This Supermarket Is Where I Buy All the Best Snack Food
People always ask me how I'm able to entertain guests with literally no notice. I'd like to say that I have a magic ability to whip up tasty spreads for last-minute coffee and cocktails, but my real secret is this: a stash of easy, fun, shelf-stable snacks at the ready. My secret snack supplier? Asian supermarkets.
Home to savory bites, funky-flavored chips and crackers, and a rainbow of sweets and confections, Asian markets (often located near Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, and pan-Asian restaurants) are great places to shop for a stash of pantry and freezer items that are always at the ready. The shopping can be a terrific adventure all on its own, and I guarantee you’ll find some new treasures that will become heroes at your house (and the envy of your guests).
Here's a rundown of some of my favorite categories and products to get you started. Don't be surprised if I'm the next person to knock on your door!
Bags of these are a godsend if you love to entertain, and many companies make mini versions that are ideal cocktail snacks. They come in all sorts of flavors such as beef and chive, chicken and cilantro, pork and cabbage, and can be steamed or pan-fried. Buy a bottle of a sweet soy or seasoned vinegar dumpling sauce to keep in the pantry and you are now the queen of dim sum cocktail hour.
Related: 5 Classic Vietnam Dishes
Nuts and Snack Mixes
I love to find snackable things that I can put in bowls, and Asian snack mixes are terrific for this. They can be combinations of little crackers, nuts, dried fruit, or you can mix up your own. Asian markets can also be a good place to find nuts that are harder to find in other places, like small red skin-on peanuts, which I personally adore.
Funky Flavors of Potato Chips
You’ll never look at a bag of Doritos the same way again. In Asian markets, you’ll find chip choices that include options like Sweet Chili Prawn, Matcha Tea, and Honey Butter. And don’t worry if there’s no translation of the flavor on the packaging: Most show a photo of the flavoring that’s in the chips, or even an illustration (my favorite is a honeypot and a stick of butter!).
Snack Crackers and Bagged Treats
Suddenly, the snack aisle in a non-Asian market is looking downright boring compared to shelves and shelves of sweet and salty treasures in mind-blowing flavors and shapes. Imagine sweetened peanut and coconut-flavored snack crackers, or crab-flavored crackers that are actually in the shape of crabs. Take your time to let your eyes roam, pick up bags, enjoy the incredible design and exuberance of the packaging, and experiment! If you spy a friendly looking fellow shopper, ask them for a recommendation or two. I recently ran into a food photographer who’s also a friend on a recent visit to my local market, and he turned me on to Korean shrimp chips. They had me at the blue-polka-dotted bag, but inside were little bites with a Muncho texture and the subtle flavor of a good shrimp toast that are dangerously delicious with wine or cocktails.
Sweet Snacks for Coffee and Tea
Kick that biscotti to the curb. Here you’ll find boxes and bags of sweet mini-sized treats like cream puffs filled with flavored whipped cream and little egg-shaped cakes that taste a bit like madeleines—the perfect bite or two for a cup of coffee or tea. One of my favorites is a traditional Korean honey cake in snackable size (sometimes labeled Sweet Teafood): Buy a bag or box and keep them in your freezer. By the time the coffee is brewed or the tea is steeped, they will be thawed and ready to eat.
Asian markets are also great for discovering cute, unusual candies and other confections that will make M&Ms yesterday’s news. I love exotically flavored gummies, matcha and strawberry Kit Kats, and pocky sticks, those straw-shaped sweet crackers dipped in flavored chocolate coatings. And the cookies! Who needs a Keebler elf when you have teeny sweet confections shaped like mushrooms or miniature ice cream cones? Let your curiosity guide you through this rainbow of sweet fun, and don’t be afraid to judge a book (or bag!) by its cover: I bought a little tin of crackers because they had a hilarious bagpiper on the label. Inside it turned out was a combination of slightly sweet biscuits mixed with chunks of rock sugar. It was a great conversation piece for me and my guests, and shockingly delicious with champagne!
One serious thing to keep in mind
While shopping in a market like this can be thrilling and introduce you to new exciting flavors, if you have a serious allergy to anything, or are eating a specifically limited diet, it is important to be careful about the nutritional information. While many packages are labeled in both English and the language of origin, and some have extra nutritional labels added when sold to the English-speaking market, it will still be essential to exercise caution. If you (or family members or guests) have an anaphylactic-level allergy to any ingredient (especially to nuts, peanuts, or shellfish) you might want to avoid these packaged goods. Many of these products are produced in facilities that could have cross-contamination, and nothing is worth that risk. If you are vegan or vegetarian, know that both honey and various fish products often appear in these snacks, even if they are not the primary flavor.