Recipes for Versatile Chinese Dipping Sauces

Chinese Dips Do Double Duty By Enlivening Appetizers and Main Dishes

Har gow in chopsticks dipping into sauce
Getty Images/Paul Poplis

Popular appetizers like spring rolls and potstickers just wouldn't taste the same without a flavorful dipping sauce. But did you know they're also great for livening up the main dish? Below are descriptions of popular Chinese dips and suggestions for pairing them with appetizers or main dishes. (Note: Unless otherwise specified, do not add dips directly to the food, but serve in a small bowl or cruet at the table.)

Chili Oil

Made from chili peppers, it only takes a few drops of hot chili oil to add spice to noodles or simple stir-fry dishes. When preparing at home, it's easy to increase or reduce the level of heat by using hotter or milder chili peppers. Either way, use chili oil sparingly at first. Serve with:

  • Steamed dim sum dishes, particularly dumplings
  • Stir-fries and noodles (add a few drops to the dish or serve at the table)
  • Try adding to other dipping sauces, such as soy ginger or a hoisin-based sauce‚Äč

Hoisin-Based Dipping Sauces

Hoisin sauce's main claim to fame comes from its being brushed on the Mandarin pancakes served with Peking Duck and Mu Shu Pork, two classic Beijing restaurant dishes. As a dipping sauce, hoisin-based sauces can be used in place of plum sauce. In fact, plum sauce gets its nickname "duck sauce" from the fact that westerners initially confused the two, believing plum sauce was served with Peking Duck. Since hoisin sauce is quite thick, it is frequently thinned with a bit of water and/or sesame oil before serving. Other seasonings may include sugar, garlic, ginger and chili oil. Serve with:

  • Chinese pancakes, steamed buns
  • Meat, particularly chicken and pork
  • Stir-fries, deep-fried food, grilled satays and noodles (add during cooking or serve at the table)

Plum Sauce

Serve with:

  • Fried appetizers such as Gow Gees
  • Meat, especially pork, as in a pork stir-fry with plum sauce

Hot Mustard

A classic dip for egg rolls and spring rolls, hot mustard's potent flavor goes well with most deep-fried appetizers. And just like less fiery mustard brands, it marries nicely with ketchup. Serve with:

  • Egg Rolls, Spring Rolls, Spareribs, Fried Wonton and other deep-fried appetizers
  • Deep-fried dishes, such as battered, deep-fried shrimp

Soy Sauce-Based Dipping Sauces

Soy Sauce, Vinegar, and Chili Oil
The classic dipping sauce combination for steamed dim sum dishes. Restaurants will often serve them individual bowls, allowing diners to mix the three condiments together according to their own tastes.

Soy Sauce and Ginger
The clean taste of ginger combines nicely with light soy sauce. For extra flavor, add a bit of rice vinegar and brown or white sugar.

Serve with:

  • Dumplings such as Jiaozi, Siu Mai, and Potstickers.
  • Noodles, White Cooked Meat and other relatively bland dishes

Sweet and Sour Sauce

A Chinese favorite for centuries, sweet and sour sauce gets its unique flavor from marrying vinegar with sugar. Ketchup, tomato sauce, or Worcestershire sauce are frequently added for color. Another version uses pineapple. When preparing Sweet and Sour Sauce, feel free to adapt a recipe to your own tastes by adjusting the ratio of vinegar to sugar. Serve with:

  • Fried appetizers
  • Meat, particularly chicken, pork, and fish
  • Batter-coated fried food
  • Fried tofu

Szechuan Salt and Pepper Mix

Not actually a sauce but a dry mix, the combination of roasted Szechwan peppercorns and salt makes a wonderful dip for fried appetizers. When preparing, feel free to experiment by mixing in other types of peppercorns. Serve with:

  • Fried appetizers
  • Deep-fried or roasted dishes, particularly deep-fried chicken
  • Fried Tofu