Table of Contents
DRY ASIAN INGREDIENTS
In this section, you will find information on dry Asian ingredients that are typically found in most Asian household pantries that I like to use in my recipes.
Chinese Yellow Rock Sugar
Chinese yellow rock sugar is lumps of crystallized sugar made from unprocessed sugar cane. It has a yellow tinge to it and is often used in Asian cooking. Rock sugar is less sweet than granulated sugar, but it has no distinct flavor to it besides being sweet but it is great at lightly sweetening anything without an overpowering sweetness. When used in marinades and sauces, it can also impart a nice shiny sheen to the food. You can find these in any Asian grocery store
Rock sugar lumps can be up to 3cm x 3cm in size and need to be broken up into smaller pieces to be used. It is most commonly used in Chinese desserts, soups, marinades, and tea. Once opened, this can be stored in a well-sealed container or ziplock bag in a dry cool place.
What are Bonito Flakes?
What are bonito flakes?
Bonito flakes are made from fermented and dried smoked skipjack tuna, which are then shaved into paper-thin flakes. Prized for its smoky flavor, it can be used for a dashi stock (a broth base for miso soup) or as a garnish to bump up the umami flavors of your dishes.
They come in very thin shaved flakes that melt in your mouth very easily. When you use them in very saucy and soupy recipes, they will almost always melt into the food so try to put this on as a topping right before you eat it.
Bonito flakes substitions
There is no true substitution for bonito flakes. You may find substations like kombu or dried shiitake mushrooms to give you that umami flavor that bonito flakes provide, but you will not get that smoky flavor which is what bonito flakes are known for.
Where do I buy bonito flakes?
Depending on where you live, they may not be very common but they are usually found in Japanese/Korean supermarkets. If you cannot find it locally, you can buy it online.
How do you store bonito flakes?
Most bonito flakes when opened will keep well for about 6 months to 1 year, after that they start to lose a bit of their flavor. Store them in a cool and dry place in a very well-sealed container.
What is black garlic?
Black garlic is made by fermenting regular garlic in a low heat and humid environment for a long period of time. You can actually make this yourself in a slow cooker or rice cooker but be prepared to keep the cooker on for a week. It takes at least 200 hours to produce these nuggets.
It is a very versatile ingredient that can be used in anything and everything: sauces, spreads, dips, dressings, noodles, etc. It has a lot of health benefits as well, such as cancer protection, controlling cholesterol, protection from infections, and it is very high in antioxidants.
If you have never had black garlic before, the best way I can describe its taste is, it is sweet! It doesn't have a spicy garlicky kick like regular garlic and it has a very sweet caramelized molasses-like mild garlic flavor with a lot of umami flavor. The texture of black garlic is soft and sticky. It can easily be made into a thick paste with gentle pressure, which is why it is quite easy to incorporate into sauces, dips, or even as a spread.
Where do I find black garlic?
There is no true substitution for black garlic, but you can reduce balsamic vinegar into a thick sticky syrup for something similar in flavor. You can typically find these at health food stores, gourmet specialty stores, and sometimes Asian grocery stores as well. If you cannot find it locally, you can buy these online as well.
How do you store black garlic?
If sealed and unopened, black garlic can be stored at room temperature until the expiry date. Once it is opened, keep it in a well-sealed container in the fridge for up to 6 months to a year.
SAUCES AND CONDIMENTS
In this section, you will find information on all the different types of Asian sauces, dips, pastes, and powders that are used to flavor or accompany the dishes in my recipes.
Sacha Sauce (Chinese BBQ Sauce)
Sacha sauce (also known as Chinese BBQ Sauce) is a sauce made mainly with soybean oil, brill fish, dried shrimp, garlic, shallots, and chilies with a lot of umami flavor.It is a very popular sauce that is used in hot pot dipping sauces, marinades, stir-fries and grilling meats.
Sacha sauce (Chinese BBQ Sauce) is also known as satay sauce but doesn't taste like the actual satay sauce which is actually more peanut-based.
Although this is labeled as Chinese BBQ Sauce, it tastes very different than a traditional American BBQ Sauce. Traditional American BBQ sauce is usually sweet with a slight tang and almost ketchup-like. Sacha sauce, on the other hand, tastes more like a caramelized seafood and onions with a slight savoriness to it. It has no sweet flavor or tang to it but is loaded with umami flavor which is why it is quite addictive.
Something to point out is, although there is a lot of flavor in this sauce, it is not salty. It is meant to give a base flavor to whatever you are using it in but you will need to add either salt or soy sauce to give it a bit more savoriness.
Once the container is opened, it should be stored in the fridge. There is usually an expiry or best before date on the container as well.
Miso (which originates from Japan) is a salty and flavorful thick paste that is high in umami and made from fermented soybeans, rice, or barley fermented with salt and koji (mold made with rice, used as a fermentation starter).
There are many types of miso and they all range in color and flavor depending on what type of grains it uses. The 3 most common types of miso that can be found most easily are white (shiro), yellow (shinshu) and red (aka).
The general rule with miso is the lighter the miso the milder and sweeter the flavor. So if you are not 100% sure if you will like miso, start with the light ones first and work your way up.
The lighter misos are great for sauces, dips, marinades, soups. As you go into the darker ones they will be saltier and more flavorful, so these are great for heavier braised recipes and marinades. I personally love the strong flavor and do use it in soups and sauces as well, but this will be a completely personal preference.
Miso is getting more and more popular and can usually be found at local grocery stores now in the International aisles. If you cannot find it at your local grocery store, you can almost always find it at an Asian grocery store or online.
There is no true substitution for miso, but whenever I need to substitute miso, I like to use soy sauce. It gives the same amount of saltiness as well as the umami-ness but it will lose a bit of that miso fermentation flavor. The texture of miso is completely different than soy sauce, so there is no true 100% substitution for it, so I highly recommend buying a small container to keep around the kitchen since it lasts a very long time in the fridge and it is a very versatile ingredient.
In cases where miso is the main flavor in a recipe, like in soups/butters/sauces, I would not use soy sauce as a substitute because they do have different flavors and for those types of recipes, you want to retain the miso fermented flavor.
Once opened, miso should be stored in the fridge. Make sure it is well sealed so it doesn't dry out. Most packaging will have an expiry date on it, the darker the miso the longer it will last - partially because darker ones have a higher salt content.
Oyster sauce is a very common Asian condiment and can usually be found in every Asian household. It is a thick, dark brown sauce made with oyster extract and has a salty-sweet briny flavor. On its own, oyster sauce is very salty, but it also has a touch of sweetness to it. It is a great flavor enhancer and is used in place of salt in cooking and in marinades. It is most commonly used to give marinades and sauces a bit of umami flavor and to provide some salt. It can also be used as a dipping sauce for Chinese vegetables and meats and used as a flavor enhancer in stir-fries as well.
There is also a vegetarian version of oyster sauce made of mushrooms for anyone looking for a vegetarian alternative.
This is a very common condiment that can be found at every Asian grocery store. I have also seen these at my local grocery store in the International aisle as well. If you have a hard time finding it locally, you can find this online as well.
Once the bottle of oyster sauce has been opened, it should be kept in the fridge. Personally, I have kept it longer than the expiry date. The high salt content keeps it preserved very well.
It can also be bought in a large can if you want to buy it in bulk (although it is more convenient to buy it in a bottle). If you buy it in from a can, transfer it out of the can as soon as it is opened to either a glass or plastic container and store it in the fridge.
Shrimp paste (aka shrimp sauce) is a very salty paste made with fermented shrimp and salt. It is used a lot in Asian cooking to flavor curries, broths, braised dishes, steamed dishes, and fried rice and is very high in umami-ness. It is used in many different ways in Asian cooking and is an ingredient that doesn't have a distinct flavor that can be instantly identified unless you are using it on its own.
When used in broths and Thai curries, it provides a huge boost in umami and saltiness and it gives a more full-bodied flavor. It is also used in steaming meats, vegetables and sometimes added to vegetables and when used that way has a very strong pungent smell that definitely is something that you need to get used to else it can be very off putting. It is also very commonly used in fried rice in south Asian cuisines and gives the rice a boost in saltiness and umami flavor.
You can find shrimp paste at an Asian grocery store - they are usually stored in the aisles where all the jars of sauces are.
When you are looking for it, keep in mind that shrimp paste and shrimp sauce are the same thing and are used interchangeably. Look for a glass or plastic jar filled with a grayish-brown thick paste. If possible, try to find one that only has 2 ingredients - shrimp and salt. If this is difficult to find, you can also find this online as well. If you cannot find shrimp paste, you can substitute it with half the amount of fish sauce.
Once opened, store this in the fridge. Since it has a lot of salt in it, it will last a long time in the fridge.
Fermented Black Beans
What are Chinese fermented black beans?
Fermented black beans are used predominately in Asian cooking. They are made by fermenting black soybeans with salt and sometimes ginger. They are most commonly used in stir-fries, braised dishes, sauces, or steaming meat dishes.
To bring out the flavors a bit more, it can be lightly chopped or slightly mashed with the side of your knife. They can also be used with fish but very sparingly since it has a very strong flavor which can overwhelm a dish. This ingredient is really potent so a little goes a long long way and it is very easy to overpower a dish if you put too much of it in.
Before you use it, it is good practice to give the beans a quick rinse under water to remove the excess salt, the water also reconstitutes the beans and makes it easier to work with as well.
Substitutions for fermented black beans
You can find this in Asian grocery stores. If you cannot find it locally, you can find it online as well. There is no substitution for this ingredient.
How do you store Chinese fermented black beans
You can store these in your pantry if it is in an air-tight container away from direct sunlight however we like to store these in the fridge to be safe. If you are storing them in the fridge, use an air-tight container and it can pretty much last forever.
Chinese Olive Vegetable
Chinese olive vegetable is a condiment made of olives, preserved mustard vegetables, salt, and oil. It contains a very high amount of umami flavor and is most commonly used in fried rice, stir-fries, or as a condiment (it's especially good mixed in with congee).
Chinese olive vegetable is slightly salty and has a deep earthy olive flavor. It contains an abundant amount of umami-ness and is very delicious. Since they are not as salty as regular olives, they can be used in larger amounts to flavor dishes. With that being said, they also taste nothing like olives as well.
You use this like any other condiment, both the oil and the leaves. When you are using them in stir-fries or fried rice, use your cooking utensil to break it up since it is prone to clump together. Occasionally you will find olive pits in the jars - remove them if you see them.
You find these in most Asian grocery stores in a plastic or glass jar in the aisles. If you cannot find it, you can also find it online. There is no substitute for Chinese olive vegetable.
Once opened, you can store Chinese olive vegetables in the cool and dry pantry for 4-6 months but check the expiry date as well.
What is dashi powder?
Dashi powder is granulated bonito soup stock that can be used to make instant dashi for quick miso soups and to flavor noodle dishes.
It has a smoky, slightly fishy flavor that is very similar to smoked salmon and is very salty with high amounts of umami-ness. This is a very flavourful product so a little goes a long long way. Treat this as salt and always just add a little bit at a time and taste the dish before adding more since it is very easy to overdo it.
Dashi powder is most commonly used to make dashi, which is a smoked bonito (tuna) and kelp soup stock for noodle soups or miso soups. The stock made by dashi powder can be used interchangeably with any recipe that calls for chicken/beef/veggie broth as well. You can also use it to make create sauces for stir-fried recipes!
Dashi powder comes in little granules that you need to dissolve into liquid before you can use it.
Where do you buy dashi powder?
These are usually sold in Asian grocery stores in small glass jars or large boxes. If you can't find them in your local stores, you can easily purchase them online as well.
How do you store dashi powder?
Once opened, it should be kept in an air-tight container (it usually comes in its own jar unless you buy the box) in the fridge. It also has an expiry date on the packaging as well to let you know how long to keep it for.
Red Fermented Bean Curd
Fermented red bean curd (aka fermented red tofu) is tofu that has been preserved in salt, rice wine, red yeast rice, and spices. Not to be confused with the white fermented tofu which has a slightly milder taste and is used more in sauces and condiments.
It is most commonly used for braising but can also be used for marinating as well. It is a very salty ingredient with a hint of alcohol flavor from the fermentation. Since it is a very high sodium and potent ingredient, you should use it sparingly in dishes.
It comes in cube form but will almost always need to be mashed up to be used in marinades. If you are using it for braising, it will slowly melt and dissolve once you put it in the braising liquid and mix it around.
We like to use it in our Chinese BBQ’s Pork (Char Siu) recipe because of its red color (which comes from being fermented in red yeast rice). It also provides a wonderful aroma and umami flavor as well.
You can typically find these at Asian supermarkets in small jars in the sauces aisle. If it is difficult to find, it can also be purchased online. There is no true substitution for this ingredient.
Once opened, it should be stored in the fridge and can be kept for a year. It can be kept longer than a year due to the fermentation, and the high salt content but this will also depend on the conditions of the storage as well. Always use a clean utensil to scoop the cubes and sauce out of the jar to prevent contamination.
Chinese Sesame Paste
Chinese sesame paste is a thin nutty-flavored paste made from toasted sesame seeds that are used in various sauces and desserts in Asian cuisines. Not to be confused with Tahini, which has a more raw flavor with slightly bitter undertones. You cannot use Chinese sesame paste and tahini interchangeably.
Chinese sesame paste is almost always used directly from the jar. It is most commonly added in sauces for noodles (aka sesame noodles) and used as an additional flavor for sauces for hot pot as well. It tastes very similar to peanut butter without the sweetness.
You can typically find these at Asian supermarkets in small jars in the sauces aisle. If you cannot find it locally, you can also find it online as well.
You can also substitute this with unsweetened natural peanut butter and sesame oil. Mix 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter with 1-2 drops of sesame oil. It must be the natural peanut butter that doesn't have a thickener/binder so the oils and solids separate just like the sesame paste which will give it a thinner consistency.
A brand new jar of sesame paste will have the oil and solids separated. It will need to be stirred together until it becomes a thin paste before you can use it. Once you have it combined, store it in the fridge to keep it combined so that you don't need to stir it again the next time you use it.
When you are near the bottom of the jar, you may notice that the sesame paste is very dry. To thin it out again, mix in a few tablespoons of oil and mix it together with the sesame paste until it is thin again. Use neutral oil with no flavor, and do not use any type of olive oil.
VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
In this section, there will be information on fruits and vegetables (mainly Asian), that I use in my cooking, or enjoy on their own on as a side.
A Pomelo is a large citrus fruit that tastes like a grapefruit but is slightly less juicy, tangy, and has less of a bitter aftertaste. Pomelos are usually eaten as-is but can also be fantastic in salads, drinks, and desserts. It is often eaten and enjoyed in Asian cultures especially during Chinese New Year & Mid-Autumn Festivals.
Pomelos can be tricky to peel because of their thick skin. There are two layers of peeling when it comes to peeling a pomelo. You first have to peel off the outer skin (the rind) and once the skin has been peeled you have to peel the tough skin that's wrapped around the pulp - the pulp is the only thing eaten in a pomelo. Pomelos are slightly less juicy than a grapefruit but much easier to eat and make great bite-sized snacks on the go.
You don't eat the skins of a pomelo at all since it is thick and tough. You only eat the pulp, which is very easy to peel out of the skin.
When it comes to food, Asians generally don't like to waste anything, so there are Chinese recipes out there to eat the pith of the pomelo skin which is the spongy part of the skin. The pith is usually peeled or cut off the rind and soaked overnight and boiled to remove some of the bitterness in preparation for it to be braised. It doesn't have much flavor, it's more of a texture thing. It absorbs the flavor of the braising liquid. The texture is exactly what you would think it would be like - spongy!
You can find my pomelos at the Asian grocery stores but they are more commonly available during big events such as Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) and Mid Autumn Moon Festivals, although I occasionally will find them at my local grocery stores from time to time as well. To pick the juiciest pomelos, pick them up and feel how heavy they are. They should feel heavy for their size and be firm to the touch. The heavier it is, the juicier it is. If it feels very light, it most likely will be dry.
I have not figured out how to pick out the sweet ones. It's usually a hit or miss for me when it comes to picking out the sweet ones - sometimes I get sweet, sometimes I get tangy. If you have a way to pick out sweet pomelos, give me a shout! I would love to learn how!
If your pomelo has not been peeled, you can store them at room temperature or in the fridge. Once a pomelo has been peeled, keep the segments together and only remove the wedges you want to eat. This will prevent it from drying out. Store it in the fridge in a well-sealed container for up to a week.
Bitter melon is a melon used as an ingredient in savory dishes in Asia, India, and the Caribbeans. Although it has a bitter flavor, people still enjoy it for its health benefits. They have a very "green" flavor followed by a bitter after taste.
In Asian cooking, bitter melon is mostly used in stir-fries and steamed dishes. Traditionally as a stir fry, you will usually see it being served with a black bean sauce with some kind of protein. Another interesting and very common way to serve these is by stuffing them with ground pork and bean threads (clear cellophane noodle) and steaming them.
To remove some of the bitterness from the melon, you may quickly par-boil it for 1 minute before stir-frying or using it but it will make the texture slightly softer and it will also remove some of the nutrients since it will go into the water during the boiling.
Bitter melon will be most commonly found at an Asian or Indian grocery store.
The bitter melons found in Asian grocery stores will look bumpy but smooth (like in the photo). Make sure they are free of bruises and look and feel firm when you are picking them out. I personally find, the greener bitter melons are more bitter and the lighter green ones have a less bitter kick to them. If you are looking for them in the Indian store, they will also be bumpy but will have more of a warty look to them, and be slightly shorter in length. Indian bitter melon (also known as Kerala) is also a deeper green color as well.
You can store these in the refrigerator loosely covered in a bag (so they don't dry out). If the bitter melon is in good shape, it will keep for up to 5-7 days.
Lychees are small, sweet, and juicy fruits that has a floral flavor to them. They originate from China and are mainly enjoyed as is but have been gaining worldwide popularity & has been popping up as an ingredient in a lot of Asian fusion recipes as well. They are very juicy fruits, and the flesh of the fruit old a lot of water in it, almost like a skinless grape. You can eat them as is, as a snack or dessert but now that lychees, use them in cocktails, or add them into desserts.
Before you can use the fruit, you have to peel the skin off the skin first. Peeled lychee will be white and slippery to the touch. The flesh of the fruit is the part of the fruit that is used and the small dark brown seed in the middle is removed and discarded.
Do not eat unripe lychees, they contain toxins that can make you very sick. Unripe lychee skins are green in color. It is also not a good idea to eat a lot of lychees in one sitting as well, as it is known to give you stomach aches as well.
You can usually find fresh lychee at an Asian grocery store. Fresh lychees are only in season in June and July though so get them fresh while you can! There is no good lychee substitute. Since lychees are only in season for a few months in the summer, you can substitute it with canned lychee which you can find at an Asian grocery store or online.
To pick sweet and ripe lychees, find the ones that are bright red or pink in color. When you give them a gentle squeeze, it should feel firm and springy. Avoid mushy or very soft lychees, chances are it is either overly ripe (and very sweet) or rotten. Lychees that are not springy or have sunken in skins usually mean they are dried out.
These little fruits should be stored in the fridge and last about a week. When storing them in the fridge, keep them in a plastic bag with holes in it, to prevent them from drying out too quickly.
Taro is a starchy root vegetable that comes from a tropical plant that is similar to a potato - but it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. It is used worldwide in many different cuisines and is a very versatile ingredient that can be steamed, deep-fried, boiled or grilled. It is also not just limited to savory dishes only and is very commonly used in sweet dishes in Asia as well!
Taro must ALWAYS be cooked all the way through before eating it. In its raw form, it contains calcium oxalate which can cause kidney stones or gout - cooking it removes it.
Taro contains high amounts of Oxalic Acid, which can irritate and cause your skin to be itchy if you have sensitive skin. When you are working with it, it can also get unwieldy so I like to wrap a towel or dish rag around the taro where I need to hold it before I start peeling it or cutting it. If it's easier, you can also use gloves. I have read tips to use oil on your skin as a barrier, but I personally don't recommend it - using this method makes the taro very slippery and makes it harder to work it, and may cause cutting accidents, so please don't do this.
Taro is most commonly found in Asian and Indian grocery stores and sometimes at specialty grocery stores as well. When you are picking out taro, make sure it is free of mold and cracks. It should be firm and not show signs of shriveling or wrinkling. Cracking and shriveled up taro is an indicator that it may be drying out. There is no true substitution to taro. A potato comes close but taro has a nuttier flavor and creamier texture.
Store your taro in a dry cool dark place. Sometimes I keep it out on the counter in a very well-ventilated basket, but I will use it within 2 days if I do. Never rest it on any kind of plastic, it will cause moisture and form mold. If you keep it in the fridge, make sure it is well ventilated, else it will form moisture, which will then form mold. It is usually easier to just use it as soon as possible when you bring it home from the store.
Edamame is a fresh young soybean that has been harvested before it has matured. They have a very light and mild sweet flavor with a touch of umami-ness and are is a very versatile ingredient that can be used in salads, enjoyed as a light snack, blended into a dip, or eaten as-is. The most common and popular way to enjoy them is to boil or steam them for a few minutes and toss them in a bit of salt and eaten as a snack with a cold glass of beer.
Shelled Edamame are not eaten like a typical bean, and cannot be eaten whole. They have a waxy inner shell that is very fibrous and tough to chew (and swallow). The beans are the only thing eaten, and the shells are discarded.
A simple way to remove the beans from the pods is to use your fingers to push the beans against the seams of the pod to pop the beans out. If the pods are saucy or you don't want to get both your hands dirty, another way to remove the beans is to just hold the bean with 1 hand and use your teeth to push the beans against the seams to pop them out directly into your mouth.
They are most commonly found in the frozen vegetable section in both regular and Asian grocery stores. If you are lucky, you can also find them fresh when they are in season late in the Summer. If you cannot find edamame, fresh, young fava beans and green peas are a good substitution for edamame beans.
Frozen edamame should be stored in the freezer in a well-sealed container or ziploc bag to prevent freezer burn.
Chinese eggplant is a bright purple, tubular-shaped fruit (yes, fruit!) that is most commonly in stir-fries, deep-fried, oven-roasted, or in curries. Its spongy flesh absorbs all the flavors of the sauces and provides a slight sweetness and creaminess to any dish it is used in and can also be used in braised dishes as well.
One of the fantastic things about Chinese eggplants is, you don't need to salt them to remove the bitterness as you do with normal Italian eggplants. Chinese eggplants don't have a bitterness to them so you can use them as-is. That being said, it is good practice to soak it in salted water before you plan to stir-frying it so that it doesn't act like a dry sponge and absorb all cooking oil.
You can occasionally find these at local grocery stores and gourmet specialty stores but you can almost always find them at Asian supermarkets. When you are picking them out at the grocery store, find firm ones with no brown blemishes or dents. The eggplant should have smooth skin and be wrinkle-free and have a rich purple color. You can also use Indian eggplant as a substitution for it if you cannot find it in the store - they are smaller in size (egg-shaped) but have the same characteristics, and flavors as an Asian eggplant.
You can store eggplant at room temperature away from the sun. However, if you live in a very hot area and your kitchen is usually on the hot side then store the eggplant in the fridge.
Korean radish is a root vegetable that is very mild in flavor with a dense crunchy texture and mainly used in Korean dishes to make salads, pickles, stews, slaws, and kimchi. Not be confused with its cousin the daikon radish which has a stronger, pungent, and sometimes bitter flavor. Korean radishes can be used in a variety of broths as well and provide a sweet and mild flavor to them. They are also fantastically pickled as well because there is no bitter flavor to them and they have a mildly sweet flavor to them with a nice crunchy texture!
You can find these at Korean supermarkets only and when you are picking them out, make sure they are smooth-skinned and not bruised. They should have a very firm texture, try to stay away from soft Korean radishes. Look for the ones that have a bit of green at the top.
Korean radishes should be stored in the crisper drawer either wrapped in newspaper or covered in a bag with lots of holes in it to prevent it from drying out and getting soft. Make sure it is well ventilated as well because too much moisture can cause it to mold.
Daikon radish is a large root vegetable that is very commonly used in Asian cuisines and can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. You can use these in broths, unique sauces, salads, stews, or as a condiment.
An interesting way to use this raw would be to grate it and put a small amount of it into soy sauce to transform plain soy sauce into a flavourful and unique dipping sauce. Pickling is also another method that is commonly used to give salads and sandwiches, like Banh Mi, a fantastic boost in flavor. They are made as fridge pickles with no canning process involved. They do sometimes have a bitter flavor to it, so you should always salt the turnip ahead of time to remove the bitter flavor out before using it in pickling.
Cooking daikon radishes, bring out their sweeter flavors which is why they are fantastic in braises and stews - they are also fantastic at flavoring brothy soups.
Daikon radish is very commonly used during Chinese New Year to make turnip cake which is a dish you can also find at dim sum and at lunar new year festivals. There are a few types of Asian radishes and this one should not be confused with the Korean radish which is used for making kimchi.
You can typically find these at Asian supermarkets but they have been growing in popularity and they have also been spotted at local grocery stores as well. When picking them out at the grocery store, make sure they are smooth-skinned with no cracks and that they have creamy white color, and most importantly firm. Give it a squeeze, it should feel like an apple. If it is soft and slightly bendy, it is not fresh.
Raw and leftover daikon radishes smell faintly like farts, like cabbage but stronger! The smell may be off-putting to some but rest assured it's delicious!
They should be stored in the fridge in the crisper drawer in plastic bags that have holes in them for good ventilation. If the plastic bag doesn't have holes, make some - it needs to breathe a bit as well as maintain a good amount of humidity within the bag to keep it from molding as well as drying out.
RICE AND NOODLES
In this section, you will find information on various types of Asian noodles (both dry and fresh), rolls, and rice that I use in my recipes.
Chinese Rice Noodle Rolls (Cheung Fun)
Chinese Rice Noodle rolls (Cheung Fun) are made from thin sheets of rice noodles that have been steamed and then rolled into long tubular rice rolls. They are most commonly eaten for breakfast or as a snack and are usually steamed or pan-fried to crispiness - they are fantastic vessels for sauce. Unlike its cousin the Korean rice rolls, these are not super chewy.
When it is steamed, it is a light springy noodle roll that is usually dipped in a light soy sauce or slathered in a sweet hoisin or sesame paste. They can also be pan-fried to make them crispy and springy, but again are eaten the same way with a bit of soy sauce, sweet hoisin, or sesame paste.
To simplify the cooking process, they can be nuked in the microwave as well, instead of steaming them over the stove.
Since these rice noodle rolls are fresh, you cannot (and should not) buy them online. You can find these noodles in Asian grocery stores, usually in the refrigerated section with fresh noodles. They usually come in two varieties: plain or dried shrimp with green onions.
When picking them out, pay attention to the expiry date on the packaging as they don't do too well once they pass that date. Make sure there's no funky black or pink molds on it before purchasing it.
These should be stored in the fridge. Try not to keep them for longer than the expiry dates, that's when they will start to get sour and mold. Always carefully examine them before using them to make sure there is no mold on them.
Chow Mein Noodles
Chow mein are yellow noodles made of wheat flour and eggs. Chow mein literally translates to 'Fried Noodles' in Chinese. These are generally used in stir-fried chow mein dishes and served slightly crispy but can be used to make a saucy lo mein as well
One of the more popular ways to prepare these noodles is to pan-fry it (or lightly deep fry it) and then top it with saucy meat or veggie gravy. This gives the noodles a crispy texture and soft mouthfeel.
Another way to use is it is to cook it directly a lot of sauce (and skip the pan-fried/deep-fried) step - this produces a more wet and softer noodle.
Out of the package, the noodles are a bit dry they need to be reconstituted and soften up before stir-frying, by running hot tap water over it for a few seconds. As with all noodles, I don't recommend boiling it prior to stir-frying it because it tends to produce a mushier noodle dish. Once the noodle gets too soft, it also loses its ability to keep its long noodle length during the stir-frying process because it will easily break into smaller strands as you cook with it.
You can find these noodles in Asian grocery stores in the refrigerated section. They usually come packaged in a plastic bag. These should be bought fresh and not online.
When you are buying these, make sure to pay attention to the expiry date as they are susceptible to mold. But regardless, of the expiry date, always check the noodles anyways for specks of fluffy white mold bits because they can easily form from poor storage conditions as well.
When you bring them home, store these noodles in your fridge. If you are like us, and only use half a pack at a time, you can use a rubber band and re-seal the package and keep it in the fridge but don't forget about the expiry date and check for white fluffy mold specks before using the rest of it.
Vermicelli pasta is a type of pasta made of durum wheat semolina and is used in Middle Eastern dishes. Although they have almost the same name, they are not the same as vermicelli rice noodles which are rice noodles used predominately in Asian cuisines.
This type of noodle is used in Middle Eastern cooking and can be found in rice dishes as well as in soups. It is a very versatile ingredient and can be used in everyday cooking to make a simple chicken noodle soup or a quick noodle salad.
You can find this noodle at middle eastern supermarkets, gourmet grocery stores, or online. When you are shopping for vermicelli pasta, do not confuse this with Asian vermicelli rice noodles. They are different ingredients and have different textures when cooked. Vermicelli pasta is made of durum wheat semolina and is yellow in color, like pasta. Vermicelli rice noodles are white in color and are made of rice. If you cannot find vermicelli pasta, you can substitute it with broken-up pieces of angel hair pasta in place of vermicelli pasta.
Store these the same way you would store your pasta and rice, in a well-sealed container in the pantry.
Udon noodles originate from Japan and are noodles made from wheat flour. They are most prized for their thickness & chewy texture and are most commonly used in Japanese stir-fried dishes and noodle broths.
Udon noodles can be used in many ways and can be eaten both hot and cold. They are the most popular stir-fried (yaki udon) with vegetables and some meat but are also eaten in a broth noodle soup as well.
In the summertime, they can be made as a cold zaru udon and eaten cold with a side of dipping sauce for a refreshing light meal. But in all honesty, it is a very versatile noodle and the sky is the limit with how you can use them.
These noodles are most commonly found at an Asian grocery store. If you cannot find fresh, or frozen ones locally, you can also buy dried udon online as well, although it will not have the same thick and chewy texture. For the chewiest udon, buy the frozen ones - they have a better texture than the vacuum-packed "fresh" udon.
If you buy frozen udon, store them in the freezer. The vacuum-packed packaged udon can be kept at room temperature on the counter but you can also keep them in the fridge as well. Store dried udon in a cool dry area, in an air-tight ziploc bag.
Glutinous Rice (Sticky Rice)
Glutinous rice (sticky rice) is a type of rice most commonly used in Asian cuisines and has a bit more bounce and chew when steamed than the average long-grain rice.
Glutinous rice is most commonly found in long grain and short grain forms. It is also known as sticky rice and sweet rice, even though it is not sweet. The short-grain variation looks very similar to sushi rice to the naked eye so be careful not to buy sushi rice as it does not have the same consistency and texture. Both short-grain and long-grain sticky rice can be used interchangeably, but I find the short-grain version, is much chewier.
You can also have it steamed plain and eaten as a side with the main meal, made into a crispy rice salad, or wrapped in leaves and steamed with other savory ingredients. It can also be used in desserts like the famous Thai Coconut Mango Sticky Rice. This is also the same type of rice they will use in the Chinese sticky rice dish (lo mai fan) you find in dim sum! This is an easy ingredient to be creative with.
One of the most fun and delicious way that we enjoy it is by eating it by hand! Because of its stickiness, it can easily be rolled it up into little balls by hand and dipped into sauces.
Although most packaging will tell you to boil it in a pot over the stove, don't do it!! Although it is easier to do, I find the texture and final result from the rice will be softer and won't have that individual grain of chewiness that steaming will give you. It will essentially not be as 'sticky' and chewy and it will instead be overly soft and mushy.
One of the greatest things about steaming sticky rice is, it also takes the guessing work out of how much water should we use. Always pre-soak the rice before steaming! It helps it cook more evenly.
If you don't have fancy steaming contraptions, Leela Punyaratabandhu from Food52 has an awesome guide on alternative ways to steam it on their 'The Best Way to Make Thai Sticky Rice (No Fancy Basket Required)' article. We like the colander method!
You can typically find these at Asian supermarkets but they have been growing in popularity and they have also been spotted at local grocery stores as well as specialty grocery stores.
All rice should be contained in a well-sealed container in a cool dry area away from moisture.
Shirataki Noodles are made from konjac yams and have become quite popular recently since they are great for anyone on gluten-free, vegan or keto diets. They are low in calories and carbs since it is made up of an indigestible dietary fibre which you essentially don’t digest!
If you buy them at Asian grocery stores, they come tied up in cute little knotted bundles, which you can untie to get the long stringy noodles. I personally prefer them tied up because you get a lot more texture and springiness from them that way and the little bundles are great and absorbing all the sauces in all the nooks and crannies.
Shirataki noodles don’t have a lot of flavor on its own, but it is excellent in absorbing flavors from the sauces that are cooked with it. They have an interesting firm and springy texture that might come across as rubbery and plastic-like to some, but if you keep an open mind these have a very interesting texture to them.
Shirataki noodles are usually most commonly found in Asian grocery stores. They have been getting popular so you may be able to find them at health food stores as well. They are usually located in the refrigerated section of the supermarket in little packages suspended in water. Before you cook with it, you must discard the liquid that it's packaged in, and it should be rinsed very well with cold water as well.
If the package is unopened, it can be stored at room temperature up to its expiry date, but I highly recommend storing them in the fridge.
Rice cakes are chewy noodles that are made with glutinous rice flour and come in both disc-shaped and tubular cylindrical shapes. They should not be mistaken with the puffed rice cakes that are more cracker-like and crispy.
Depending on the shape of the rice cake they are usually cooked in different ways. The flat disc-shaped rice cakes are most commonly used in stir-fries and stews; the tubular-shaped ones, are most commonly cooked in a saucy mix with gochujang paste and fish cakes as comfort food; it can be pan-fried to give the exterior a crispy burnt rice texture with a chewy interior and served with a dipping sauce, and they can also be skewered and grilled on a bbq.
They don't have a lot of flavor on it's own but they are excellent sauce vessels, and when paired up with their chewiness - rice cakes can make any dish a very satisfying one to eat.
Rice cakes are most commonly be found in an Asian supermarket. Some are kept in the fridge, but they usually can also be found in the freezer aisle as well. You can also find these as dried noodles but they take a bit more work before you can use them so it is much easier to buy the fresh or frozen ones instead.
If you bought the rice cakes frozen, take out what you need for your recipes and re-freeze the rest in a well-sealed ziploc bag - do the same if you bought them from the refrigerated section and freeze the ones you do not use as well.
SPICES AND HERBS
In this section, you will find both fresh and dried spices and herbs that are used to flavor and enhance the recipes that I share on my blog.
Annatto seeds come from the achiote tree and are primarily used in Latin and Caribbean cooking but can occasionally be found in Vietnamese & Filipino cuisines. It's mainly used as a natural coloring agent to change oils to a bright yellowish red hue and is used for stews, rice, and noodle soups. They can also be infused into oil or grounded up finely and used directly in marinades or pastes. The color it imparts ranges from a golden hue to a bright orange-red.
You can find annatto seeds at Latin, Caribbean, and some Asian grocers in the spice aisle. Look for bright color seeds when picking them up at the store. Dark-colored seeds usually mean they are old and stale.
Annato seeds have a very mild nutty and sweet scent. It is a very light flavor and not usually detectable if you are using it in small quantities. The seeds are very hard and should not be eaten whole. Once you have infused it into the food, it should be discarded before serving your dish. Alternatively, if you want to use it directly in food, you can grind it up into a fine powder.
Keep Annatto seeds in an air-tight sealed container with your spices away from the sun.
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Kaffir lime leaves are waxy leaves that come from the kaffir lime tree. The leaves provide a very fresh citrus scent and flavor to dishes without any tartness from the citrus juice so they can be used in a lot of light and refreshing dishes.
They are most commonly used in Southeast Asian (Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Indonesian, Vietnamese) cuisines, you may recognize the flavor of the leaves in the very common and popular tom yum goong soup.
Kaffir lime leaves are commonly used in soups and curries along with lemongrass since the two herbs go hand in hand wonderfully and have similar flavor properties. When finely chopped, it also goes well in rice, salads like Nam Khao (Lao crispy rice salad), noodles dishes like bun bo hue (Spicy Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup), and stirfry dishes to give it a nice pop in flavor.
One thing to note, these leaves are very potent, so if you have never used them before start with using 2 leaves and go up from there. If you use too much it can easily overpower a dish.
The leaves are quite tough and are not edible (like bay leaves). You will want to discard them once you are done cooking with them. If you plan to just flavor soups and broths with it, keep it whole so you can easily fish them back out. The tough skin will keep its shape so it will not break apart in soups, stews, and curries. If you want to use them in stir-fries, you should rip out the spine of the leaves and discard them. Use the soft parts of the leaves and chop them up very finely before adding them to your dish.
Kaffir lime leaves can be found at Asian grocery stores and are usually in the produce section, usually where there is a fridge. I highly recommend you buy these locally - it is very common for the fresh leaves to grow mold and mildew during transport if you are buying them through the internet. When you are shopping for them locally, look for waxy green leaves. You don't want the leaves to be wrinkly or have any brown on them - that's usually an indication that they are not fresh. Be careful when you handle them as well. The stems on the kaffir lime leaves have thick thorns on them.
There is no true substitute for this ingredient but if I was to substitute it I would substitute it with a mix of lemongrass and lime zest.
These can be stored in the fridge for a few weeks if they are fresh. After a week or so, store them in a well-sealed ziploc bag or container and store them in the freezer.
Lemongrass is a stalky grass-like herb used predominately in Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese cuisines. This herb has a strong lemony and refreshing citrus scent and is used for marinating meat, flavoring broths, or steeping in teas. Lemongrass has no acidity to it, and it doesn't taste like a lemon.
It is a very fibrous and wood herb and if you are using them in a marinade, you want to finely chop it as fine as possible.
In a broth, I like to keep them whole and bruise the thick bottom stalk with a blunt object to release some of the oils. Keeping it whole allows you to remove and discard them from the broth easily when it is done.
Regardless of what method you use, you only use the bottom white parts of the stalk. This is the part that contains the oils and the most flavor. Cut off the top 2-3 inches of the dried tips and discard them. If the outer leaves are dried, those are usually peeled off and discarded as well. You also want to smash it or bruise it to release the oils before you use it as well.
When you are shopping for fresh lemongrass, look for green tips with a milky white bottom stalk that is firm. The bottom of the stalk should not look dried out, that being said, it's normal for the green tops to be slightly dried out. They are about 1 foot long. If you cannot find fresh lemongrass, you can also buy frozen lemongrass as well. It is usually pre-chopped and packaged in plastic containers in the freezer aisle. You can also find lemongrass powder, but I don't recommend using that. The flavor is completely different.
You can store lemongrass in the fridge temporarily for a week or two before it dries out. To keep it for longer than a week, cut 2-3 inches off the top (the dried tips) and discard them, and keep the white stalk at the bottom. Put it in an air-tight freezer bag and store it in the freezer.
This section is where all the Asian ingredients that I can't easily categorize. You will find information on ingredients like Vietnamese fermented sausages, salted duck eggs to something as simple as genmaicha tea!
Salted Duck Eggs
Salted duck eggs are duck eggs that have been preserved in salt brine and then coated in a salted charcoal gritty mix for storage and for additional curing. It is most commonly found in Asian cuisines and has a very wide range of usages in both sweet and savory dishes.
Salted duck eggs are not usually eaten directly as a protein like you do with a normal chicken egg. It is VERY salty, and it is most commonly used as a condiment to enhance the flavors of dishes.
A simple way and common way to use it would be to boil it as is and eat it with a plain bowl of rice congee or plain white rice.
A few other ways they are used in savory and sweet dishes are:
- The egg yolks can be stuffed into sticky rice or moon cakes
- Stir-fried with meats and veggies
- Made into a creamy sauce for crispy foods or stir-fries
- Mixed into a sweet filling and stuffed into a dessert pastry or bun
The duck eggs are coated in a charcoal ash coating, that needs to be rinsed off with cold water very well before using.
I have not found a good substitute for salted duck eggs. There is something about the rich butteriness from the salted egg yolk that cannot be replicated with any other ingredient.
They are most commonly found in Asian grocery stores and I highly recommend buying it locally if you can since they are a bit fragile and can arrive damaged if you purchase them online.
At the Asian grocery store, they come in a few forms:
- They sometimes can be packaged in a hard plastic box in a set number (4s, 6s, 8s, etc). Salted duck eggs packaged in hard plastic boxes sometimes are still coated in the salted charcoal coating but can also be found pre-washed without the salted charcoal coating as well. You can usually find these in between the aisles, stored at room temperature.
- They can also be found in loose in singles in a large box, as a pick your own. This is convenient if you only want to purchase a few eggs and not a big box of them. I personally like to buy it this way because I get to pick and choose my salted duck egg individually by shaking them one by one to find the big jiggly egg yolks. A neat trick my dad used to teach me was to gently shake each egg to see if you can clearly feel a solid yolk knocking around in there to make sure there is a solid hunk of yummy egg yolk. 🙂 I have come across watery egg yolks that have melted into the egg whites, the shaking test prevents you from getting those duds.
- They can also be bought pre-boiled/cooked. I generally don't buy these, since I don't really know how long ago they have been cooked and sitting on the shelf for. I highly recommend buying the raw ones only. Raw salted duck eggs are a lot more versatile as well.
In its raw form, the egg white is watery and doesn't have the same slimy viscosity as an average chicken egg. The egg yolk is almost always solid and somewhat gelatinous. Once boiled, the texture of the whites is slightly less rubbery than a boiled chicken egg. It is almost slightly spongy and airier. The yolks are creamy and can be slightly grainy as well and full of umami.
I have never seen an expiry date for salted duck eggs but they are heavily salted so they should last a for a while. It does still have a shelf life. Shake the egg before cracking it open, if you feel a solid yolk rattling around then chances are it's still good but always crack the egg into a separate dish to check in case it has gone bad. A bad salted egg will smell bad, and you will know it. I like to keep mine in the fridge when I bring them home from the store.
Pickled Mustard Greens
Pickled mustard greens are mustard greens that have been brined in a salt solution and then fermented for a few days to develop their salty-sour flavor. It is used in Asian cooking and is most commonly used in Southeast Asian dishes.
They are pretty versatile and can be used in many different ways. It can be steamed or boiled with fish and meats, added to soups, or chopped into small pieces and eaten as is as a snack with a side of peanuts or used as an accompaniment alongside other dishes - almost like a palate cleanser.
They are most commonly found in Asian grocery stores but if you can't find pickled mustard greens, a good substitute would be sauerkraut.
There are a lot of different pickles and preserved vegetables at the Asian supermarkets so it may be intimidating to find them. To find the right one, make sure you see the word "Mustard Green" in the ingredients of the label. You might come across some that say "Mustard Stems" that have chili in the list of ingredients, that is a totally different type of preserved vegetable and not the same thing as Pickled Mustard Green.
If you make this from scratch, you can treat this like kimchi or any type of Lacto-fermented pickle and store it in the fridge for up to 6 months as long as the pickles are fully immersed under the brine.
If you buy the pre-packaged pickled mustard greens, I wouldn't keep it for more than a week or so because they usually don't come with enough brine to fully immerse the pickle in once you open the package so it is exposed to oxygen - which can speed up bacteria growth.
Chinese Sausage (Lap Cheong)
Chinese sausages are cured and often made of pork but can be made of chicken or an assortment of livers. They are mildly sweet, and have an aromatic flavor of rice wine, and used very commonly in Chinese cuisines.
Chinese sausage is a staple in most Chinese households. They have a sweet and savory taste with a hint of rice wine. Lap cheong is also a very firm sausage (similar to salami's texture), this is from the curing process but once they have been cooked, they will have a softer more pliable texture.
They are quite versatile as they can be used in almost any kind of dishes from stir-fries to steamed dishes. They are most commonly steamed with white rice or mixed in with sticky rice dishes. They also pair very well with all types of vegetables and can be added to stir-fries as well.
Everyone has a different preference when it comes to Chinese sausage. Some like it sweeter, some like them fattier for more flavor, and some like it a bit leaner to keep things healthy - they come both fatty and lean but to find which one is which is best suited to you, you should try all the different kinds of brands and until you find your favorite type.
You can find lap cheong in most Asian grocery stores. They are most commonly in the refrigerated section although they can be occasionally found hanging around individually on strings (not packaged) and sold individually. They usually provide scissors around the area for you to clip the strings they are hanging from.
Lap cheong lasts quite a long time when stored in the refrigerator. Just make sure to check for any mold or funky sour smells before using it if you have had them in the fridge for too long (more than 1 year).
When you are storing them, keep them well sealed so that it doesn't absorb the smells and flavors from the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can also store it in the freezer to keep it for a longer period of time.
Genmaicha (Japanese Roasted Brown Rice Tea)
Tea made from Genmaicha is most commonly referred to as popcorn tea from its popcorn flavor thanks to the roasted popped brown rice mixed into the green tea leaves. It has a nutty flavor that tastes like you're drinking a popcorn flavor tea. The popcorn flavor comes from the roasted brown rice. During the roasting process, the rice will occasionally get 'popped' and produces little white fluffy bits that actually look like popcorn!
Genmaicha is most commonly used as tea, however, you can also use it in brines and marinades as well but the process still involves it being steeped into a tea before using it as a brine or marinade.
You can find genmaicha at Asian tea stores and Asian supermarkets. Now that tea is getting more and more popular you can almost always find them at almost all tea stores as well. This green tea comes in either tea bags or in loose leaves. I personally prefer using loose leaves because you have a bit more control over how strong you want your tea by putting in the amount you need.
Store any type of teas in an air-tight container away from sunlight in a cool dark place.
Fermented Pork Sausage (Nem Chua/Som Moo)
Nem Chua / Som Moo is a fermented pork sausage primarily made of raw pork and shredded pig skin that can be eaten as is or added to fried rice dishes, salads, or rice rolls.
Nem chua \ Som Moo has a bit of a garlic kick and is slightly tangy. Som Moo's literal translation is actually "sour pork" but don't be put off by this, it's definitely an interesting flavor and there's nothing like it out there. This sausage is prized for its unique springy texture. It has a bit of a chew that comes from the shredded pigskin and this ingredient definitely has a very interesting mouth-feel.
This ingredient goes amazing in salads. It has a lightness to it that most meats don't have and provides a lot of flavor to them! You can also have it as a quick snack but this is definitely an acquired taste if you are eating it as-is without something to balance out the sourness and texture. These are also fantastic chopped up and added to greens and rolled up in rice rolls. The tanginess from the pork paired with the basil and the sweet dipping sauce combos up beautifully and makes a nice light snack.
These are usually sold in Asian grocery stores and will almost always be refrigerated. This will be difficult to find online since it is highly perishable and there is no substitute for it.
It should always be kept in the fridge and can keep for about 2 weeks.
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