Save Money on Asian Ingredients: 10 Tips for Meal Planning and Shopping
As a foodie, I enjoy exploring new cuisines and flavors. However, trying new things can be costly, particularly when it comes to cooking Asian food. The ingredients can be pricey and difficult to locate.
Nonetheless, there are ways to save money on Asian ingredients.
In this article, I’ll provide some tips on how to do so and share some of my favorite recipes. Let’s begin!
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Top 10 tips for saving big on Asian food
- 1.1 #1: Master the Art of Meal Planning
- 1.2 #2: Buy at Asian Grocery Stores
- 1.3 #3: Compare Prices
- 1.4 #4: Buy in Bulk
- 1.5 #5: Online Shopping for Asian Ingredients
- 1.6 #6: Seasonal and Local Alternatives
- 1.7 #7: Growing Your Own Herbs
- 1.8 #8 Make Your Own Sauces
- 1.9 #9 Frozen and Dried Ingredients
- 1.10 #10 Sharing the Cost of Asian Ingredients
- 2 Conclusion
Top 10 tips for saving big on Asian food
#1: Master the Art of Meal Planning
Let me tell you about the time I decided to dedicate a week to meal planning. It was a game-changer!
Not only did it help me save money on Asian ingredients, but it also helped me reflect on my priorities and make conscious compromises.
I realized that breaking down my shopping list into simple, budget-friendly items was the key to elevating my cooking skills and saving time in the kitchen.
Embrace the Convenience of Meal Planning Templates
When I first started meal planning, I was a little overwhelmed by the idea of creating a shopping list and organizing my meals for the week. But then I discovered meal planning templates!
These handy tools come with instructions and space for listing all the ingredients I need to buy, making my life so much easier. Here’s how I use a template to plan my meals:
- List the main ingredients for each meal (e.g., vegetables, protein, grains)
- Note any special items required for cooking (e.g., sauces, dressings)
- Organize the list by grocery store section (e.g., produce, frozen, dry goods)
We even have a meal planner in our Japanese meal planner and cookbook.
If you plan your meals correctly, you won’t have to throw away any leftover ingredients because you can plan for their use later in the week.
Heck, you can even buy in bulk (which is another tip on this list).
#2: Buy at Asian Grocery Stores
Let me tell you, stepping into an Asian grocery store for the first time was like entering a whole new world of culinary possibilities. I was mesmerized by the bewildering array of products that lined the shelves. From the vast variety of rice to the different types of noodles, I knew I had stumbled upon a goldmine for my kitchen.
Not only did I find the usual suspects like jasmine rice and pho noodles, but I also discovered a ton of other ingredients that I had never seen before. I was particularly intrigued by the different types of teas available, both loose and bagged. And don’t even get me started on the flavored milk, aloe, and coconut juice that I found in the beverage aisle.
Save Big on Seafood and Meat
One thing that I absolutely love about Asian grocery stores is the fresh seafood and meat options. I was amazed to find that the prices were generally lower than what I would spend at my local supermarket. I’ve even managed to score some great deals on sliced pork belly and steamed meatballs, perfect for making my favorite Southeast Asian dishes.
Here are some tips for shopping at Asian grocery stores:
- Look for sales and discounts on seafood and meat products.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help in selecting the best cuts.
- Check the frozen section for even more options.
Are Asian markets cheaper to shop at?
Yes, shopping at Asian markets can be cheaper than shopping at Western supermarkets. Asian market owners often spend less money on advertising and interior decorating, which allows them to offer competitive pricing strategies.
However, it’s important to note that the low prices are often due to weak branding, low labor costs, and extreme price competition. This can result in bruising competition, which is carried abroad to the local markets in your neighbourhood.
The prices of frequently consumed foods in Asia are sold inexpensively in their home country, and the volume drives prices down. While the average Asian and Hispanic shopper buys groceries to cook from scratch frequently, the average Western shopper doesn’t. Therefore, the volume of sales frequently drives prices down.
What are some other reasons to shop at your local Asian market?
Aside from the potential cost savings, there are many other reasons to shop at your local Asian market. For one, you’ll find a wide variety of unique ingredients that you may not be able to find at mainstream supermarkets. This is especially true if you’re interested in cooking Asian cuisine. Additionally, many Asian markets offer a more personalized shopping experience, with staff who are knowledgeable about the products they sell and can offer recommendations. Finally, shopping at your local Asian market is a great way to support small businesses in your community.
What kind of fresh veggies can you find at your local Asian food market?
You can find a wide variety of fresh veggies at your local Asian food market, including snow peas, lemongrass, bean sprouts, Chinese broccoli, ginger root, bok choy, mushrooms, and more.
At your local Asian food market, you can find these veggies for a fraction of the cost compared to the national supermarket average. For example, while bok choy at Fred Meyer may cost $1 per pound, you can find it for as little as $0.10 per pound at your local Asian food mart.
It’s worth noting that while the prices may be lower, the quality of the produce is still high. Many Asian food markets prioritize fresh, high-quality produce to meet the needs of their customers. So not only can you save money, but you can also enjoy fresh and delicious veggies.
Don’t Overpay for Alcohol
If you’re a fan of Asian beers and spirits, you’ll be happy to know that they’re readily available at most Asian grocery stores. And the best part? You won’t have to overpay for them like you would at a normal supermarket. So go ahead, grab a bottle of your favorite sake or soju and enjoy it without breaking the bank.
#3: Compare Prices
You might think, “Hey, I’m already shopping at an Asian grocery store and buying in bulk, so I’m saving money, right?” Well, yes, but there’s always room for improvement! Comparing prices is a crucial step in stretching your dollar even further. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s worth the extra effort.
Keep an Eye Out for Sales and Discounts
I’ve learned that sales and discounts are my best friends when it comes to saving on Asian ingredients. Here’s what I do:
- Regularly check store flyers and websites for deals
- Sign up for loyalty programs and email newsletters to get exclusive discounts
- Don’t be afraid to ask store employees about upcoming sales
Price-Matching: A Secret Weapon
Did you know that some stores will match or even beat a competitor’s price on the same item? I’ve saved a ton by taking advantage of this policy. Here’s how:
- Research which stores in your area offer price-matching
- Keep a copy of competitor ads or have them readily available on your phone
- Show the ad to a store employee and watch the savings roll in
Don’t Be Brand Loyal
I used to be a sucker for sticking to my favorite brands, but I quickly realized that I was missing out on potential savings. Here’s what I do now:
- Be open to trying different brands, especially if they’re on sale
- Compare the ingredients and nutritional information to ensure you’re not sacrificing quality
- Remember that sometimes, store brands can be just as good as name brands
Two brands that offer great Japanese ingredients at affordable prices are:
Take Note of Unit Prices
Unit prices are the unsung heroes of comparison shopping. They show you the cost per unit (like per ounce or per pound), making it easy to compare items of different sizes. Here’s how I use them:
- Look for the unit price on the shelf label or price tag
- Use a calculator (or your phone) to determine the unit price or price per pound if it’s not listed
- Compare unit prices to find the best deal, even if the overall price is higher
By incorporating these strategies into your shopping routine, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master at comparing prices and saving money on Asian ingredients. Happy bargain hunting!
#4: Buy in Bulk
Picture this: you’re hosting a dinner party and decide to whip up multiple Asian dishes to impress your guests. You head to the store to gather your supplies, only to find that buying everything individually is going to cost you an arm and a leg. That’s where bulk buying swoops in to save the day (and your wallet).
Not only does buying in bulk help you save money on those expensive Asian ingredients, but it also has additional benefits. For one, you’ll be stocking up on items you use frequently, so you won’t have to make as many trips to the store. Plus, it’s an eco-friendly option, as it often means less packaging.
What to Buy in Bulk for Your Asian Cuisine Adventures
When it comes to bulk buying, some items are more cost-effective than others. Here are a few essentials that you’ll want to stock up on:
- Rice: It’s the foundation of many Asian dishes, and buying in large quantities can save you a pretty penny.
- Sauces: Soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce are just a few examples of condiments that you can purchase in larger bottles for a lower price.
- Dried goods: Beans, lentils, and noodles are all great options for bulk buying, as they have a long shelf life and can be used in various dishes.
- Frozen vegetables: Buying veggies in bulk and storing them in your freezer ensures you always have fresh ingredients on hand for that impromptu stir-fry or casserole.
Smart Storage Solutions for Your Bulk Bounty
Now that you’ve embraced the bulk buying lifestyle, it’s essential to have proper storage solutions in place. Here are a few tips to keep your ingredients fresh and organized:
- Invest in airtight containers: These will help keep your dried goods like rice and beans fresh for longer periods.
- Label everything: It’s easy to lose track of what’s in your pantry, so labeling your containers with the item name and expiration date is a must.
- Use your freezer: As mentioned earlier, frozen vegetables are a great bulk buy. Just make sure to store them in resealable bags or containers to prevent freezer burn.
#5: Online Shopping for Asian Ingredients
One of the best things about shopping online for Asian ingredients is the ability to compare prices easily. I’ve found that some online stores sell the same sauce or ingredient at a fraction of the price of others. So, I always make sure to:
- Check multiple websites for the best deals
- Look for sales and discounts
- Sign up for newsletters to receive exclusive offers
Exploring the Wide Range of Asian Ingredients
When I first started shopping online for Asian ingredients, I was amazed by the variety of products available. From different versions of soy sauce to unique varieties of chili, I was able to find everything I needed to create my favorite dishes and even discover some new ones. Some of the ingredients I’ve found online include:
- A wide range of Chinese sauces and condiments
- Various types of noodles and rice
- Unique herbs and spices
- Frozen dumplings and other pre-made dishes
Some large online retailers even have dedicated sections now for Asian food, like the Japan Store on Amazon.
Choosing the Highest Quality Ingredients
As a home cook, I always strive to use the best ingredients in my dishes. Shopping online for Asian ingredients has allowed me to find some of the highest quality products on the market. Many online stores sell professional-grade brands that are used in restaurants, so you know you’re getting the best of the best. Plus, you can often find reviews and recommendations from other customers to help you make the best choice.
#6: Seasonal and Local Alternatives
I’ve always been a fan of Asian cuisine, but I used to cringe at the thought of how much I was spending on ingredients. That’s when I discovered the magic of seasonal and local alternatives. Not only do they save me money, but they also add a fresh twist to my favorite dishes. Here’s why:
- Seasonal ingredients are often cheaper because they’re abundant during their peak season.
- Local ingredients don’t have to travel as far, which means lower transportation costs and fresher produce.
- Supporting local farmers and businesses is a win-win situation – you save money, and they get to keep doing what they love.
Swapping Out Imported Ingredients for Local Gems
I used to think that authentic Asian dishes required specific, imported ingredients. But I’ve learned that I can still create mouthwatering meals by swapping out some of those pricey imports for local alternatives.
Here are some of my favorite swaps:
- Instead of Thai basil, try using sweet basil or even mint for a refreshing twist.
- Swap out expensive Asian mushrooms like shiitake or enoki for more affordable, locally-grown varieties like cremini or button mushrooms.
- Use locally-sourced honey or maple syrup in place of palm sugar.
We have an entire category devoted to finding the best substitutes for hard to find or expensive Japanese ingredients.
Seasonal Produce: The Unsung Heroes of Asian Cuisine
One of the best ways to save money on Asian ingredients is to embrace seasonal produce. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s also a great way to experiment with new flavors and textures. Here are some of my favorite seasonal ingredients to incorporate into Asian dishes:
- Spring: Asparagus, peas, and radishes can add a fresh, crisp bite to stir-fries and salads.
- Summer: Zucchini, bell peppers, and eggplant are perfect for grilling or tossing into a spicy curry.
- Fall: Squash, sweet potatoes, and apples can be used in soups, stews, or even dessert recipes like apple-filled dumplings.
- Winter: Hearty greens like kale and collard greens can be used in place of bok choy or Chinese broccoli.
Get Creative with Seasonal and Local Ingredients
The key to saving money on Asian ingredients is to be open to experimentation. Don’t be afraid to play with flavors and textures – you might just discover a new favorite dish. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Try making a stir-fry with whatever seasonal veggies you have on hand. The possibilities are endless!
- Experiment with different types of local greens in your salads or noodle dishes.
- Use seasonal fruits like berries, peaches, or pears to create unique dessert recipes.
Remember, the best way to save money on Asian ingredients is to think outside the box and embrace the seasonal and local alternatives available to you. Your taste buds and your wallet will thank you!
#7: Growing Your Own Herbs
Growing your own herbs is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to save money on Asian ingredients. Thankfully, my personal experience has taught me that you don’t need a green thumb to get started. Here are some tips to help you kick off your gardening journey:
- Start with the easiest herbs to grow, like parsley, mint, and chives.
- Learn about the best time to plant each herb. For example, tarragon and oregano thrive in early spring, while cilantro prefers late fall or winter.
- Choose a sunny spot in your garden or a well-lit area in your home for your herbs.
- Use pots or containers with good drainage to avoid overwatering.
Keep Your Herbs Hardy: Tips for a Vigorous Garden
Once you’ve planted your herbs, it’s essential to keep them healthy and vigorous. Here are some things I’ve learned from my own gardening attempts:
- Water your herbs regularly, keeping the soil moist but not soggy.
- Pinch off flowers as they appear to encourage bushier growth.
- Harvest the outermost stems first, allowing the inner stems to grow and mature.
- Keep an eye on the weather, and bring your pots indoors if it gets too cold.
From Garden to Table: Using Your Fresh Herbs
One of the best things about growing your own herbs is having them readily available in your kitchen. Here’s how to add them to your favorite Asian dishes:
- Chop fresh herbs and sprinkle them over your finished dish for a burst of flavor.
- Experiment with different herb combinations to find your personal favorites.
- Use your homegrown herbs to make your own sauces and dressings.
Storing Your Herbal Bounty: Tips for Longevity
If you’ve got more herbs than you can use, don’t let them go to waste! Here are some ways to store your herbs for future use:
- Dry your herbs by hanging them upside down in a well-ventilated area, or use a dehydrator.
- Freeze your herbs by placing them in an ice cube tray with water or oil, then pop them out as needed.
- Store fresh herbs in a glass of water in the fridge, like a bouquet of flowers.
Regrow and Reuse: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Some herbs, like green onions and mint, can be regrown from cuttings or leftover stems. Here’s how to make the most of these hardy plants:
- Place the root ends of green onions in a glass of water, and watch them grow back in just a few days.
- Plant mint stems in a pot of moist soil, and they’ll soon take root and grow into a new plant.
Growing your own herbs is not only a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s also a fantastic way to save money on Asian ingredients. So, go ahead and unleash your inner gardener – your wallet and your taste buds will thank you!
#8 Make Your Own Sauces
Let me tell you a little secret: making your own sauces and dressings is not only cheaper, but it’s also a lot more fun! The store-bought stuff can be expensive, especially if you’re looking for authentic Asian flavors. Plus, you can save a ton of money by mixing up your own concoctions with simple, fresh ingredients. Trust me, your food will taste so much better when you start incorporating homemade sauces and dressings.
Examples of Sauces and Dressings to Make at Home
There are so many different kinds of sauces and dressings to choose from, but here are a few examples to get you started:
- Sweet and sour sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Sesame dressing
Basic Ingredients for Homemade Sauces and Dressings
To start making your own sauces and dressings, you’ll need a few basic ingredients on hand. Here’s a simple list to follow:
- Oil (such as sesame or vegetable oil)
- Soy sauce
- Vinegar (rice vinegar is a popular choice for Asian dressings)
- Acid (like lemon juice or lime juice)
- Fresh herbs and spices
Properly Storing Your Homemade Creations
Once you’ve prepared your homemade sauce or dressing, it’s important to store it properly to ensure it stays fresh and ready to use. Here are some tips for storing your homemade sauces and dressings:
- Keep them in the fridge in airtight containers, like mason jars.
- Most homemade dressings will stay fresh for up to two weeks in the fridge.
- Incorporate organic fruits and nut spreads into your dressings to extend their lifespan.
- Safely store your sauces for several months by freezing them in vacuum-sealed bags or Ziploc containers.
#9 Frozen and Dried Ingredients
Frozen and dried ingredients are often cheaper compared to fresh ingredients due to several factors:
- Reduced spoilage: Frozen and dried ingredients have a longer shelf life compared to fresh ingredients. Fresh ingredients are more perishable and have a limited lifespan, requiring proper storage and transportation conditions. This increased perishability can lead to a higher risk of spoilage and waste, which adds to the overall cost of fresh ingredients.
- Bulk purchasing and storage: Frozen and dried ingredients can be purchased and stored in bulk, allowing for economies of scale. Manufacturers and suppliers can buy larger quantities of ingredients at lower prices, reducing the overall cost per unit. Additionally, frozen and dried ingredients can be stored for extended periods, allowing suppliers to take advantage of seasonal price fluctuations and buy in bulk when prices are lower.
- Processing and handling: Frozen and dried ingredients often undergo processing and handling procedures that help preserve their quality and extend their shelf life. These processes, such as blanching, freeze-drying, or dehydration, can be more cost-effective compared to the meticulous handling and transportation required for fresh ingredients.
- Reduced transportation costs: Frozen and dried ingredients are generally lighter in weight compared to fresh ingredients, resulting in lower transportation costs. Fresh ingredients, especially those with high water content, require careful handling and refrigerated transportation, which can be more expensive.
- Availability and convenience: Frozen and dried ingredients are available year-round and are not subject to seasonal variations or geographical limitations. This availability and convenience allow for a more stable supply chain, reducing costs associated with shortages or fluctuations in demand.
While frozen and dried ingredients offer cost advantages, it’s important to note that they may differ in taste, texture, and nutritional content compared to fresh ingredients.
The choice between fresh and frozen/dried ingredients depends on factors such as the intended use, personal preference, and the specific recipe requirements.
#10 Sharing the Cost of Asian Ingredients
I remember back in my college days, my friends and I had a brilliant idea to save money on Asian ingredients. We formed a shopping squad, and we’d hit the local Asian market together. By pooling our resources and splitting the cost of bulk items, we were able to save a decent amount of money on essential ingredients like rice, soy sauce, and fresh produce. It was a win-win situation for everyone involved!
Group Cooking Sessions: More Fun, Less Spending
Another cool thing we tried was organizing group cooking sessions. We’d each chip in some money, and one person would be in charge of shopping for the ingredients. We’d then gather at someone’s place and prepare traditional dishes together. Not only did we save money by buying in bulk and sharing the cost, but we also had a blast learning new recipes and cooking techniques from each other. Plus, we got to enjoy a delicious, homemade Asian feast without spending a fortune at a restaurant.
Sharing is Caring: Splitting Ingredients and Prepared Foods
Here’s a little secret I’ve found: some Asian ingredients can be quite pricey, especially if you’re only going to use a small portion for a particular dish. So, what my friends and I would do is split the cost of certain ingredients or prepared foods. For example, if we needed a specific sauce or spice, we’d buy the bigger (and cheaper) version and divide it among ourselves. This not only saved us money but also prevented waste, as we rarely needed the entire container for a single recipe.
So there you have it, some tips and tricks on how to save money on Asian ingredients.
As with any grocery shopping, it’s important to shop around and look for deals, but don’t be afraid to try something new.
So get cooking, and enjoy the delicious flavors of Asia!
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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.