Asian food is some of my very favorite to cook, and my whole family absolutely loves it, whether it be Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, or a combination of more than one cuisine’s influence. I use a lot of fresh garlic, ginger, and scallions in these dishes, and I also rely heavily on a pantry of Asian ingredients I’ve built over time. These are some of my favorite ingredients, ones that I always have on hand.
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Soy sauce is probably the number one ingredient you need in your pantry if you’re going to jump into any kind of Asian cooking. It’s a very dark colored sauce that packs a rich, salty taste and is brewed from soybeans and wheat. It's a popular and versatile staple that can be used for dipping, marinating, and cooking -- especially stir fries -- in all kinds of Asian cuisines.
02 of 11
This anchovy extract is commonly used in Southeast Asia as a cooking sauce to add a salty, savory taste to dishes. With its intense flavor, a little bit of fish sauce goes a long way. Its smell is pretty pungent, but once its added to a dish it provides that dash of extra umami, and it’s definitely a flavor you’ll recognize from Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
Try it in stir-fries, soups, and noodle dishes. Note that it is made from fermented anchovies, so it should not be used in any dish you intend to be vegetarian.
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Made from toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil has a distinct, nutty and aromatic flavor. It's used as a condiment or seasoning, often added at the end of cooking a dish to preserve its wonderful flavor. It’s quite strong, so it’s used in small amounts. Chili sesame oil is also available, which is a nice way to add that great sesame flavor and some heat at the same time. Keep it in the fridge to keep it from getting rancid (if it smells off, it probably needs to be tossed).
Try sesame oil in:
04 of 11
Its name comes from the word “seafood” but hoisin sauce is a thick, somewhat intense sauce made from ground soybeans and some kind of starch, seasoned with red chillies and garlic. Vinegar, Chinese five spice and sugar are also commonly added. The word hoisin is from the Chinese word for seafood, but the sauce does not contain any seafood ingredients.The sweetness and saltiness is excellent for marinating, stir-frying, dipping, and glazing meat, vegetables, and noodles. It's often used in Chinese and Vietnamese dishes.
Try hoisin sauce in:Continue to 5 of 11 below.
05 of 11
This Siracha chili sauce has very much entered the mainstream in recent years, and it is a great hot sauce made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. It is believed to have originated in Thailand (it’s named after a coastal city in Thailand), though it’s very commonly used in Vietnamese food as well, and these days, all sorts of Asian dishes. It’s thick, tangy and spicy, and I use it constantly in soups, sauces, noodles, or anything that you want to add some heat to.
06 of 11
This versatile chili garlic sauce is lightly spicy and can be used for dipping, cooking, marinating, or stir-frying. It’s got a slightly rough texture, and a nice dose of tanginess from vinegar; you can also definitely taste the garlic, so if you’re adding it to a recipe for heat, and there is also garlic in the recipe, you may want to knock down the amount of garlic you are using.
Try chili garlic sauce in:
07 of 11
Made from oyster extracts, this thick, dark brown oyster sauce is considered a staple in Chinese family-style cooking. It's used to flavor meat and vegetables, or as a topping or dipping sauce. It is traditionally made from slow simmering oysters, though these days most commercial oyster sauce (for economic reasons) is made with oyster extract combined with some sugar, soy sauce, salt, and thickeners. It often used in Chinese cooking, especially Cantonese food.
Try oyster sauce in:
08 of 11
Gouchujang hot sauce is a fermented hot pepper paste used throughout Korean cuisine. It has a strong umami flavor similar to miso paste and heat from chilies. When cooking, it can be thinned out with a liquid. It is a traditional Korean household staple that adds savory, sweet, and spicy notes to a variety of meat, vegetable, and rice dishes. It is also available in sauce form, which can be more convenient to add to marinades and stir fries.
Try gochujang in:Continue to 9 of 11 below.
09 of 11
I love rice vinegar in dishes both Asian and non-Asian, as it has a more delicate level of acidity than most wine vinegars, and its clear color won’t affect the color of the finished dish. I use it all the time in salad dressings, marinades, and also in dipping sauces. It comes in an unseasoned flavor, which I use most often, and also a seasoned version which can be used in preparing shari (sushi rice) at home.
Try rice vinegar in:
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Miso is a paste made from soybeans, and it comes in a variety of levels of intensity and flavors, as well as colors. There is white, yellow, and red, with white being the mildest. White miso soybean paste has sweet overtones with mild saltiness. It can be used in marinades for fish or meat, dressings, soup stocks, and spreads. Many people have experienced miso paste in miso soup, often served at Japanese restaurants.
Try miso paste in:
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Coconut milk is made by passing coconut meat through a grater then squeezing it to remove the milky fluid. It's smooth and thick with an unassuming, slightly sweet flavor. It’s used in curries, sauces, soups, and stews, and very prevalent in Southeast Asian cooking, like Thai and Vietnamese.
Try coconut milk in: