This week, Chronicle Books officially launched its Asian Market Shopper app, part of the publisher's new line of cooking apps for iAppliances (Droid versions are reportedly on the way).
Researched and written by Santa Cruz-based author Andrea Nguyen, author of the great Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, the app provides descriptions of 100 ingredients commonly found in East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian groceries, many of which are used in 25 basic recipes that Nguyen has also developed for the book. The app costs $3.99 through iTunes or Apple's app store.
SFoodie compared the app to a similar one titled Asian Ingredients 101, published last year by Sutro Media ($0.99 through the app store). Its author is Patricia Tanumijardja, who wrote The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook -- incidentally, her parents also run a sweet neighborhood Indonesian restaurant in Seattle. Like Asian Market Shopper, Asian Ingredients 101 provides photos and descriptions of 100 ingredients, perhaps 60 percent of which are also included in Nguyen's app.
Which of the two should you buy? Depending on what you're looking for, SFoodie would say neither or both.
The Chronicle Books app, which would look equally good sized up for the iPad, is smartly designed. Each ingredient comes with an audio pronunciation (usually the Chinese or Vietnamese name), and the links from ingredient to recipe are seamless; if you favorite a particular recipe, the app will also generate a shopping list. In addition, Nguyen -- or rather, her hands -- star in several small instructional videos demonstrating how to break down a crab for stir-frying and roll spring rolls. For its part, Asian Ingredients 101 also gives storage and shopping recommendations, and for produce, gives suggestions for how to prepare the ingredient. It doesn't include recipes or videos.
San Franciscans looking for a picture dictionary to take with them to Clement Street or Nijiya will find that both apps, while well researched, are far from comprehensive -- the South Asian sections, in particular, feel sketched in. There's simply not enough room in the format to describe all the regional variations in products or list a third of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs on sale at the Alemany farmers' market.
However, the Chronicle Books app is a fantastic proof of concept illustrating the possibilities for portable-device cookbooks. It integrates video, photos, and text, and functions beautifully. For that reason alone, the Asian Market Shopper is worth $4 (if Chronicle and Nguyen ever decide to release more more specialized ingredient-recipe apps, I'll rush to buy them). If you've made the decision to buy one app, seeing as how Asian Ingredients 101 lists dozens of additional ingredients -- pancit canton, coconut water, lily buds, pandan leaves -- why not spend $5 and get both? You've spent more on a palm-sized hunk of cheese at the farmers' market, and that hasn't helped you cook dinner even once.