Local market is the place for the freshest, authentic Asian ingredients
There are few things more frustrating than watching your favorite chef on the Food Network make a delicious-sounding dish or finding an exciting new recipe online—and then realizing your local grocery store doesn’t have the ingredients you need. Cooking shows and YouTube channels provide a steady stream of inspiration for your next meal, but in a city the size of Chattanooga, choices are sometimes limited, especially when you want to try your hand at some of your favorite Asian foods.
Thankfully, Asian Food and Gifts of Chattanooga is here to help. Opened in 1981, this family-run grocery store carries a full selection of Asian food and ingredients from seafood to produce and sauces to noodles. “My family started this store originally because we saw that the Asian community in Chattanooga was having trouble finding ingredients.” says owner Paul Del Carmen, “But over the past 30 years we’ve seen locals becoming more interested in Asian food. The Food Network and the influence of the internet have helped people to become exposed to a wide variety of Asian cuisines that they want to cook at home.” Sales of Asian food in the US have grown by 135 percent since 1999, well outpacing the growth of any other segment.
Personal service is something that has been lost in many grocery stores, but for Del Carmen and his staff, the service they provide is an important part of the store’s success. On any given day, you’ll see Del Carmen, his wife or one of the other staff talking to customers, helping them pick the right ingredients or just explaining the best way to use a particular product. Del Carmen says, “Our job is to help the customer as much as we can and guide them to the best tasting and most convenient choices for what they want to cook.”
Along with their great selection and personal service, Asian Food and Gifts is surprisingly affordable, not only for foods that would typically be categorized as Asian, but for many other items you might normally buy in the big chains. Ginger, fresh basil, noodles, shallots, Sriracha, soy sauce, and coconut milk, for example, are significantly less expensive than at their competitors, but the real eye-opener is when you get much higher-quality products for the same price or less. The varieties of rice that are available from Asian Food and Gifts are dramatically more flavorful than anything Uncle Ben’s offers and are much more affordable. The tofu is far higher in quality for a much lower price and they import dozens of brands of instant noodles from all over Asia that are in a completely different league from the Top Ramen or Maruchan of your college days.
Perusing the large, glass coolers, you’ll find bags of Thai chili peppers for the cost of a soda, beautiful greens such as gai lan (an absolutely delicious leaf vegetable that you can use like broccoli or kale but is much cheaper) or bags of mushrooms for as little as one dollar. The produce is always fresh, clearly labeled and neatly packaged.
Want to make sushi? Asian Food and Gifts has you covered with all of the ingredients from nori to wasabi and sushi-grade seafood. You’ll find beautiful tuna, pre-prepared unagi (eel), and butterflied shrimp that are ready to use for your nigiri straight out of the package. Large, chest-style freezers line the center of the store brimming with one of Chattanooga’s largest varieties of seafood including snapper, squid, octopus, soft-shell crab, clams, shrimp, and a selection of other fish species found nowhere else in the city.
Whether you are looking for ingredients to make that tasty-sounding Asian recipe you saw on Food Network or you just need to stock your pantry with high-quality ingredients from around the world, be sure and make your first stop Asian Food and Gifts. I’ll see you in the noodle aisle!
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Asian Food and Gifts of Chattanooga
3639 Hixson Pike
Hours: Monday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.