Great dishes need not be expensive, but they do straddle the line between the skill of the chef and the quality of the ingredients. Dishes that linger in your mind are dishes that have depth. They are not sweet or salty; they are a combination of many flavours. It takes skill to layer without overpowering one over another. While a great chef can make the most mundane ingredients sing, quality of produce can speak for itself. There are whole cuisines, Italian and Japanese to name a few, that rely on specific types of ingredients. It is not just freshness, but also location, environment, and handling that matter. So how do you find the right ingredients?
For authenticity, go to specialty stores
Whether you are cooking for a specific cuisine or not, specialty stores can become your new best friend. Besides finding cheaper price tags for culture-specific ingredients, they also have a more distinct flavour profile. Fish sauce from Vietnam or Thailand is not the same as the one you see in the international section of the grocery store. Finding the right blend of garam masala could even mean shipping it from India.
Authenticity does not only mean staying true to the recipe but staying true to the form. Try looking around your city for these specialty stores. The ones you find might cater more to those who miss the taste of home; don’t overlook that detail, since it works in your favour. Their selection reflects what households back in the country of origin use. Sometimes it means travelling to the bigger cities to find them, but it is worth the trip.
For freshness, go to your local farms
For dishes that focus on the freshness of produce like ones found in Italian cuisine, it is best to grow the fruit and vegetables yourself. It is one of the ways to guarantee freshness. However, it is not realistic, as not everyone has access to land nor do they have the time. The second-best thing you can do is go directly to the source. Large restaurants have go-to farms for the quality of their produce, and you can do the same. You can either do a quick internet search for farms near you to enquire or check the labels of what you see in your grocery store and call. The extra effort could reward you with a mutually beneficial partnership.
For hard to find ingredients, go online
Hard to find ingredients like produce that is out of season, rare finds, or even basics in bulk is not something you can pop into a store and order. These are meant to be ordered in and shipped. Before, people relied on telephone calls to follow up their orders. Now there is the internet. You can order tuna in pouches and have them delivered to your door if you want. These online suppliers have different policies, but they are generally friendly towards those who seek convenience or large quantities.
Do not be held back by what you see. From different countries to different seasons, there are ways you can find ingredients to make your next dish.