the pan out of the oven, the sweet, fluffy interior and the creamy ube filling, there’s lots of wonderful complexity. Thankfully, it comes in packs of six, so you can relive your first, dreamy bite over and over again.

Shrimp Chips

Many of you probably grew up with Cool Ranch Doritos, tubs of cheese ball puffs or bags of sour cream and onion potato chips. A whole generation of Asian Americans in the United States, however, grew up with shrimp chips in the pantry. 

Don’t let the idea of shrimp scare you: It’s only a mild fragrance. These salty, slightly sweet chips are massively addicting in the same way all great chips are. The best are made by Calbee, the originators of the shrimp chip. While it seems silly, branding is everything in Asian culture, and when you find a Calbee bag of shrimp chips you don’t think twice. Most places, like Asian Market, carry the Nongshim brand, which is plenty fine to get you started on the road to enlightenment.

Rambutan and the Magic of Canned Lychee

Wandering around the cold produce area of the store, it’s hard not to notice the red, webby, alien fruit known as rambutan. A tropical fruit native to Southeast Asia, you peel it’s outer skin to unveil the soft, white flesh inside. These are hard to find, but incredible to try. 

Rambutans, though, are more of a one-time thing. For something a lot easier, take a walk over to the canned fruit section. 

Lychees, a tropical fruit related to the rambutan, are an awful pain to both find and eat raw thanks to their tough skin and large seed that you have to fight through. Canned lychees, however, not only take the fuss out of the whole thing, but preserve the beautiful, sweet flavor and pleasant bite. Iced down, these are as good as any watermelon or pineapple in the summer heat.

Butter Coconut Cookies

There’s a seemingly infinite amount of packaged Asian desserts in the universe. From wafers to crackers to various hard and soft cookies, you could easily get lost in a downward spiral. One of the best comes in the most unassuming of packages, a silvery shell bearing only the words “butter coconut cookies.” Aptly named, these are intensely buttery and coconutty. The cookie itself is crisp and crumbly, and slightly sweet from the sugar dusted on top. The way they sort of dissolve in your mouth is almost Krispy Kreme-like, but with a light, refreshing coconut finish.

Mochi Ice Cream

Mochi is a soft, sweet, sticky dessert made by pounding the hell out of cooked glutinous rice. The act of beating it makes the already sticky substance even stickier and more uniform. It’s great on its own with a little sugar, but even better mixed with different flavors that it soaks up beautifully. 

One of the great creations came when people realized you could stuff the mochi with ice cream. The soft, sticky mochi gently protects the ice cream filling and provides some unique contrasts that’s not at all normal in American desserts, but works really well with the soft ice cream. The Sweety brand of mochi ice cream is one of the easiest to find and also one of the most pleasing, with basic flavors like vanilla joining Vietnamese coffee, red bean and the ever-popular matcha. 

Asian Market is located at 1221 Bakersfield Rd. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Got food or drink news? Email food@free-times.com.

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