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Grilling on the Rim : Shopping for Sauce

October 13, 1994|LINDA BURUM

Buying marinades and spices for Asian barbecue can be an overwhelming and bewildering experience: There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of products on the market. Such profusion began long before there were supermarkets and contemporary packaging, however.

It began with hawkers in open market stalls serving travelers or other people who had no cooking facilities. Eventually, lured by the enticing aromas of grilling meat, everyone came to patronize the stalls. As competition grew and vendors spread to other parts of town, they began to distinguish their wares by perfecting their own distinctive marinade flavors.

Street-side barbecue is even now very much a part of urban Asian life. In Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Japan (where sate is called yakitori), vendors still set up their braziers on street corners and in train and bus stations.

But plenty of grilling is done at home too, and in the last decade or so, with the arrival of supermarkets in Asia, food manufacturers have come up with all sorts of prepared marinades and sauces. There is everything from instant Singaporean-style spicy spareribs mix to pear-flavored Korean marinade. Competition among most brands is just as fierce as it was between those vendors in the old-time markets.

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A staggering number of Asian barbecue condiments are imported into the United States. American companies--in addition to American-based branches of Asian companies--are turning out barbecue products. Ebara, a Japanese sauce maker, imports about 10 meat marinades and teriyaki-style sauces to sell largely through Japanese markets. U.S. Ebara also produces a local line distributed to most major supermarkets. "The sauces have slightly different flavor profiles," says Michael Frank of Ebara, "and, of course, the labels are all in English."

Some locally made sauces and marinades such as Noh of Hawaii's Chinese-style char siu and Korean-style kalbi are geared to well-established Asian-American populations. Others, such as Lawry's Teriyaki Sauce and Tommy Tang's Sate Marinade and Sate Sauce, are geared to non-Asian consumers. "People don't use our sauces strictly for Thai dishes," says Gary Arabia of Tommy Tang's. "They can marinate a whole chicken with the sate marinade or use the peanut-based sauce for any kind of salad."

For those shopping somewhat randomly in Asian and/or mainstream stores, the choices can be overwhelming.

For example, Shun Fat Market, on Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park, has one of the widest pan-Asian selections in Southern California. Bypassing the familiar brands--Kikkoman Teriyaki Glaze and Dynasty Chinese Barbecue Sauce--in favor of more exotic sauces, Shun Fat offers a vegetarian barbecue sauce produced by AGV products of Taiwan, also XO brand and Kimlan brand satay pastes, both Taiwanese-produced peanut sauces spiked with chiles, ground dry shrimp and garlic. In the same aisle are three brands of Thai sweet-hot chile sauce to accompany Thai barbecued chicken. Close to these is Hai Pao Wang brand barbecue sauce from Taiwan. Said to be the original authentic style of Cantonese barbecue sauce, the paste-like mixture contains dried shrimp and fish, garlic, shallots and chile.

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Near the Vietnamese soup seasonings--but before you get to the flour mixtures--are several American-Vietnamese barbecue seasoning products, including Golden Bell Brand's Special Barbecue Spices (with directions in English) and King Sing's B.B.Q Beef and Shrimp Mix.

At the Indonesian-Malay section you'll find the nicely packaged Kokita line of sauces. These Indonesian imports include bumbu sate , a marinade made primarily from shallots, garlic and soy sauce. Its accompaniment, saos sate (satay dipping sauce), is a thick, peanut-based mixture spiked with chile. There you'll also find Filipino barbecue marinades and seasonings.

Char siu , the red Chinese barbecued pork, is popular all over Asia, so Shun Fat carries brands of char siu seasoning to suit people from many countries. In the dry seasonings aisle you'll find Lobo brand powdered char siu seasoning mix from Thailand. Sun-Bird brand dry Chinese barbecue seasoning mix made in Torrance seems to be preferred by Japanese-Americans, Noh brand char siu seasoning by Filipinos and Hawaiians. With the wet sauces is another selection of char siu in jars. Especially good is Lee Kum Kee brand, made in Hong Kong.

At the Hughes market across the street, the selection is also substantial. But as you might imagine, there are more American-produced items such as S&W Light Teriyaki Sauce, Trader Vic's Chinese-Style Teriyaki Sauce and Rice Road's Teriyaki Basting Sauce.

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