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.

Honeymoon – San Antonio

We had a blast with our short time in San Antonio.

We started the day early by wandering around the city, just taking in the sights. I loved the brightly colored houses and murals celebrating the Hispanic culture.

Lunch was at Señor Veggie, a little vegan restaurant nestled in the downtown area. Peter had the veggie street tacos with jackfruit carnitas, slaw, pico de gallo, and cashew cream. It was served with a side of freshly fried potato chips.

These tacos, I can’t even form words about how amazing they were, I would know since I stole one from Peter. The carnitas were chewy, the slaw added a fresh bite, and the pico was a mild tangy compliment to it all. If you visit Señor Veggie, please get these.  

I ate the eggplant torta with a side of Texican lentil chili. The chili was just generic lentils with spices, similar to something I could make at home, but not bad by any means. The sandwich though was a show stopper. 

The combination was a strange one, but delicious. Fluffy bread spread with ranch, black beans, and topped off with a fried eggplant patty, lettuce, and pico de galo. I’m going to attempt making this at home next time I get the gumption up to try frying something.After lunch we walked to Market Square. It’s a bit of a tourist trap with shops full of postcards and Texas shot glasses. But some of the buildings contain shops run by local craftspeople with interesting trinkets, clothes, decorations, and even toys.          It was ridiculously hot in San Antonio, so we stopped to sit on a bench and have a cold drink. While there, we watched the plethora of birds running around the Square. Among them was a pigeon we nicknamed “Carl” who was the head pigeon and spent his time bullying the smaller birds over breadcrumbs and stray french fries.Our evening was spent visiting the Alamo. We went about an hour and a half before closing time, so the majority of the crowd had dispersed. We had a great time exploring the old buildings on the grounds and reading about their history. The area was also very beautiful with a lot of greenery, sculptures, and even a koi fish pond.

A wonderful way to finish off a day in San Antonio.