For the home cook, preparing Asian meals used to be a daunting task, fraught with problems such as finding the right ingredients or mistaking one ingredient for another.
But in the past several decades, with overseas travel, the Internet and specialty stores such as the Asian Market in Naples, the boundaries between countries and cultures are dwindling, giving way for food from exotic locales such as Asia to make regular appearances in kitchens across Southwest Florida.
The Asian Market on Pine Ridge Road is ground zero for culture and ingredients that distinguish authentic Asian cuisine from the Americanized Asian ingredients of supermarkets’ limited ethnic foods aisle.
Kim Davis and his family own and operate the Asian Market.
If you go
Where: 2095 Pine Ridge Road, Naples
When: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays
Contact: 239-300-1533 or www.NaplesAsianMarket.com
“It’s a family affair, and the best part about working with my family is we do everything together. I enjoy the time we get to spend sharing Asian cuisine and products,” Davis said.
Education is a big part of shopping at the Asian Market. Davis said customers who never have been there are usually surprised when they walk through the doors.
“Our business comes mostly from our customers talking to people and bringing in new customers, so these new people might think we are small. But coming in for the first time, they say, ‘Wow!’ when they see all the specialty items,” Davis said of the products he sells that customers won’t find in a traditional food market. “They are always amazed at how much we have to offer.”
The full aisles include a large selection of fresh produce, fresh and dried products and kitchen supplies.
The hundreds of cooking supplies essential to the Asian kitchen and home — steaming baskets, rice cookers, chopsticks, kettles and pottery — flank the north wall of the store, while the produce and other food portions of the market take up the opposite end.
Among them are noodles, canned and bottled beverages, sake, beans, seaweed, smoked fish, a wide variety of rice, Asian sauces and tea.
Produce includes cabbage, mushrooms, onions and ginger among Asian produce that would be foreign to most customers.
Many of Davis’ regular customers patronize his market for whole duck. Home cooks have discovered a “wow” factor for entertaining and family dinners — the Asian delicacy that is Peking duck.
“You can order a whole duck already cooked or you can purchase it frozen anytime,” Davis said. “For the freshly cooked duck itself, you have to call ahead to see when it is available, but we always have all of the ingredients that go with it, like the wraps, scallions and duck sauce, in stock.”
The Davis family’s Asian Market has been open for 10 years, but not all customers who shop there feel comfortable stepping out on their own to prepare a full-fledged Asian meal. For them, Davis offers cooking classes on demand.
“We do special cooking classes for people who are interested in learning more about Asian cooking and ingredients — and that could be Thai one day or Indian or Vietnamese the next day,” he said. The classes are not at set times, so interested customers should call for details.
TEA FOR TWO, OR 200
For many businesses in Naples, summer means fewer ingredients and less variety, but Davis said the Asian Market is somewhat immune to Naples’ typical off-season summer tumbleweeds.
“It is busier during season in Naples, with people cooking for family and friends, but we have a lot of local customers here who depend on our ingredients for more than just entertaining. So summer doesn’t have that much of an effect on us or our products,” Davis said.
His customers use many of the Asian Market remedies and products on a daily basis. Tea is one of those products. And like so many of the other products, shopping for tea in the Asian Market is an education in itself. Hundreds of boxes and tins of tea line multiple aisles in the market.
“We have almost 100 different kinds of tea, and they include green tea, oolong and specialty teas coming from all parts of Asia,” Davis said.
The healing properties of tea have long ago been proved in traditional Chinese medicine and throughout Asia. Tea remains a staple of everyday life to promote health and well- being.
“There are various ingredients that aid in staying healthy, and a regimen of tea is one of them,” said Davis, who consults customers about which teas will best benefit them. His teas address everything from gastrointestinal issues to insomnia.
One customer, Calvin Matthews, shops at the Asian Market specifically for tea, which he uses as a home ritual that helps him achieve balance in his life.
“The tea is just out of control (at the Asian Market) and is probably the best selection of teas anywhere,” Matthews said.
Davis has a variety of traditional Chinese herbs available at his market as well, something Matthews said he uses for various ills, aches and pains.
“Some of the herbal remedies you can find at Asian Market have been around for thousands of years and are still in wide use today,” he said. “Asians have found a more self-sustaining way of doing things, from salves and things like various Tiger Balms, which I use to relieve joint and muscle pain.”
TAKE YOUR TIME
Aside from the herbal remedies, produce and Asian ingredients, shopping at Asian Market is different from other markets. For starters, it’s a more relaxing atmosphere to shop in than traditional supermarkets. There is a distinct lack of hustle and bustle — and with such a wide variety of culinary eye candy, new customers should plan on spending some time there to discover the hidden treasures found everywhere in the store.
“What I like is when I first started shopping there and even now after all these years, the staff really are interested and willing to explain the many different products and how to use them effectively,” Matthews said. “And for a single guy, this is where you go to purchase everything you need to impress a date when cooking dinner. For example, chopsticks — things like that are so cool.”
If Davis had to pick one favorite dish to prepare using ingredients from his market, he said it would be summer rolls, a dish he recommends to everyone.
“I really like summer rolls because they are very healthy — not fried and no grease — all natural ingredients that are all good for you,” he said.
Asian Market vegetable summer rolls
Prep time: 15 minutes
2 cups chopped fresh garden vegetables — carrot, chopped green onions, bean sprouts, lettuce 4 sprigs of fresh mint
4- 8 Thai basil leaves
1 package of rice noodles
1 package rice paper
1 jar sweet chili sauce
1 Prepare rice paper and noodles as directed.
2 Layer above ingredients in rice paper and roll until tightly formed into individual rolls.
3 Leave a half-inch border around rice paper and press to seal.
4 Cut each roll into quarters and serve on a chilled plate with side of dipping sauce.