Easiest Ever Kimchi

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I often hesitate to use the word “ever” in a recipe. Descriptions like “The most decadent pie ever,” or “The best breakfast you’ll ever eat,” are just a little bit too over the top because these statements hardly ever turn out to be true. But I kid you not, this recipe for kimchi is the easiest you’ll ever find. You mix up some brine, stir in chopped veggies, and then let it sit out for a while. You’ll be rewarded with salty, funky, and crunchy kimchi that is addictive.

A lot of the ingredients (rice powder, gochugaru pepper flakes, and sesame oil to name a few) that I needed to buy individually (according to kimchi recipes I found in cookbooks) are all ingredients found in gochujang paste. Since I’m on a budget, and didn’t want to buy half a dozen ingredients that I might only use occasionally, I subbed these with a combination of gochujang paste and other condiments.

Now this isn’t by any means a traditional recipe. Honestly, your Korean grandmother might be rolling in her grave right now because of the ingredients list. But even with it taking a different avenue from other versions, the results are a delicious ferment. As with most recipes, feel free to swap out some of the ingredients to make it as spicy, sweet, or tangy as you’d like.

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Easiest Ever Kimchi

Makes about 4 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 napa cabbages or large bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions (green parts only), chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
  • 10 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup sweet soy sauce
  • 1 cup gochujang paste

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, onions, and salt. Set aside for 10-15 minutes to sweat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.
  2. Once the cabbage and onions have wilted slightly, add enough water to the bowl to cover the vegetables. Roughly mix the cabbage and onions in the water with your hands (to remove any excess salt that’s left) and then drain well.
  3. Add the drained cabbage and onions to the gochujang mix. Toss with either gloved hands or tongs until everything is well coated. Put the kimchi mixture into 4 clean pint jars, leaving headspace of about 2 inches. Use a fermentation weight to weigh down the top of each jar, ensuring that the cabbage stays underneath the brine. Now you can either cover each of your jars with a regular lid (and ‘burp’ them daily to release excess pressure) or choose airlock lids for less hassle.
  4. Store in a cool place away from sunlight for 3 to 5 days and start checking the taste of the kimchi on the third day. It’s ready once it’s bubbly and tastes delicious. Store in the fridge for up to a year (but I promise it won’t last that long).

Nutrition per serving (1/4 cup):

Calories: 33 Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Protein: 1g Carbohydrates: 6g Sugars: 4g

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Adventures in Fermentation (and Some Beginner Cookbook Recommendations)

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There’s something about doing things yourself that really makes me happy. Baking bread, creating condiments from scratch, or mixing your own tea blends are all things that I’m gung-ho about. But there’s one food ‘project’ that has really caught my attention lately: fermenting.

My first introduction to fermented foods (not counting the occasional sauerkraut on a veggie dog) was during our honeymoon. We visited the farmers’ market in downtown Austin, Texas which included Buddha’s Brew, a kombucha company with a variety of flavors for sampling. Neither of us had heard of such a thing, but we happily drank up the blueberry version whilst eating tamales and listening to the vendor explain the various health benefits to us.

Fast forward to three years later and nearly every counter in my poor, overworked apartment kitchen is covered in a myriad of jars and bottles containing bubbling ferments. In the last few months (especially thanks to three weeks off in-between jobs) I’ve started to seriously work on developing my fermenting from a fair-weather hobby into a real skill.

gallon jar of kimchi with a hand nearby to show sizeSo far, I’ve perfected my own recipes­—after drawing inspiration from various cookbooks—for lemon-dill sauerkraut, kimchi (see right, blog post coming soon!), and fennel-white peppercorn carrots. Obviously I’ve got a lot more to learn before I can even call myself an experienced fermenter, but I’m excited for the challenge.

Along with just being really delicious, fermented foods have a big health benefit: probiotics. These helpful little gut bacteria can help with an assortment of things, including digestion and boosting your immune system. Every time I have to take antibiotics, no matter the medicine’s strength, I’m always violently ill with a sick stomach. But if I take my meds with fermented foods (I usually drink a glass kombucha in the morning and eat a spoonful of kimchi at night) then my symptoms never get worse than a little nausea. Before, I would run out and purchase these items, but now I can just make my own ferments at home to keep illness at bay.

There are roughly a million other fermentation books that I’d like to add to my cookbook collection, but I’m starting small for now. These are the books that I’ve really been enjoying reading and learning from so far:

Ferment for Good: Ancient Food for the Modern Gut: The Slowest Kind of Fast Food—Author Sharon Flynn has created a career from her passion for fermenting, and you can definitely tell by reading her book. It’s an impassioned beginners guide that covers everything from the equipment you need to what all of the ‘scary’ looking changes are that occur when fermenting foods (most of which are perfectly safe and natural). Not to mention, she has some delicious recipes, most of which come with suggestions on how to mix-and-match ingredients to create your own unique ferments.

Fiery Ferments: 70 Stimulating Recipes for Hot Sauces, Spicy Chutneys, Kimchis with Kick, and Other Blazing Fermented Condiments—This book is hot! Literally. The recipes range from basic spicy relishes to sophisticated-sounding condiments (Habanero Carrot Sauce, anyone?) and each is sure to impress any heat-lover in your life. If you’re worried about making hot ferments and then not knowing how to use them, they’ve covered that too. There’s an entire chapter with delicious-sounding suggestions for using the recipes.

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World-I almost feel silly listing this because it’s such a well known book, but I’m doing it anyway. This is basically the bible of fermenting, written by Sandor Katz, the famed fermentation revivalist who credits these probiotic-rich foods with helping his health after an AIDS diagnosis. At nearly 500 pages, there’s a wealth of knowledge tucked in-between the two covers. Learn about which salts are best to use, traditional methods from a wide range of cultures, how to ferment non-dairy ‘cheese,’ and more!

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you buy anything linked on this page, it won’t cost you any extra, but I’ll get a small commission through the Amazon Associates program. This helps me cover costs to keep the site up and running.

Seitan Shepherd’s Pie

seitan shepherds pie in a casserole dish

While I’m all about fancy foods and impressive dishes, sometimes it’s hard to beat a good casserole. When I’m craving comfort food and want something that’s easy to make, I turn to a classic: shepherd’s pie.

Although it’s usually made with lamb or beef (hence the name), my favorite filling to make a ‘meaty’ dish is seitan (say-tan). This wheat gluten-based food is packed with protein (actually more than tofu) and touts a short, recognizable ingredients list that you can feel good about. Best part? By making a vegan version of this often over-indulgent dish, each serving comes in at just above 200 calories.

I was lucky enough to have Sweet Earth reach out and send me a goodie bag packed to the brim with their multiple seitan products. Their varieties come in different cuts (strips, slices, or grounds) and there are even flavored versions, all of which are delicious. For this recipe I used their ground seitan, which holds up well in the rich gravy and gives a savory boost to the dish.

seitan shepherds pie in a glass casserole dish

Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots, green beans, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 (8-oz.) packages white mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 oz. ground seitan (like Sweet Earth Traditional Seitan)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups non-dairy milk 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast 
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 cups prepared mashed potatoes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Steam the frozen vegetables and and pour into a 9×13-inch casserole dish.
  3. In a large pan, bring the olive oil to medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent and fragrant. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in mushrooms and seitan, cooking until the mushrooms have become tender. Add the seitan mixture into the casserole dish.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together water, milk, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, Italian seasoning, pepper, and cornstarch. Add the sauce mix to a large saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until thickened.
  5. Pour the gravy over the vegetable and seitan mixture and stir together. Spread prepared mashed potatoes on top and cover the dish with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, remove foil, and bake for 15 more minutes. Sprinkle more nutritional yeast on top, if desired. 

Nutrition per serving:

Calories: 208 Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 0g Protein: 15g Carbohydrates: 32g Sugars: 7g

5 Tips to Make Weekly Batch Cooking a Breeze

 

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If you had told me a year ago that every Sunday I would be regularly batch cooking my meals for the entire week, I would have said that you merely had a pipe dream. I assumed then that batch cooking must involve strenuous hours in the kitchen, eating up an entire day of my precious weekend. Though this length of time may be true for the first few times you batch cook, it eventually will become easy to only use a few hours to cook meals and snacks ahead for the entire week.

When I batch cook, I find that it saves me time throughout the week and I’ll naturally opt for healthier lunch and dinner options simply because they’re already prepared. Plus, when you have no real rush during cooking (unlike when your stomach is rumbling on a busy weeknight) there’s plenty of time to be creative and try new things in the kitchen.

While it might seem intuitive to just jump in and start cooking, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that can help you quickly begin food prepping for the week with ease.

  1. Start With a Clean Kitchen

It seems like common sense, right? But there have been plenty of times I’ve begun cooking with the sink half full of dishes and quickly regretted my decision. It’s harder to find space to drain pasta, fill up large pots, or throw your newly dirty dishes into. Just take the 15 minutes ahead of time to wash a load of dishes and wipe down the counter. You’ll thank yourself later.

  1. Strategize Your Recipes

Once you’ve chosen your recipes for the week and done all the grocery shopping, it’s time to make a game plan. You can either print out each recipe, or, like me, just have them all open on your computer. I look at each recipe, ordering them from the most to least amount of cooking times, and then figure out what needs to be started first. You wouldn’t want to begin your recipe that takes two hours at the very end of your cooking session. The easiest thing (for me) is to start my basics first (baking potatoes, cooking grains or legumes, marinating tofu, etc.) and then begin making more specific components of recipes.

  1. Wear Shoes

I feel a bit silly putting this in the list, but it’s not something I thought about when I first started meal prepping. I don’t wear shoes at home, or in my kitchen, so why start now? Well standing up for two or three hours on a hard wooden floor will definitely come back to bite you the next day. I quickly learned my lesson thanks to aching feet, and now wear sturdy tennis shoes every time I know I’ll be cooking more than one meal. For extra comfort, think about purchasing a kitchen mat too.

  1. Invest in Containers

My kitchen is constantly overflowing with colorful bowls, plates, and other fun dishes. I didn’t think I’d need to buy any containers since I’m already a bit of a Pyrex pack rat, but I quickly got tired of putting plastic wrap and foil on the many lidless plates and bowls I own. If you don’t own products specifically designed for storage, you might end up wanting to invest in some. I snagged 10 three-cup Pyrex containers during a sale at Target and they’re the perfect size for lunches. That way, between Peter and I, we have the right amount of containers to pack five lunches ahead for our workweek.

  1. Keep Yourself Entertained

If you’re a cooking novice, it might take your full concentration to make each recipe. But if you’re comfortable in the kitchen, you may find your mind wandering while you cube a five-pound bag of potatoes, or roll a dozen burritos for the freezer. Keep yourself upbeat and high-energy by listening to fun music (Disney, anyone?) or occupying your mind with an intriguing podcast. For true crime buffs I recommend The Generation Why or Sword & Scale, or for those wanting to take the foodie route, A Taste of the Past and Gravy Audio are great listens.

A Vegan’s Guide to Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an incredibly vegan-friendly city. With a large Buddhist population, many of which practice vegetarianism, it’s fairly common to see all-vegetarian restaurants or for there to at least be a vegetarian section on most menus. With these options on hand and a little bit of educated guessing on ingredients lists (or help on the menu with English speaking staff) you will find no shortage of delicious vegan meals throughout the city and countryside. Tofu, dumplings, spring rolls, and more are just a few of the options you’ll see on most street corners.

Below is nowhere near a complete list of all the vegan options in Hong Kong, just a few suggestions of our favorites from our recent trip. For more great ideas, and to see reviews of other vegan-friendly eating options, visit HappyCow.net.

Bakeries

It’s hard to walk more than a few blocks in Hong Kong without seeing a bakery. With an almost constant stream every morning of customers grabbing a quick breakfast, it’s easy to be lured into these local shops by the tempting smells of freshly baked pineapple buns and wife cakes. Since we arrived in Hong Kong during the morning, slightly bleary eyed from the long haul flight but raring to explore, our very first meal in the country was from one of these bakeries.

Just a block from our hotel, we entered a tiny shop filled to the brim with baked goods ranging from sweet to savory. Peter grabbed a bun filled with BBQ and I found a vegan-friendly sweet bun that was stuffed with red bean paste. This particular bakery had ingredient labels, so I could easily scan to see what was and wasn’t vegan friendly. Not all bakeries have labels on their products, but several that we visited did, making them a great choice for vegans looking to indulge in an authentic Hong Kong breakfast, or grab a satisfying snack.

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Din Tai Fung

This Michelin-starred restaurant has been on my itinerary since the moment we decided to visit Hong Kong. Famous for their steamed dumplings (which you can watch employees make through a large glass window), Din Tai Fung also offers a wide range of vegetable, noodle, and rice dishes.

Once we were seated, and walked past their incredibly adorable dumpling mascot statue, we found out that ordering at Din Tai Fung was unlike anything we’d ever experienced. We were quickly served a large pot of green tea, while we went through a ‘checklist’ of dishes on the menu which we handed to our waiter, removing any potential problem with a language barrier.

We ended up ordering several small dishes to get a well-rounded view of the menu. Our choices were sliced cucumbers with chili and garlic, beancurd puff with black fungus, steamed mushroom dumplings, and Peter also added on fried fish with special sauce. Everything turned out amazing. The cucumbers were just the right balance of fresh and spicy flavor, the beancurd dish was entirely new to me with a salty tang and spongey texture, and the dumplings proved why they’re just so darn famous. The best part? We got out like bandits, with this whole meal costing under $25 USD.

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Loving Hut

Although Loving Hut is an international vegan chain, I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting it. Conveniently though, there was a branch of it just two blocks from our hotel. We ate there several times during our two week trip, but with a whopping menu of almost 80 items it was not possible for us to get bored.

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Over our multiple visits we tried fried rice in XO sauce with a vegan fried egg (see above), fried ramen with veggie shreds (see below), pineapple and veggie balls with sweet and sour sauce, and fried flat rice noodles with soya slices. All of it was absolutely stellar, making us sad that there’s not a US store near where we live. One thing to note: The branch we visited (in Wan Chai) was cash only, so plan accordingly.

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Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery’s Vegetarian Canteen 

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You will work up a sweat getting to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, so it’s only fitting that they have a refreshing restaurant at the top. Entirely vegetarian and with each menu item having a small description, it was easy to figure out which dishes would be vegan-friendly.

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We ate lunch here in the middle of the afternoon, and the small canteen offered respite from the harsh sun and cool drinks to perk us up. For appetizers we got a fried bean curd skin roll and spring roll. While the bean curd version was just okay, the spring roll was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Perfectly crispy with an almost creamy filling of soft veggies, it’s no surprise that all that was left for a photo was the crumbs seen below.

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Peter dined on sweet and sour ‘shrimp’ (which I’m fairly sure was soy-based) and I opted for braised tofu with fresh veggies. Our main dishes were good too, though not nearly as earth-shattering as that singular spring roll.

Noodle and Dog

Hong Kong is a very shopping focused city. While we’re usually not big on hitting the mall or shopping centers when on vacation, we did find ourself at the Hysan Place mall in search of postcards for our nephews. Full of everything ranging from fashion outlets, to bookstores, to the irresistibly cute Line Friends store, there’s something for almost everyone.

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While we were on our (futile, I might add) task of finding postcards, we realized it was dinner time. The words ‘food court’ usually make me think of greasy by-the-slice pizza, sad soggy hamburgers, and employees trying to force you to take free samples. Thankfully, this particular food court had none of those things.

Offering options like curry, ramen, congee, and sushi, there were a wealth of vegan-friendly choices. After much deliberating, I opted for the ‘hatted vegan’ dish at the Noodle and Dog stand. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what I was ordering (I only knew it was vegan and that noodles were involved) but I was shocked and pleased to see the impressive meal they brought out. Chewy noodles in a tomato sauce with bok choy and mushrooms were served in a bowl the size of my head. Alongside was a small salad and a mix of fresh fruits like watermelon, honeydew, and dragon fruit. Clocking in at just $4.99, I think I could easily start to love food courts if I lived in Hong Kong.

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Cheung Chau Bun Festival

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We happened to be staying in Hong Kong during the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival. A small island off the coast of Hong Kong Island, Cheung Chau can be reached by a ferry in about 30 minutes. The Bun Festival is a Taoist traditional, with the original story telling of how the fishing village fought off a deadly plague and invading pirates by parading statues of deities through the streets. Today, the statues have been replaced by children in costumes and steamed buns are served to celebrate this momentous occasion.

While we were only on the island for the celebration’s last day, the event occurs over a total of three days, with the first two serving only vegetarian food. During our short stay, we encountered some of the best food we ate in Hong Kong.

Ice dripped coffee was served on the roadside, incredibly cool and smooth, which is just what we needed with the heat. The famous steamed buns were sold on almost every corner and came in several flavors, including red bean paste, lotus seeds, and sesame. While we only tried the lotus seed version, I’m convinced it was the best one. The filling was creamy and sweet with a delicately soft bun surrounding it.

Jittered up with a dose of coffee and sugary buns, we eventually got a wholesome meal on Cheung Chau from one of the many tiny store fronts. With the store name and menu items only in Cantonese (which sadly, I don’t speak) we got through the ordering process by pointing at pictures and doing a lot of miming. Nonetheless, our meal of rice wraps filled with fresh ingredients like cucumber and avocado were the perfect dishes to end our time on the island.

If you can get to Hong Kong during the time of the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, I highly recommend it. Definitely the highlight of our trip and someplace I would love to visit again.

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Disclaimer: To the best of knowledge all of the dishes featured above are vegan-friendly. Since I cannot speak Cantonese, and occasionally would order at places that had a language barrier, I cannot 100% guarantee that everything is vegan and those following this guide should double-check before ordering.

Five Must-Dos in Hong Kong

We have been back from Hong Kong for a few weeks, and it just now feels like life has re-settled into a regular routine. The backpacks are unpacked, the souvenirs are handed out, and now it’s time for the blogging to begin!

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Our time in Hong Kong was wonderful and a great introduction to Asia for the two of us. Everyone we encountered was quick to smile, there were endless places to explore, and the food was phenomenal. While I’m still writing “A Vegan’s Guide to Hong Kong” (expect that next week), here’s a round-up of our very favorite things in Hong Kong and nearby areas. So, in no particular order, here are five activities and destinations that shouldn’t be missed during a visit to Hong Kong:

Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

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About a 45 minute train ride outside of Hong Kong City, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is in the small village of Sha Tin. It’s an easy 10 minute walk to the beginning of the path, during which you’ll pass by a small square with local vendors selling snacks, flowers, and incense. Once you reach the beginning of the trail, be prepared for a bit of a hike. The meandering path up the mountain is lined with unique gold-painted arhat (the Buddhist equivalent of saints) statues, ranging from familiar meditation poses to the outright bizarre.

At the end of your walk, you will be greeted by the monastery, a beautiful sprawling area full of (you guessed it) more statues and temples. With the smell of incense lingering in the air, you can visit the nine-story pagoda or the temple that is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery’s namesake, filled with nearly 13,000 unique Buddha statues inside. As a bonus, the small restaurant up there is entirely vegetarian and has the world’s best spring rolls.

Note: Fake monks will occasionally try and scam tourists by asking for ‘donations’ by the entrance. These are not real monks and should be ignored. One tried to put a bracelet on my wrist but quickly backed off when I gave them a firm “No thank you.”

Hong Kong Park

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Visited by complete accident, we wandered into Hong Kong Park after skipping the nearby Peak Tram and its ridiculously long line. A wonderful green oasis in the midst of the city, the park features tons of flora and fauna for the curious visitor. We arrived later in the evening, so the Aviary and Tea Wares Museum (both of which looked awesome from the outside) were already closed, but there was still plenty to enjoy.

Throughout Hong Kong Park you’ll see a plethora of animals like families of turtles, brightly colored koi fish, and friendly pigeons. The path around the lake is the optimum place to go for a stroll, or take a packed lunch to eat on one of the many benches. Don’t forget to visit the Vantage Point Tower, which gives an uninterrupted view of the entire park.

Cheung Chau Island

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Our trip to Hong Kong fatefully fell on the date of Cheung Chau’s annual bun festival. The bun festival, a Taoist tradition, celebrates the island surviving a devastating plague hundreds of years ago, and also coincides with Buddha’s birthday. The festivities include specialty handmade buns (I highly recommend the lotus seed ones), an almost endless string of parades, children dressed up as deities, and vendors hawking everything from hand-painted shirts to mini-bun key chains.

While the festival is an opportune time to visit Cheung Chau, which is a 45-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong Island, there are many other features on the island that make it worth a visit. A gorgeous beach, adorable fishing vessels, an ancient pirate cave, and various temples make Cheung Chau a destination for any time of the year.

Day Trips Outside of Hong Kong

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I know, I know. This isn’t a must-do that’s actually in Hong Kong, but I think it’s a great option for those who want to do a little extra exploring during their trip. For those spending the majority of their time in Hong Kong, there are plenty of opportunities to do a little country hopping to places like China, Macau, and even Taiwan. While there, we took two Viator tours, one to Macau and the other to China. While Hong Kong and Macau are all technically part of the People’s Republic of China, these three regions are distinct enough in culture that they’re all definitely worth a separate visit.

Knick Knack (Knock Off) Shopping

Visiting shopping districts or malls has never been a big interest for Peter and me. We’d much rather hit up a local flea market or craftsperson for souvenirs and trinkets to commemorate our trips. I write all this to say, the shopping markets in Hong Kong are a serious must-visit. Full to the brim with knock-offs of everything from Star Wars Legos (take note of the curvy font that actually say ‘Star Wart’) to jade statues that were undoubtedly just pretty glass, there are tons of stalls and areas to explore with wide-eyed wonder. While this cheap (and fascinating) area may not be to everyone’s buying tastes, it’s at least a hilarious place to spend an hour or two while looking at the horrendously painted or misspelled products. Some of our favorites to visit were the Temple Street Night Market and the Ladies’ Market.

The Best Vegan Buys at Your Local Asian Market

It’s always an adventure to visit an international grocery store. To see packages without a trace of English on them, or to find products you’ve never heard of. But sometimes, it can be just as overwhelming as it is fun.

Thankfully, in Birmingham, we have several Asian markets to choose from. My personal favorite is about the size of your average supermarket and dwarfs the competition. While I love how many options they offer, the first few times I visited, I would purchase only one or two items because I was equal parts overwhelmed by the amount of products and a little nervous to buy a grocery cart full of totally new things.

But one of the main reasons to visit an Asian market, besides just expanding your culinary horizons, is that they provide a huge range of familiar vegan-friendly products at a fraction of the prices found at regular grocery stores. This means you can happily fill your fridge, and pantry with wholesome, cheap foods during your next shopping trip.

Below are some of my favorite vegan food finds at Asian markets:

Tofu

A staple for the many Asian cuisines, you can find just about every type of tofu imaginable in the refrigerated section. Soft, silken, firm, extra firm, baked, fried, puffed, you name it, they probably have it. I usually buy the firm tofu, which rings in at around $2.50 per container and has 19 ounces of tofu. That’s about one and a half times the amount of tofu, for two-thirds of the price at a regular grocery store.

Jackfruit

This past year has seen jackfruit grow in popularity, with recipes popping up everywhere using it as a meat-substitute. And while you can purchase it already seasoned and prepared in most health food stores, you can get the canned stuff for significantly cheaper and customize it as you wish. At my local store, the jackfruit is in the canned fruits section near the coconut milk. Be sure to get the canned jackfruit in brine and not in syrup. Each can has about two servings (at least for the amount Peter and I eat) and rings in around $1.49 a piece. Then you can easily shred the jackfruit and dress is up for tacos, a baked potato topper, or whatever your little vegan heart desires.

Soymilk

Be warned, when buying soymilk at an Asian market, don’t be expecting the thin product from brands like Silk. Their non-dairy drink is very thick in comparison, with a much richer mouth-feel. It’s not something I would use for cooking or drinking straight, but a dollop in a mug of coffee does wonders, and it can make very moist baked goods. If you like the thick texture, most markets have adorable individual-size cartons, usually in fun flavors like chocolate or strawberry.

Meat Alternatives

It never ceases to amaze me how vast (and bizarre) the vegan meat alternatives are in my Asian market. In the frozen section is a collection featuring the likes of vegan ham tubes (see above), seitan shaped like an entire chicken, bite-size shrimp, tuna steaks, and more. In the canned section, you can find mock meats like duck or chicken, which are eerily similar, down to the lightly dimpled skin texture impressed upon the wheat gluten. And while I don’t eat meat alternatives all the time, sometimes it’s a nice change of pace, especially when serving omnivores who would prefer something closer to “the real deal.”

Sauces, Oils, and Vinegars

The majority of Asian grocery stores have an entire aisle dedicated to oils, vinegars, and various sauces or condiments. You can get cheaper versions of many commonplace products like oils (olive, canola, sesame) and vinegars (white, rice, apple cider). For sauces, if you’re like me and cook Asian food a lot, you can get huge bottles of soy sauce, sambal oelek, and sweet chili sauce for a serious bargain. And this is my favorite part of the store, not just because of the nice price points, but because there’s a world of new flavors to discover in the condiments aisle. Besides products that contain fish or oyster sauce, most are vegan-friendly. Try out a new chili paste, curry sauce, or new stir-fry base with dinner tonight. You might just find a new favorite.