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Originally published September 16, 2012 at 5:01 AM | Page modified September 21, 2012 at 10:37 AM

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How to shop Seattle-area Asian markets — and score the best bargains

If you understand a few distinguishing factors, you can navigate the rich resources we have in the Seattle area for ingredients across the spectrum of Asian cuisines and take advantage of produce, meat and seafood bargains.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Asian markets can seem daunting, because of the cacophony of unfamiliar products and multilingual packaging, as well as a shopping etiquette that sometimes lacks order. But if you understand a few distinguishing factors, you can navigate the rich resources we have in the Seattle area for ingredients across the spectrum of Asian cuisines and take advantage of produce, meat and seafood bargains.

Some general rules about shopping at Asian markets:

• While most markets carry ingredients from a range of Asian cuisines, each store usually has a cultural home, which skews product selection. For example, because Uwajimaya is Japanese-centric, you will find sushi-grade seafood and many Japanese brands. H Mart is Korean and offers an extensive selection of meats cut specifically for Korean barbecue. H Mart also has a kimchi bar, where you can find different kinds of kimchi and pickled vegetables. 99 Ranch Market is Chinese, and the seafood department offers a free whole-fish-frying service (regular and extra crispy).

• Go early on a weekend morning. Weekends are high-traffic shopping days. Produce, for example, is freshest and piled high. By noon, the stores will be overwhelmed with shoppers.

• Asian cuisines tend to be vegetable-centric, so the selection of greens alone is extraordinary. There might be two dozen types of leafy greens at a given market.

• Southeast Asian cuisines use many herbs. You can find the best prices on a wide selection of herbs.

• You can easily find just about every part of the animal from nose to tail, entrails and stock bones. How meat is cut also reflects typical Asian cooking methods: paper-thin for hot pots (soup), for example, or half-inch thick short ribs (kalbi) for grilling.

• Live seafood is a big deal. You will see many live tanks. Whole fish is also big. You will see many varieties of frozen whole fish and fish heads.

• The cashiers may appear rude and abrupt; don't take it personally.

• Asians are picky about ingredients. Don't be surprised if someone digs through an entire pile of baby bok choy to find the "perfect" ones.

• The aromas are different and may be off-putting. The seafood department, for example, has a fishiness that can take people off-guard.

Finding bargains:

You can find some Asian ingredients such as soy sauce, rice, ginger, bok choy and tofu in your neighborhood grocery store, but it may cost you twice as much or more. Often, you'll find deals on familiar items, too. Here are some recent sample prices from three Asian markets:

Viet Wah: Green bell peppers, 99 cents per pound. Red bell peppers, $1.59 per pound. Lemon grass stalks, $1.29 per six-stalk bunch. Kalbi cut beef short ribs, $3.39 per pound. Chicken bones for stock, 99 cents per pound. Pho noodles, $5.59 per five-pound bag.

99 Ranch Market: Live lobster, $6.99 per pound. Live tilapia, $2.49 per pound. Tofu (Tacoma Tofu brand), 88 cents per 16-ounce package. Cauliflower, 99 cents per head. Flank steak, $4.69 per pound. Broccoli crowns, 99 cents per pound. You'll also find the largest selection of wonton/dumpling wrappers, which come in different thicknesses (thin, medium, thick) for different preparation methods (fried vs. steamed vs. boiled).

H Mart: Organic leeks, $1.99 per pound. Cilantro, 39 cents per bunch. Ginger, 53 cents per pound. Fresh thyme, $1.75 for about a quarter pound. Rib-eye steaks, $5.98 per pound.

Where to shop:

While there are any number of mom-and-pops and supermarkets in the Chinatown International District and around the region, here are five of the most well-known Asian markets.

Uwajimaya

www.uwajimaya.com

600 Fifth Ave. S., Seattle

Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

699 120th Ave. N.E., Bellevue

Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

501 S. Grady Way, Renton

Hours: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

99 Ranch Market

www.99ranch.com

22511 Highway 99, Edmonds

Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

18230 E. Valley Highway, No. 100, Kent

Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Lam's Seafood Market

www.lamsseafood.com

1221 S. King St., Seattle

Hours: 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

Viet Wah

www.vietwah.com

1032 S. Jackson St., Seattle

Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

6040 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Seattle

Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

2820 N.E. Sunset Blvd., Renton

Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

H Mart

www.hmart.com

3301 184th St. S.W., Lynnwood

Hours: 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

31217 Pacific Hwy S., Federal Way

Hours: 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Hsiao-Ching Chou is the former food editor at the Seattle P-I and a freelance food writer.

This article was corrected on Monday, Sept. 17. In an earlier version, a photo caption indicated an incorrect location for Viet-Wah.

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