Stirring up bargains

Comparison shopping at Oceanic and Whole Foods.

click to enlarge GET A SHROOM: Mushrooms for sale at Oceanic Supermarket. - Arielle Stevenson
Arielle Stevenson
GET A SHROOM: Mushrooms for sale at Oceanic Supermarket.

Growing tired of the Chinese takeout down the street? Want to try your hand at some Asian cuisine at home? Stir-fry is a good place to start. Some of the ingredients may reside in your grocery store’s token “ethnic” section, but everything you need is readily available at your local Asian market.

And boy, is it cheaper.

To show you just how cheap, we did some comparison shopping in Tampa at Oceanic Supermarket (1609 Tampa St., 813-228-8110, and Whole Foods (1548 N. Dale Mabry, 813-874-9435, Oceanic is one of the largest Asian markets around, while WF is well-known for its wide variety of fresh produce and other high-quality fare — and for its higher-than-average prices.

We wrote up a shopping list based on the basic recipe below, and went to the stores.

First, fresh ginger root, a vital ingredient in Asian cooking, and in this recipe.

Price check: Ginger root at Oceanic, $1.99 per pound. Ginger root at Whole Foods, $5.99 per pound.

On to fresh mushrooms — shitake, oyster, and portobello work well in both stir-fry and soup. Here, the difference was starker still.

Price check: Shitake mushrooms at Oceanic, $4.99 per pound. Shitakes at WF, a hefty $14.99 per pound. Oyster mushrooms at Oceanic, $6.99 per pound. At WF, $8.99. Portobellos at Oceanic, $2.99 per pound. At WF, $6.99 per pound.

Whew. What about sesame oil? It’s a fantastic item to have in the pantry for all cuisines, not just Asian dishes.

Oceanic had a 10-ounce bottle for $2.59.

Whole Foods charged $9.79 for the same amount.

And then there are the staples for a stir-fry chef’s pantry: soy sauce and rice. Here, we found not only a huge difference in price but in variety, too.

Who knew there were so many varieties of soy sauce? You’ll know once you check out the soy sauce aisle at Oceanic. Though prices vary, a half-gallon jug will run you about $5-10. You’ll spend about that much on a 10-ounce bottle at Whole Foods.

And rice? Oceanic has 25-pound bags for $15.99, Whole Foods sells a five-pounder of white rice for $5.99. And Oceanic’s selection, as with its shelves of soy sauce, is big — everything from sweet cherry to black rice. Whole Foods has a good selection, too, but specialty rice runs about twice as much as regular.

Hands down, Oceanic beat the competition. We love Whole Foods, but for the home cook into Asian cuisine, Oceanic wins in price and variety.

Basic Vegetable Stir-Fry


1 cup of vegetable broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

1 package 16 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced

1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces

3 green onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced

8 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced


In a measuring cup or bowl, mix broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, salt and cornstarch.

In a non-stick skillet or wok, heat sesame and vegetable oil over medium heat. Add tofu and cook, stirring until lightly browned. Put tofu in a bowl. Combine carrot, red pepper, green onions, ginger and garlic into skillet. Cook until tender. Add mushrooms, and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Stir in broth mixture and cook until it boils. Serve over rice.

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