One of the challenges in cooking global cuisines is that you’ll likely encounter new ingredients and ones that are hard to find. This guide will show you where to find some of these unusual ingredients and substitution options. Since I live in NYC, most of the stores listed will be local. If you want to know more about an ingredient and you don’t see it on the list, message me so I can add it!
Where to Find Rare Ingredients
Bangkok Center Grocery(104 Mosco Street, New York, NY10013) Situated on a nondescript sidestreet, this hole-in-the wall is a hidden gem of New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood. They carry a variety of foods that are difficult to find outside of Thailand: kaffir lime leaves (frozen and sometimes fresh), Thai eggplant, Thai basil, palm sugar, and much more. The prices were really competitive even for easy-to-find foods like coconut milk, so I’d recommend buying all Thai products here.
Essex Street Market (115 Delancey Street, New York, NY 10002) This newly renovated public market brings together vendors of produce, meats, pastries, and more. Specializes in Latin American food. Great place to get produce that can be hard to find in a traditional grocery store.
Katagiri Japanese Grocery: The first Japanese grocery store in the US (1907), Katagiri has two locations in New York (224 E. 59th Street, New York, NY 10022 / 370 Lexington Avenue Ste#107, New York, NY 10017). You can find a great selection of Asian and Japanese ingredients and equipment to make dishes like sushi and ramen, and the prices are good.
Amazon: This probably doesn’t need to be said, but when in doubt you can order almost any food product from Amazon. Some rare items won’t qualify for Prime and will take longer to ship. And if the item you are looking for is fresh produce, you’ll have to look locally.
Cassava flour: A finely ground, gluten-free flour made from cassava root (also known as yucca or manioc). You can likely find it in health food stores with flours or gluten-free food. There is no good substitute, as cassava flour lends a unique flavor to food.
Furikake: Japanese seasoning used on rice, vegetables, and fish. There are different varieties available. H Mart and Katagiri Grocery Store have many varieties of furikake available. Substitutes: Make your own.
Kaffir lime leaves: These leaves from a lime variety native to Southeast Asia are used in Thai and other regional cuisines. They can be fresh or frozen. They are generally difficult to find in the US, but they are sold at Bangkok Center Grocery. Substitute: 4 leaves = 1 teaspoon of lime zest.
Mirin: Used frequently in Japanese cooking, mirin is a sweet rice wine for making sauces, marinades, and broths. Asian supermarkets will almost definitely carry it, but it’s likely that your neighborhood grocery store will too.
Nori: Dried sheets of edible seaweed most commonly used to wrap sushi. Can also be used as a garnish on top of soups or salad. With the rise in popularity in sushi, nori can be found in many grocery stores but will definitely be available in Asian markets.
Salsa Lizano: A condiment used commonly in Costa Rica, particularly to make gallo pinto. I haven’t found it in a supermarket in NYC yet, but you can order it online. Substitute: Worcestershire sauce.
Thai basil: A basil variety grown in Southeast Asia and used widely in Thai cooking. I have spotted it in chain supermarkets such as Whole Foods and Fairway, with a higher likelihood of success in the summer when basil is in season. H Mart and Bangkok Center Grocery carry it year round. Substitute: Regular basil.
Thai eggplant: Small, green, and round, this variety looks quite different from the globe and Italian eggplants we’re accustomed to in the US. Look for it at Asian grocery stores, especially Bangkok Center Grocery. Substitute: Any eggplant variety sold locally.