If you thought you knew how to make instant noodles properly, chances are you were missing a crucial step, says Arthur Tong of Asian Staples, a new online hub for Asian pantry items such as rice, noodles, condiments, snacks and spices.
“Almost nobody talks about it – it’s not even on the manufacturer’s instructions. But it’s really important to drain and discard that greasy yellow water and use clean, boiled water to make your soup,” Tong tells Broadsheet. “It comes from a Cantonese saying, gor lang ho, which means to rinse in a cool stream.”
Asian Staples is as much an educational experience as it is an online shop. “We’ve curated a collection of staple ingredients to make Asian cooking simple and approachable,” he says. “We’ve put a lot of effort into describing what ingredients are and how to use them.”
For example, the entry for dried kelp is accompanied by detailed notes cautioning home cooks against heating the kelp quickly, or at all. (Instead, cold infusion is recommended: soaking five to 10 grams of kelp in room-temperature water for eight to 10 hours will result in a delicious stock.) “When you go to an Asian grocery store, you don’t see plaques explaining ingredients. This is about taking the guesswork out of [cooking],” he says.
Asian Staples’ instructional approach isn’t a surprise. Tong also runs Tea Craft, a specialty tea company that’s been servicing top Sydney restaurants such as Mr Wong, Tetsuya’s and Sixpenny for 13 years. “We use the education approach with Tea Craft. It’s not enough to sell a bunch of teas – you have to have your own spin, tell people where it comes from, how it’s used.”
When lockdown shuttered Tea Craft’s core customer base, Tong tapped into his contact list of chefs to find creative ways to promote his online grocery store. “I gave them a list of our ingredients and said, ‘Pick six and do whatever you want.’” Chef Victor Liong of Melbourne’s Lee Ho Fook came up with a prawn and shitake mushroom rice-paper roll with XO sauce. Toby Wilson of Sydney’s Taco King at The George wrote a recipe for breakfast donburi. Other chefs include Mitch Orr from Sydney’s Cicciabella and Lillia McCabe from Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, also in Sydney.
If you want to make one of their dishes, ingredients for the chef collaboration recipes can be bought individually or as a bundle. There are also recipes and ingredient bundles for fried rice, stir-fries, vegan noodle soup and the “Student Survival Bundle”, which includes five packs of cult Korean instant noodles Shin Ramyun, seaweed, canned mushrooms, fried shallots and garlic. You can search for goods by product type (such as “vinegar, cooking wines, oils”) or by cuisine (Cantonese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino – the list goes on).
“I’ve been so touched by how these chefs have supported Asian Staples, from creating recipes to promoting us in their feeds. They know it’s a means to try to save Tea Craft, and they don’t want us to disappear,” he says.
“In hospitality more than any other industry, people have done a great job of coming together and supporting each other through the pandemic. It’s easy to help people out when you’re at the top of the mountain, but if you do it when you’re down and out yourself, it’s very inspiring.”