Upon arriving in Toulouse I was lucky enough to move into a house with an extremely well-stocked kitchen: pots, pans, dishes of all sizes, as well as a good selection of oils, herbs and spices. But there was one category that was sorely lacking, and that was the "International Foods" section. As I've chronicled on this blog, I've gotten very interested in cooking Asian food, particularly Chinese, over the past two years, and to suddenly find myself without my sesame oil, my sambal oelek, without even a bottle of soy sauce, was, to put it mildly, jarring. My number one fast, delicious go-to meal--fried rice--was suddenly out of reach. I was not pleased.
Happily, I found an ally in my roommate Ben, who's an accomplished cook and fellow admirer of spicy food (a true rarity in France). When I voiced my concerns to him he recommended we take a trip to Paris Store, a huge Asian food megamart in Mirail, the university district of Toulouse. And one cold Saturday about a week ago, that's exactly what we did.
Paris Store is similar to the many Asian supermarkets I'm familiar with from Brooklyn and Manhattan Chinatowns. It's got a great selection of meat, produce, sauces, spices, preserved and frozen items, as well as an interesting array of serving dishes and cookware. With one difference: whereas in New York these stores' prices are bargain-basement, making it a challenge for even your most indulgent shopping trips to cost you over $20, the prices at Paris Store are the same as you'd find at any normal supermarket. Not expensive, but enough to slightly reduce the omigodthisisSOcheap thrill of its U.S. counterparts.
Trust me when I tell you that I was thrilled nonetheless. This store really has everything. Need some MSG? They've got it. How about fresh durian? Or some jarred toddy palm paste, whatever that is? They've got that, too.
The expression "like a kid in a candy store" comes to mind here. As you can see, my roommates and I made out pretty well in the end:
We picked up tons of stuff, but most importantly the five condiments that I consider the most necessary to basic Asian cooking: light soy sauce, fish sauce, toasted sesame oil, rice wine, the aforementioned sambal oelek (or any other chili paste). Finally, I was reunited with my beloved ingredients, and a whole new world of flavor was opened up to me! By the time we got back from our shopping trip I was famished, and set to work on a simple stir-fry as soon as we walked in the door. I started with the basics: fresh ginger, garlic, scallions and chilis, which I always find so beautiful all lined up and waiting to be deployed to a hot pan:
These staples got fried up along with some gai lan, or Chinese broccoli, some cubed firm tofu, and the requisite lashings of several different kinds of sauces. Scooped over some freshly steamed white rice, it was the perfect bowlful. Absence makes the heart (and stomach) grow fonder, indeed.
Stir-Fried Chinese Broccoli with Tofu
Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side
- 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 scallions, finely chopped (white and green parts)
- 1 fresh red chile, chopped finely (seeds and ribs removed if chile is very hot)
- 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 head of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), chopped and leaves separated from stalks
- 1/2 package of firm tofu, excess water squeezed out and chopped into cubes
- 3 tbsp. light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. rice wine
- 2 tsp. sambal oelek or other Asian chile paste
- 2 tbsp. Chinese pickled vegetables (optional)
- 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or large deep pan set over medium-high heat.
2. Add the chopped broccoli stems, ginger, garlic, chilis and scallions and cook, stirring or tossing frequently, until broccoli stems are slightly softened, about 6 minutes.
3. Add the chile paste and pickled vegetables, if using. Fry for 2 minutes.
4. Add the chopped broccoli leaves, tofu, soy sauce, and rice wine. Cook, stirring gently, until liquid has evaporated slightly and broccoli is cooked through, about 4 more minutes. Drizzle sesame oil over. Check for seasoning. Serve over hot rice.