Photo: Flickr / epSos.de
The product labels are foreign and the aisles are hard to navigate, but Asian markets beat American supermarkets in several ways. Economist Tyler Cohen ditched American grocers for a month to find out whether shopping at Asian markets like Great Wall in Falls Church, Va. would change his habits for the better. Turns out he was right:
“Once I started shopping at Great Wall, I began to eat more greens, and to enjoy them more,” he writes. “I never had to tell myself they would ward off cancer, make the earth a better place, help me lose weight, or ease animal cruelty. I wanted to eat them, and the purchases felt virtually free of charge, given the low prices. I could try any new and unknown green without investing much money.”
Here are a few other ways Cohen says ethnic markets trump American grocers:
Greens are a staple. American stores devote aisle after aisle to “loss leaders” (must-have buys) like milk and cheese, which tend to pack calories and cost much more. But Asian markets are all about the greens. From bok choy to yam tips, turnips and lettuce, Cohen found these items to be “tasty and easy to cook, if only by steaming,” and this encouraged him to eat healthier.
Seafood is everywhere. A lot of the fish smell and must be prepared and de-scaled for cooking, so they’re hard to convert into easy-to-eat meals. But their presence in Asian markets does help shoppers make healthier choices.
They sell what cooks need. “Spare animal parts are readily available and very cheap,” says Cohen, who got into cooking soups and found the quality of his family’s dinners improved as a result. “After a few weeks, I took the idea of a fresh stock for granted.”
Snacks, what snacks? Another way ethnic markets help you to eat healthier is by keeping the junk food at bay. American grocers are notorious for doing the opposite, stocking aisles with pre-packaged cookies and crackers that are packed with preservatives and sugar.
Exotic spices and sauces. Resisting the temptation to cook is hard when confronted with an ethnic markets’ dizzying array of spices and sauces. “The store has the area’s best supply of fresh lemongrass and plenty of cheap coconut milk,” Cohen observes, plus “it does have a sauce for marinating bulgogi and large jars of kimchee.”
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