Updated : September 2022
There are so many sauces and spices you can stock in your pantry especially if you are new to cooking. If you’re into Asian cooking, the options are even more mind-boggling. There is so much choice out there, which ones do you really need in your kitchen?
Truth is, there are only 15 ingredients we think every kitchen should have. There are different staples depending on the type of cuisine you lean towards. These are our recommendations for ingredients that will help you build a versatile store cupboard. You’ll probably find these condiments in every Asian pantry.
Soy sauce is the most popular item that you should have at home. It’s the most versatile condiment and goes well with any type of dish. Many people know that soy sauce is the main ingredient for most of Chinese food but that not all. It’s also commonly used in Korea, Japan and Thailand.
We have two popular soy sauce brands. One, is Lee Kum Kee Premium Soy Sauce. The flavour itself is not too salty and not too light, just right for any dish or even as a side condiment. The second is Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce. The flavour is not as salty as the normal Premium sauce and it has darker colour that makes dishes look more appetising. The dark soya sauce is often used to stir fry dishes.
Many Thai dishes use fish sauce, especially Thai salad. Fish sauce, made from fermented fish, is the perfect salty seasoning for dressings, soups and curries. There are many brands that you can choose from but our brand of choice is Megachef Premium Fish Sauce because of its rich, wholesome flavour.
Oyster sauce is a dark, thick sauce made from oyster extract. It is salty, savoury and lightly sweet. It adds an umami seafood flavour to dishes, especially stir fry meat and vegetables. Be careful, once you start, you’ll be reaching out for it for all your stir frys. We recommend Megachef Premium Oyster Sauce.
Five spice is another common ingredient in Chinese cuisine. It has a warm, earthy flavour with a hint of licorice. A tiny amount is all you need to flavour delicious soups and stews. Here are some of our popular brands of five spice powder: Vianco Five Spice Powder, Perfect Fine Food Five Spice Powder and Lobo Chinese Five Spice Blend. Or if you prefer to get the dried ingredients separately, the five spices in this powder are: cinnamon, star anise, clove, fennel seed and sichuan peppercorn.
Hoisin sauce is a dark, thick sauce made from sugar and soybeans. It’s commonly used in Cantonese cuisine and you will recognise its unique flavour in Char Siu Pork. It’s also a popular dipping sauce that is great for veggies and roasted meat. Lee Kum Kee Hoisin Sauce is the most popular hoisin sauce.
Mirin or Japanese Sweet Rice Wine
Mirin is a sweet syrupy liquid used mainly as a seasoning and glazing agent in Japanese and Korean cooking. It is a type of rice wine just like sake, but with lower alcohol content. We use mirin to add lustre, help tenderise meat or seafood, and add a distinct sweetness to dishes. Obento Mirin Seasoning is always a popular choice.
Toasted Sesame Oil
Toasted sesame oil has a dark amber color and an intense, nutty aroma. It has a low smoking point and can’t stand up to high heat, so it’s usually used at the end of cooking. It’s an important condiment to have, since you can use it to create delicious soup and dumplings. Yeo’s Pure Sesame Oil comes in a variety of sizes that you can choose to suit your family and of course it also tastes delicious.
Palm sugar is less sweet and more complex in flavour than white sugar. Palm sugar delivers hints of tartness, smoke, caramel or butterscotch, depending on where and how it's produced. It stores well at room temperature, so it's easy to keep on hand for use in Thai salads, curries, and especially desserts.
Lucky Elephant Palm Sugar comes in different sizes for your convenience. Singlong Gula Malacca is the popular palm sugar from Malaysia. If you are too lazy to melt the palm sugar block, check this out: Dapir Desa Concentrated Palm Sugar.
Gochugaru or Korean Red Chilli Powder
Korean chillis have a sweet flavour that’s different from other chillis. If you’re making Kimchi, definitely go for the Korean version. Red chilli powder is one of the main ingredients for many Korean dishes such as tteokbokki, army stew or even stir fry bulgogi. Which Korean chilli brand to go for? Kwang Che Food Red Pepper Powder is the brand many Koreans use.
Japanese Mayonnaise is different from American mayonnaise because it is extra-creamy and tasty. It has a richer egg flavour as only the yolks are used to make it versus the whole egg. You can use Japanese mayo in countless dishes – think katsu sandos, rice bowls, salads and okonomiyaki. You can also use it as a dipping sauce for any type of food - even boiled vegetables! Japanese Mayonnaise makes everything taste good. Everyone’s favourite is Kewpi Mayonnaise from Japan.
White Pepper Powder
White pepper and black pepper actually come from the same berry but it is the way they are processed that makes them different. Black pepper is made from unripe pepper berries, whereas white pepper is made from fully ripened berries. Which is spicier? There are differing views.
For us, white pepper has a floral and earthy flavour that is more suited for certain Chinese foods. You will notice a steady burn that continues to the back of your throat such as when you have a good Chinese Hot and Sour soup. The heat is distinctly different from dried hot peppers or chillis.
Gochujang or Korean Chilli Paste
Gochujang is a fermented red chilli pepper paste commonly used in Korean dishes. If you know Doenjan, Gochujan is like its spicy cousin as it is made from the same fermented soybean block Meju. CJ Red Pepper is the brand of choice because of its delicious taste and chilli flavour.
Potato Starch or Corn Starch
Potato starch is used to thicken sauces, as a coating for fried food, or to prevent food from sticking (such as in the case of mochi). It can be found in a variety of cuisines such as Chinese, Thai or even Malaysian.
Sriracha Chilli Sauce
Sriracha is the vinegary hot sauce associated with Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. You can use it in stir frys or as a substitute for chilli and garlic in basil stir fry. It can also be used as a dipping sauce for chicken, dumplings, fish balls or anything, really. If you like your chilli extra hot, you will love Grand Mountain Sriracha Chilli Sauce.
Shoaxing Wine or Cooking Wine
Shaoxing wine is a type of rice wine that is just as important as soy sauce. It has a light brown color and a savoury umami flavor that resembles light soy sauce. It adds depth of flavour to a dish and is used in almost everything: from making sauce and deglazing pans, to making marinade. Shaoxing wine is the star in recipes such as drunken chicken.
With Chinese New Year just around the corner, it is a good time to stock up on your condiments and sauces. Make sure you have these 15 ingredients on hand so you are always ready to whip up some delicious Asian cuisine for your guests. Look out for our next blog where we will be introducing you the snacks you should get for the upcoming festive season!