All of the ingredients listed here are necessary and cannot be substituted with any other ingredients. If shopping at a Hmong grocery store for the first time, be sure to enlist the grocer for advice on which brands are best.
Fish Sauce Made from anchovie extract and available at the Hmong grocers and some grocery stores. Don’t be alarmed by the smell! Fish sauce is extremely salty and I have never had it spoil.
Tips Available at Hmong grocers, bamboo tips are canned in water and have a cone shape. Do not be alarmed if your bamboo has small orange flakes on it. Simply rinse it off.
Sour Bamboo Available at Hmong grocers, sour bamboo is canned and sliced thinly. It must be rinsed thoroughly or it will be too sour. If you can’t handle the sour flavor and smell, I recommend replacing it with canned Tender Bamboo.
This white rice noodle is available at the Hmong grocers in both fresh and dried forms. The fresh noodles are refrigerated and will not last very long so be sure to use them within a day or two of purchase.
Kuh Puhn This white rice noodle is available at the Hmong grocers only in the dried form. You may have a choice in the thickness of the noodle. My husband and I prefer the thinnest available, but many Hmong people prefer thicker noodles.
Be careful to follow recipe instructions when purchasing coconut milk. There are different types of coconut milk, thin coconut milk is used in drinks while thick coconut milk is used in soups and curries. Reading the label should identify what it is used for. For cooking, look for it to say “cooking formula” on label.
I guarantee your dish will taste awful if you mix up these two. I recommend buying coconut milk at the Hmong grocers because there are more varieties and it is much cheaper.
Galangal root is a type of rhizome plants related to ginger. It has culinary and medicinal uses and originated from Indonesia. Fresh cut root has a citrusy, earthy aroma, with hints of pine and soap in the flavor. It is often sold whole, cut, dried and/or powdered. When used dried whole, it adds flavor and is not meant for consumption.
These transparent noodle are available at most grocery stores, although they are much cheaper at the Hmong grocers.
Galangal Root Available at the Hmong grocers, this relative of the ginger root is used in making Hmong chicken stock. You will most likely only find it dried and sliced. This root is only used for flavoring the stock. Do not attempt to eat it.
A very pungent vegetable, cilantro is readily available year round. Chop the whole plant, including stalk, unless stalk is too thick.
Green Onion The Hmong use the entire green onion, not just the white bulb.
As the name suggests, the ball is made of fish meat that has been finely pulverized.
Used in chicken soups, lemon grass has a distinct lemon flavor and odor. You will find this necessity at the Hmong grocers.
Mustard Greens A staple of the Hmong diet, mustard greens can be found at the Hmong grocers or at a Hmong vender at a farmer’s market. There are two main types of mustard green: flower and bitter. The flower variety are best boiled with pork and the bitter variety are often boiled as a tea.
Very common in stir-fries, this vegetable can be used for its tender young leaves or its flat, sweet pods. The leaves are usually only found for sale at a Hmong vender at a farmer’s market. Snow peas can be found at most grocers. Be careful to choose fresh peas without blemishes. Stale peas will be floppy and may have brown edges.
Ginger is a tuber that is consumed whole as a delicacy, medicine, or spice.
These delicious spicy peppers are bright red and range from one and a half to three inches long. They have a slight hint of lime flavor that most other peppers do not have. Available at Hmong grocers or at a Hmong vender at a farmer’s market, you may find them fresh, frozen, dried or crushed.
Curry Paste (red and yellow)
Curry paste is a moist blend of ground or pounded herbs and/or spices and other seasonings. The main ingredients are garlic, shallots, red chillies, galangal, shrimp paste, salt, kaffir lime peel and lemongrass.
MSG (monosodium glutamate)
A food additive, is a sodium salt, a natural compund used in a lof of Asian cuisine to enhance the flavors. Mono-Sodium Glutamate This salt-sugar compound enhances the flavor of food. While many people oppose using it, I highly recommend it as long as you have no allergy to it. My husband can always tell if I skimped on this ingredient. I recommend buying this at the Hmong grocers because it is much cheaper and available in larger quantities than at a regular grocery store.
Available at the Hmong grocers, the best oyster sauce has oyster extract, not merely oyster flavoring. Oyster sauce is salty and adds a creamy taste to stir-fry. Refrigerate after opening if you are not going to use it regularly.
At the Hmong grocers, you will find several types of soy sauce. My husband and I keep a bottle of standard soy sauce and a bottle of black soy sauce in our cupboard. Black soy sauce is slightly sweet and thicker than traditional soy sauce. You may experiment with different flavors and see what you prefer.
The tamarind fruit consist of a sour pulp that surrounds a seed in a bean pod shaped casing that can be eaten. It is normally too sour to eat by itself and is often used as a component to a dish such as papaya salad. It is sometimes sold as a sweet and sour treat with sugar added to and rolled into small balls.