Spicy, sour, salty, fragrant, herby, crispy and colourful—this multilayered cuisine brings together a whole bunch of savoury flavours. From the traditional Japanese ramen bowls to your favourite noodle dinner, its time to recreate some fun and flavourful Asian magic!
If you’re cooking Asian for the first time or simply expanding your Asian ingredients range, our Asian pantry guide is a comprehensive lowdown of Asian cooking essentials.
From light-to-dark, soy sauce comes in different intensities and proves to be an integral part of Asian cooking. Combine it with brown sugar and vinegar to make an umami-rich marinade for your weekday dinners. Kikkoman has a pretty great variant.
There are many good and bad brands of chilli sauce floating around; but don’t get confused. Sriracha is all you need!
Made from fermented anchovies, salt and water, fish sauce is one of the key (and indispensable) ingredients used in any Asian kitchen. Essential for seasoning, marinating and flavouring, this pungent (smells fishy, of course) and intensely flavoured sauce should be used in strict moderation.
Chinese counterpart of the good old BBQ sauce, Hoisin sauce, works as a perfect glaze on everything meat. Made from a mix of Asian spices and ground soybean, hoisin sauce is thick, pungent and sweet-and-salty in taste. Kikkoman, again, does it best.
Vegetables & Herbs
Bok Choy (or Pak Choi)
Nutritious and crunchy, this cruciferous Chinese cabbage should be your go-to green for all your Asian dishes! And especially when you’re reinventing your salads.
Chinese cousin of the household herb dhania (coriander), cilantro is widely used to garnish Asian curries and dishes.
Bird’s Eye Chilli
Also known as Thai Chilli, these tiny red and green spice bombs are uber hot. Notably used for making the Thai curry pastes, you could also use them to add a punch to your salad dressings, stir-fries or even Pad Thai! #EatExtra: Originally from Mexico, these are also cultivated in Meghalaya, Assam and Kerala.
Galangal (Thai Ginger)
Originally from Indonesia, galangal helps add a whole lot of flavour, aroma and spice to any curry or stir-fry (particularly in Thai cuisine). An estranged cousin of the ginger family, replacing this with ginger in your Asian dishes might not be the best idea, for you will loose that strong citrus scent that comes with this root. But do use it in your Thai pastes, curries or to whip up that warm and delicious bowl of Tom Kha Gai! (Thai galangal and coconut milk soup).
Floral and lemony, kaffir lime leaves are a fabulously fragrant addition to your pantry. Not just Asian, these tough-texture lime leaves can add that zest to just about anything you cook! We recommend you try an Indian style chicken curry infused with lime leaves and bird’s eye chilli and see how it goes.
Umami-rich flavour bombs, shiitake might just be the yummiest form of mushroom around that are used in braises, stir-fries, ramens, broth meals and a whole lot of other things. If buying the dried ones, add the mushrooms to a bowl of boiling hot water and allow steeping until tender. Squeeze out the excess water using hands and add to the desired dish.
Condiments & Spices
Also known as fermented soybeans paste, Miso is an integral ingredient in Japanese cooking. Commonly used as a seasoning paste, add Miso to your dishes to get that instant umami-kick! Miso paste usually comes in white (shiro), yellow (shishu) and red (Miso) colours; each of them with different intensities.
Thai food and coconut milk are pretty much inseparable. Nothing makes those rustic, spicy Thai curries creamier than a generous splash of coconut milk. If you’re not interested in squeezing out homemade and fresh coconut milk, store-bought tetras are a great investment.
Made of dried, fermented and salted shrimps (or prawns in some case), shrimp paste is predictably bold, pungent and fishy in flavour. An integral ingredient in south-east Asian cuisine, shrimp paste is typically added to the famous Thai curry pastes (such as red curry paste, massaman paste etc.). #EatExtra: This one’s highly stinky and pungent smelling, remember to use it sparingly. Tra Chang does a standard shrimp paste.
Freshly Ground White Pepper
Replace the regular black pepper with freshly ground white pepper in your Asian dishes for more earthy and aromatic flavours.
Rice Wine (Mirin)
Mirin, the Japanese rice wine has a syrupy texture and is mildly sweet in taste. It is very similar to Sake (the famous Japanese wine) but with a lower alcohol content. Used as a key ingredient in making Terikayi sauce and sticky-rice, mirin is an essential ingredient used in Japanese cooking. #EatExtra: If you’re not able to find this authentic ingredient in your nearby supermarkets, you can easily mimic the sweet-tangy taste by adding ½ teaspoon sugar per tablespoon of rice vinegar or dry sherry.
Commonly labeled as rice wine vinegar, rice vinegar is usually sweeter and milder than regular vinegar. Typically made by fermenting sugars in rice into alcohol, and then into acetic acid, rice vinegar is notably used for seasoning sushi rice and whipping up Asian salad dressings.
The Chinese five-spice powder is an aromatic mix of star anise, fennel seeds, cloves, Szechuan peppercorns and cinnamon (dominated by the sweet flavours of cinnamon and star anise). This one can be used an excellent spice-rub for fatty meats such as duck and pork. Originally used in Chinese cooking, five-spice powder is also commonly found in north and south-Indian kitchens.
This healthier alternative to refined sugar is widely used in Asian cooking. Palm sugar, made from the sap of sugar palm tree (also called date palm), helps add a rich and caramel-y flavour to your favourite Thai curries! You could also replace this with brown sugar.
Infuse chilli flakes (Sichuan peppers preferably) in oil to create your own homemade DIY chilli oil. Mostly used for seasoning, you could also use peanut or sesame oil to give that nutty punch!
Elaborately used in Chinese cooking, the higher smoking point of peanut oil makes it ideal for deep-fries and stir-fries. Yum!
Mostly used as seasoning oil, sesame oil has a very low smoking point. Due to its strong flavour, it’s often mixed with peanut oil for a milder flavour and higher smoking point.
Rice is often served as a neutral side along with other stir-fries, curries and dishes. Keep your pantry stocked with long-grain (for Chinese stuff) and short-grain rice (for Japanese sticky rice, sushi etc).
No Asian meal is complete without a comforting bowl of noodles! Stock your kitchen with noodles such as soba noodles (buckwheat), udon (wheat flour), rice (rice flour), glass (mung bean) and instant ramen noodles to complete your Asian pantry!
Photos Courtesy Of: Manasa Madishetty