When I was in my early teens, my mom and I discovered a fantastic cookbook, Asia the Beautiful. Filled with beautiful pictures and exciting recipes from obscure countries like Burma, Nepal, and Laos, it captured my imagination, and I filled the pages with bookmarks and annotations. A couple of years later, when I started cooking in earnest, I went back to the book and began working my way through the recipes that had gotten me so fired up.
My only problem was that I grew up in Northern Virginia in the late 1980's. Even using the list of suggested substitutions, I was still at a loss for many of the ingredients. Where could I find galangal or keffir lime leaves? Who had screwpine extract? Even lemongrass, which I can now see all over the place, was almost impossible to find back then. In my ever-widening search for exotic ingredients, I finally discovered the international grocery stores. After poking around some of the smaller, cramped places, I ended up at Lotte, a gigantic Korean supermarket. Inside its doors were most of the ingredients that I had been looking for, and some amazing ones that I had never imagined existed. I was in heaven.