In case you didn't catch the sidebar to my article "A Ramen Renaissance" in the Oregonian's FoodDay section, I think this advice from Susana Holloway of Portland's Culinary Workshop is good to keep in mind when going to any ethnic grocery.
Don't be afraid!
Looking at a list of ingredients that includes things like kombu, dried sardines and bonito flakes (aka katsuobushi) might make you run straight back to the arms of Bobby Flay or Marcella Hazan.
I asked Susana Holloway of Portland's Culinary Workshop, who teaches classes on Asian cooking, what she'd recommend for someone who finds the thought of going to an Asian market intimidating if not downright scary.
First, she said, go to one of the larger Asian markets (see list of stores, below). They tend to be laid out more like Western-style grocery stores, with wide aisles and distinct departments for produce, meats, fish and dried goods. Plus, they'll often have signage in several languages, including English.
And while they are stocking more and more organic produce and gluten-free products, expect to find conventionally grown, though very inexpensive, vegetables and fruits and packaged goods with long lists of ingredients.
She also recommends first-timers going to an Asian market without a list in hand.
"What has worked for me has been to not necessarily come in with a recipe where I have to go around and find stuff," she said. "Give yourself some time to wander around the aisles and look at things. If you're the type of person who likes to go to grocery stores, it's the perfect place to do that. I've literally found myself wandering around the aisles in a grocery store for hours."
The larger markets, because their product mix attracts a diverse customer base, also tend to have better customer service departments. "Don't be afraid to ask for help," said Holloway. "After all, the shopping should be part of the overall experience."
2850 S.E. 82nd Ave.
13600 S.W. Pacific Highway, Tigard
10500 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, Beaverton