The weird and wonderful tastes of your local Asian grocery store.

Dried versus Fresh

The eternal questions that never seem to raise heated debate – brown bread versus white, white wine versus red, fresh versus dried. Fresh has to be better – right? Not necessarily. Some ingredients in Asian cookery are optimised by the drying process, with flavours becoming more enhanced, and usability increased because they are always ready to be used in the pantry. Don’t be put off by their skeletal nature, after a brief soak in hot water, or being wakened up in the pan with some clarified butter or oil, you will find the flavours of dried herbs, foods and products far from petrified. Here is a list to set you on your way to the marvellous world of dried miracles..

Dried shitake mushrooms

Soak in hot water, slice and discard tough stems and stir fry with garlic and onions. Shitake mushrooms are woodsy and full of umami flavour when dried, and the cooking liquid can be used in poaching other ingredients. Always handy to have on hand in the cupboard, and cheaper than buying fresh. Win win!

Dried mango

Eaten as a snack, dried mango from the Philippines are far superior than dried mango I’ve tasted elsewhere. Full of vitamins and sweet as a donkey kick to the head, it’s a pick me up full of flavour and color. Beats the sad specimens sold under ripe in stores around Helsinki.

Dried lily bulb

Revive in hot water and then chopped and added to Chinese vegetarian dishes, dried lily bulb has a host of regenerative properties that I can’t remember right now. But it’s pretty and you get to eat a flower. Combine with rehydrated mung bean-vermicelli and sliced, rehydrated woods ear fungus and fried garlic plus a little sesame oil and soy and you have a killer cold starter.

Tania Nathan is a Chinese-Sri Lankan Malaysian who loves her food and is often to be found rummaging through a freezer somewhere in Hakaniemi. Come say hi!

Dried tofu sheets

Do not confuse tofu sheets with tofu. This guy is flavourful and full of bite. Rehydrate and add to stir fried veg for texture and protein. Do not over soak – it should feel like soft suede rather than paper-maiche.

Fatt choy – or ‘hair’ fungus

This stuff looks scary. But it’s not! Traditionally eaten as part of the Lunar New Year banquet, Fatt choy looks like hair but in Chinese sounds like the words for luck and prosperity. Rehydrate, sit fry with vegetables, tofu and enjoy the reactions of your dinner-party guests. It may not taste like particularly anything, but as for texture and ick-factor it can’t be beat!