Pantry Essentials: Chinese Cooking

If you enjoy the flavor and taste of Chinese cuisine, and would like to try your hand at cooking some for yourself, baby steps are important. The full spectrum of flavors you can create using authentic Chinese ingredients is wonderfully varied, but can be daunting for those who don't have ready access to specialty stores and Asian markets. You might not be able to whip up a shark fin soup your first time, but you can replicate many of the dishes you'd see at your favorite Chinese restaurant with a few basic, essential ingredients.

Fresh Ingredients:

  • Garlic Like in many other cuisines around the world, plain old, everyday garlic is essential to Chinese cooking! One of it's most common uses is to season cooking oil, but there are many other applications for it too.
  • Fresh Ginger Ginger (like garlic) is frequently used to flavor the oil for stir fry dishes and other fried foods, but it's unique tang lends a great deal of flavor to many dishes throughout many different regions and cuisines in China.
  • Spring onions (green onions / scallions) Chopped scallions are frequently used to garnish dishes, and add a bit of fresh, bright flavor to stir fry dishes.
  • Chinese dried mushrooms Dried shiitake mushrooms have a more intense flavor than fresh mushrooms. They will need to be soaked in water prior to use, but the leftover liquid can actually be used like a broth in soups and sauces!

Sauces, Liquids, and Condiments: *Ingredients labeled with asterisks are not vegan/vegetarian

  • Chile paste or sauce This spicy sauce is made from a mix of chilies, salt, garlic, ginger and oil. It adds a very nice heat to all kinds of dishes!
  • Hoisin sauce Soy beans, chilies, garlic, and other spices combine to create this mildly sweet and smoky sauce. It's commonly seen in stir fries and other dishes (and is also a condiment commonly enjoyed with Vietnamese Pho!)
  • Dark and Light Soy Sauce Both dark and light soy sauce are needed for many recipes. Dark soy sauce tends to be thicker, with a sweeter and less salty flavor than it's light counterpart.
  • Five Spice Powder Chinese five spice is made of ground peppercorn, star anise, cloves, fennel, cinnamon, and sometimes coriander! It's a very fragrant blend that you can try to replicate on your own, or just get pre-mixed!
  • Rice Wine (or Dry Sherry) Rice wine is frequently used in marinades, as flavoring, and to remove the more pungent scents of some foods such as fish!
  • Rice Vinegar Rice vinegar is, as its name suggests, made from glutinous rice, and has a great, strong, smoky flavor. It is frequently added to soups and sauces!
  • Sesame Oil Sesame oil is surprisingly key to a number of dishes. The smell alone will remind you of Chinese dishes, and the taste is perfect in stir fries, marinades, and more.
  • Oyster sauce* Cantonese cooking is one of the more frequent users of this savory, oyster-flavored sauce. It is used primarily in seafood dishes, though can be found in a number of tasty vegetable dishes too.

Make it a meal! Add:

  • Bamboo shoots
  • Bok Choy
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Rice (medium or long grain)
  • Rice, Wheat, or Egg* Noodles 
  • Snow Peas
  • Soy Bean Sprouts
  • Tofu