The CEO of specialty store 1004 Gourmet lists 5 Asian staples to always have on stock in our cupboards.
We adore and crave east Asian flavours here at Frying Pan Adventures, yet there’s so much to explore with these cuisines that each seems a world unto its own. So many different spices, sauces, noodles, frozen treats, fresh produce and preserves that it can be befuddling when you’re trying to understand how to bring these flavors home and make them a part of your daily meals. Who better then, to dispel the fog of mystery and tell us what 5 Asian grocery staples should find a home in your pantry, than Chang Sup Shin (@supchangshin)—the CEO of 1004 Gourmet (@1004Gourmet)?
1004 Gourmet is a grocery paradise for those who love cooking and eating Asian food that we discovered in 2018 in Barsha as a neighbourhood supermarket called ‘1004 Mart’ while researching our Sufra: Silk Road or Stalin? food-walk exploring the links between Uzbek and Korean food. Since then, Chang has elevated and developed the store into a beautiful sensory experience for the Dubai community and expanded his realm of Asian retail paradise to include Kaffe Bloom (@KaffeBloom), Lamise Beauty (@lamisebeauty) and Ugly Burger (@uglyburger), in addition to recently having twins with his lovely wife Kate.
However, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. 1004 Gourmet was no stranger to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic which affected their hotel and restaurant supply division the hardest. They overcame these by having the division help out the online sales one which saw an uptick in sales, and also restructuring their business to become more efficient. Beyond this, they also introduced events like cooking classes at Kaffe Bloom, both online and at the café when it was safe to do so, keeping in mind all safety precautions and the local regulations. All of this was complemented by their philanthropic work in supporting people rendered homeless by the pandemic with food and raising money for rebuilding Beirut after the blast through their cooking classes.
Steps like these are part of Chang’s philosophy for his team to not stand still and be new, innovative and adventurous trying new things. He believes in making the most of every situation and not feeling bad about oneself, but rather, feeling fortunate for everything that comes one’s way. This humility is plainly evident when you meet this old-Dubai kid in-person, as is his calm and collected demeanour. Tune in to our podcast player below to hear this incredibly knowledgeable and generous entrepreneur take us through the aisles at 1004 Gourmet to select the 5 Asian staples that are must-haves from 2000 that they stock on their shelves. Or if you prefer reading, grab the list we’ve put down in this post below.
Chang’s vision for 1004 Gourmet is to create a platform for Asian foods and ingredients that makes them more accessible and less intimidating to those who haven’t tried cooking with them yet, a place for people to discover the ingredients and then experiment with them. In our opinion, there is so much available at the store that it may get overwhelming the first time if you decide to just walk in with a simple shopping list because you will be so distracted by the range of choices and the amazing ingredients on offer. Probably the best way is to take some time out and browse around; have fun as you explore and lose yourself in between the myriad treasures to finally find inspiration!
You can shop for these products at the 1004 Gourmet store, located at Level P2 of the Onyx Tower in the Greens (click for location pin) or soon at their upcoming space in Nakheel Mall on the Palm. While you’re there don’t forget to have a bowl of Kakigori (a shaved ice dessert) at Kaffe Bloom (@KaffeBloom) and try out the beauty products at Lamise Beauty (@lamisebeauty). Optionally you can also have everything delivered to your doorstep by purchasing online at www.1004gourmet.com
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1. Seasonal Fruits
The first section at any supermarket is for fresh produce, and it’s no different at 1004 Gourmet. On the shelves, you’ll find the pride of place reserved for fresh seasonal fruits, most from Korea and Japan. Chang believes the agriculture technology and know-how there are just different to the rest of the world, with higher standards that push the farmers to make the most of every piece of fruit. This is reflected in the brix level (amount of sugar in a liquid solution) of each fruit, which is higher than comparable fruit from other places around the world. The fruits are not just sweet but have the right level of acidity for balance and an amazing texture; great to have at home for yourself or to serve to guests, but they also make for a wonderful gifting idea.
The variety shifts with the season but some favourites are the strawberries, Halabon oranges, Japanese melons and massive Korean pears. The pears are so huge that they can’t be eaten in one go, each one is about a kilo and you can cut slivers off over 2-3 days to finish it. They’re crunchy yet juicy and super sweet making them so delicious! The pears are in fact a fall fruit representing the start of the new season and are the symbol of the Korean Thanksgiving festival which is a harvest celebration similar to other festivals observed in the region.
2. Vegan Kimchi
Ahead of the fresh produce section are the chillers that stock their kimchi selection. Kimchi’s popularity has ensured that it is now stocked on the shelves of every major retailer and hypermarket in Dubai. Most often it’s the familiar cabbage variety, however, Chang tells us that kimchi refers not to the pickled cabbage as many assume but to that particular process of pickling vegetables. Kimchi can be made with radishes and their stems, mustard leaves, chives, or any other preferred vegetable that is processed and preserved in the same way.
Another assumption that people often make is that kimchi is vegan, possibly because it’s quite healthy (lacto-fermented) and made with vegetables. But traditional kimchi gets an umami kick thanks to fermented shrimp paste and anchovy sauce that are added to the spicy paste that the vegetables are marinated in. Thankfully 1004 Gourmet now stocks vegan kimchi for everyone but especially catering to committed vegans and strict vegetarian communities like Jains. While not as funky as traditional kimchi it still has a well-balanced spicy, savoury, sour flavour.
Kimchi is a versatile tool to have in the pantry, its not just a flavourful side dish that will brighten any meal but is a useful ingredient for cooking in a pinch. Older kimchi that has soured can be stir-fried, made into pancakes and is also the base for kimchi-jigae (kimchi stew).
3. Instant Noodles
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Right next to the kimchi section is their wall of instant noodles—yes an entire wall’s worth of noodle brands. Although these originated in Japan, Chang thinks that Thai and Korean instant noodles are of comparable quality and offer many additional flavours to satisfy even the most demanding instant ramen aficionado. According to him, it’s the most perfect hangover prevention strategy after a night out on the town. He also suggests customising ramen to take it to the next level, with many ways to go about making a heartier meal out of it: add some preferred vegetables, definitely think about eggs, drizzle over your favourite Asian sauce or chili oil, or maybe even top with kimchi?
His favourite is the MAMA brand Creamy Tom Yum noodles from Thailand, though the packets are snack-sized so it usually takes 2 of these to satisfy a hunger pang. MAMA is a very popular brand in Thailand, having cornered 53% of the market share, and Chang thinks this is because of the quality standards that they maintain at their production facility in Thailand even though they are manufacturing a mass-produced, affordable product. On a visit there he noticed that they only use Thai garlic and Thai chillies which are so much more potent and fragrant than cheaper, importable varieties. The mounds of Thai garlic with smaller, purple-skinned cloves are so pungent that just walking past them makes your eyes water. Besides the quality ingredients, the company adheres to strict hygiene and cleanliness protocols and makes sure their staff is well taken care of too.
Among the other brands available, Arva remembers spotting a noodles packet with a crying girl on the packet; Chang thinks this might be the crying/screaming chicken from the insanely spicy chicken buldak noodles that might make you self-combust because they are that deadly hot. Maybe have them as a dare, or to challenge the spicy-ninja in your circle (we’re looking at you Farida Ahmed @faridaa), though Chang warns that you eating them can result in severe repercussions the next morning!
(We went back to check and the one with the crying girl is actually an instant tteok-bokki kit.)
4. Mochi Ice Cream
Onward from the instant noodles and past the sauces is the frozen foods section where you can find a delicious sweet treat—Mochi Ice Cream. Mochi, for those unfamiliar with it, is a Japanese pounded glutinous rice cake that in its most recent incarnation has ice cream encapsulated in a thin glutinous rice layer. You bite through the chewy rice layer to get to an explosion of ice cream in your mouth.
The ones that 1004 stocks are made in the UK by a second-generation Malaysian brother and sister duo who’ve worked hard to create an amazing homegrown brand—Little Moons Mochi (@littlemoonsmochi)— that focuses on using high-quality ingredients to make an excellent product. Their mochi has a thin layer of glutinous rice coating, with just the right level of stickiness, wrapped around the ice cream resulting in the perfect texture. Their flavour range includes hazelnut, green tea, mango, cheesecake (like a proper cheesecake inside the mochi), a decadent chocolate ganache and even coconut.
Mochi ice cream is perfect for a dinner party when you’re looking for something refreshing and not as heavy as traditional desserts. That same refreshing and cooling effect makes them ideal for the outrageous summer heat here in the UAE so make sure to stockpile these then. But beware, these little treats are dangerously addictive—you might start with one and be lulled into enjoying some more before realising that you’ve eaten half the box already!
5. Soy Milk
The last item on Chang’s list is fresh, locally-made soy milk that they have available in milk tea, matcha and sweet potato flavours in a chiller right next to the cashier at checkout. The artisanal soy milk is made from imported organic soy beans that are processed daily at a soy milk concept store run by Chang’s friend Dennis in International City, called WaSoy (@wasoy_uae) where they also serve soy breakfast puddings and soy milk ice cream.
Soy milk and pudding is quite prevalent in Taiwan and not an easy product to replicate, but the team at Wa Soy have gone to great lengths to make an authentic, quality product at their in-kitchen factory setup. Chang says that the best way to discern soy milk is from the taste and smell: lower quality soy milk has a sulphuric odour and tends to smell a bit, whereas good quality soy milk should be hearty and delicious, a healthy alternative to a full meal if you’re not that hungry.
*Bonus – Our founder’s favourites*
Korean Gochujang and Ssamjang
Frying Pan Adventures’ founder and host of our Deep Fried podcast, Arva has 2 recommendations from the sauces aisle—Korean gochujang and ssamjang —two thick paste-like sauces that she tries to always have on hand.
Gochujang is a hot, sweet and savory chili paste that is very popular in Korean cooking but also served as a condiment dishes like bibimbap. Its made by mixing Korean gochugaru chili powder with glutinous rice, soybean powder, and a few other ingredients before traditionally being left to ferment in earthenware pots for 6 months or more before it is used.
Ssamjang is a mixture of gochujang and doenjang (fermented soy bean paste) used a sauce with Korean barbecue. You add a bit of ssamjang to a lettuce leaf held open followed by a bite-sized piece of the grilled meat and optionally rice, kimchi or other banchan before wrapping it all up into a parcel—called ssam—and putting it in your mouth.
Both these sauces are fermented so they stay well in the fridge after you’ve opened them for quite a while. They are perfect not just with Asian food but are a great way to boost flavour or add a kick to sandwiches and wraps too.
One of Arva’s favourite picks, for their versatility, is frozen dumplings. They’re great for an impromptu meal, the saviour to a pre-dinner party disaster, or a perfect add-on to simple soups. She prefers the leek dumplings: they make you look like a rockstar at dinner, leaving diners guessing if they were homemade (technically they are because you had them on the stove 😉 no one needs to know that they were frozen) and they come out perfect every time.
Frozen dumplings are very easy to make, you just defrost them, put them in a frying pan, top with Sriracha or your favourite sauce and you’ve got a full meal right there. Arva also offers a trick from a Chinese friend of her’s—boil or blanch the dumplings first until they rise to the surface and float, then toss them in a pan and fry them for a bit. This prevents the skins from tearing and gives the perfect texture. Chang instead prefers to defrost and pan-fry the dumplings for a bit, then add half a centimetre of water to the pan and top with a lid. This steams the inside and softens the skins just enough, then pan fry them once again to finish.
Defrosting the dumplings is key to getting them perfect but Chang says that if you’re in a rush it’s even okay to start with the frozen ones. The one thing Arva and Chang are both “on the same page” about though is to carb-out and add the fried dumplings over instant noodles!
1004 Gourmet also sells restaurant-grade gyoza and dumpling wrappers if you plan on making your own.