Nothing is more satisfying than a well stocked Asian pantry.

Typically, Asian food is easy to prepare. Every Asian area has differing condiments, but for the most part the food is cooked quickly imparting large and in charge, bold flavors – and that’s is where we get that umami factor. Many these condiments can be utilized in cosines that aren’t Asian derived. Adding miso paste to braised foods adds a level of depth that’s truly spectacular. Sake and Mirin are excellent to add to sautéing veggies. Soy sauce is another ingredient that kicks it up a notch. Try adding some to your meatloaf and meatballs, sauces and stews – you will see the difference. A splash of fish sauce even to marinara takes it to the next level. Don’t shy away from experimenting – that’s the beauty of cooking!

My sojourn in South East Asia yielded in me the importance of keeping a well stocked pantry. Unbeknownst to me, these proved to be important, years in my youth, as they molded and acclimated my palate towards food. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my teenage years in Singapore rounded my palate to provide a true appreciation to all things Asian.

And since Singapore has the most amazing array of global restaurants, portraying every cuisine, it’s a cauldron and how apropos, since Singaporeans live to eat and are huge foodies.

The locals are a combination of Hindus, Chinese and Malays, so the selection of Indian, Chinese and Malaysian food is outstanding. That’s where my love of Asian and Indian food was born. There’s a separate Indian pantry section for condiments as this one is strictly Asian.











BAMBO SHOOTS – Crunchy in flavor with a refreshing taste, these are the edible young shoots of certain types of bamboo. Fresh are available in some Asian markets, although they are very hard to find.  The canned shoots are the preferred choice


BLACK FUNGUS – Also known as Cloud Ear in China and are usually available dried.  They need to be rehydrated with water for about 30 minutes.  They expand to twice their size.  They have little flavor, so discard the soaking water.  Used typically in Chinese dishes for its crunchy texture – much like we use pickles


BLACK BEANS – One of the most popular flavors of Southern Chinese cooking.  They are dried beans that have been fermented and they deliver a sharp, salty taste


CANDLENUTS – Very similar in consistency and appearance to macadamia nuts, they are used in Asian cooking to thicken curries and to impart a distinct flavoring.  They should never be eaten raw as the oil is thought to be toxic.  However, they are 100% fine when cooked

CHILI OIL – Chili oil is widely used to flavor many Asian dishes. Its easily found in may markets and also very simple to make your own. Just use a non invasive oil such as peanut, heat about 1 cup in a pot and add 2 star anise, 2 bay leaves, 5-6 Sczchuan peppercorns and 1 stick of cinnamon. Allow the oil to heat gradually and bring the spices to a very gentle boil. When it starts to boil remove from the heat and cool slightly. In a mason jar, add about 3 TBSP of dried Asian chili (the red kind) and through a colander pour the oil into the jar with the dry chili. Allow to marinate for about 3 days before using. I usually add into the jar 1 of the bay leaves and 1 star anise from the boiled pot. It keeps indefinitely


Chili Flakes – Dried red chilies that have been crushed usually with the seeds, which is what imparts the most heat


Dried Red Chilies – There is a huge variety of dried chilies, all depending on the global region. They have to be rehydrated with water and by removing the seeds, the heat index will diminish


Chili powder – Finely ground dried chili and it can vary in hotness from mild to very fiery.  The Mexican variety is mixed with cumin and it is typically fairly mild and used most for flavoring and not chili spiciness


Small red chilies (Fresh) – 2” long and as a rule and they pack quite a kick.  Remove the seeds before cooking to reduce the heat index.   These are selected when dried to make chili powder and chili flakes


Medium red chilies (Fresh) – 4-6” long and most commonly used in in South East Asia.  There are hot but not too overpowering


Large green and red chilies (Fresh) – 6-8” long and are thicker than medium chilies and the mature red ones are very, very spicy


COCONUT MILK – Extracted from the flesh of fresh coconuts, after the cream has been pressed out and it is much thinner than coconut cream and optimal for cooking.  Don’t confuse it for the clear liquid that is the coconut juice.  Coconut cream is used in many Asian dishes and curries


CORIANDER LEAF – Known as Cilantro in the US and Latin countries


DAIKON – Very common in Japanese and Chinese cuisine – it is a white carrot shaped radish and very similar in flavor to regular radish


DASHI – Condiment used mostly in Japanese cuisine.  It is a combination of dried kelp and dried bonito flakes


DOENJANG – Korean Miso Paste – available red or white.  Both have the same flavor, but color dishes differently when cooking


FISH SAUCE – A thin, clear, light brown sauce.  It has various names, depending on the region.  Thai fish sauce is Nam Pla; Vietnamese is Nuoc Nam; Nam Pa in Laos and Cambodia and Shottsuru in Japan.  All have very little variation.  Since it is fermented fish and salt, it can be very salty, so go easy with mixing it with soy sauce


FIVE SPICE POWDER – Asian counterpart to the Indian Garam Masala.  The five spices utilized: ground star anise, fennel, cloves, cinnamon and Szechwan peppercorns.  Should be used sparingly so it doesn’t overpower other flavors


GALANGAL – A root similar in appearance to ginger, but it has a pinkish color and a distinct peppery flavor, which diminishes when used in cooking with other ingredients. In the US it can be hard to find fresh and you can purchase it in dried from through Amazon and keep it in the freezer. Take it out and soak it for about 45 minutes in hot water to soften


GINGER AND GARLIC – Two of the most common flavors in all Asian cooking.  Garlic/ginger paste is already prepared and readily available in most Indian and Asian markets.  It is a time saver from having to grate the ginger and the garlic to make the paste.  Keeps refrigerated for quite a while,  just like mustard or ketchup


GOCHUJANG – A Korean savory, sweet and spicy red chili paste.  A fabulous and very versatile condiment which brings out the Umami in food and has a myriad of uses, ribs, pasta sauces and even roasted veggies – not to be confused with Doenjang


GOLDEN MOUNTAIN SAUCE – A thin, salty and spicy sauce used predominantly in Thai cooking.  I use it quite bit in Asian marinades and sometimes in Asian slaw dressing


HOISIN SAUCE – This sauce hails from China and the ingredients are fermented soy beans, garlic, sugar and some other Asian spices.  It is a thick, brown-reddish sauce with a sweet-spicy taste and used as a dipping sauce and in cooking


KECAP MANISAlso known as sweet soy sauce.  It’s thick, dark and sweet – mostly used in South East Asian cooking.  It is quite viscous and has the consistency of molasses


LEMON GRASS – A long-like thick grass that has a very tough outer exterior.  The outer layers have to be removed to get to the white interior.  The flavor of lemongrass is unmistakable and used in South East Asian cooking, Philipino, Thai and Vietnamese cooking.  It has the most incredible citrus aroma and it has no substitute


LIME LEAVES – Also known as Kefir leaves and they are widely used in Thai and South East Asian cuisine, as well as Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines.  They come from the lime tree and they are used in the same way as bay leaves are used in the West.  They are hard to get in some parts and can be bought dried, but they don’t pack as much lime flavor as fresh


MISO PASTE –  The red and white variety are both sold.  Miso is to Asian cooking what mustard is to French cuisine.  It has many uses and its mild, fermented flavor boosts many dishes, from sauces to marinades, glazes and dressings.  It keeps refrigereted for a very long time



Chinese Black mushroom – They come in the dried variety, as they are known for their distinct woody and smoky flavor and have to be rehydrated in water and the same applies to all dried mushrooms.  They are hardly ever eaten raw, as they are flavorless that way.  Don’t use the water as it will have a lot of sediment


Straw mushrooms – Called such because they are grown in straw and have globe shaped caps.  They are stemless and have a mushy consistency; usually blackish in color and they widely available in cans.  They need to be drained and rinsed well before cooking with them


Shiitake mushrooms – By far my favorite mushroom.  Closely related to the black Chinese mushroom, they originate in Japan but now are readily available all over the world.  They grow in the bark of a type of oak tree and they available dried or fresh.  They have a fleshy texture with a rich, smoky flavor and aroma


NORI – Most common form of seaweed used in Japanese and Korean cooking.  It comes in paper thin dried sheets and keeps for a long time in an air tight container in the fridge and even longer in the freezer


OYSTER SAUCE – This is a silky smooth brown sauce.  It has a slight sweet taste and although it is made from oysters and soy sauce it doesn’t impart any fish flavor when used


PLUM SAUCE – This sweet-sour, jam-like sauce, used mostly as a dipping sauce for Peking duck and spring rolls.  Made from plums, sugar, garlic, vinegar, ginger and other spices


RICE VINEGAR – Different from Mirin, as it is a delicate, pale yellow, mild vinegar made from fermented rice.  It brings out the Umami flavors in Asian cooking



Chinese – Normally referred to as Xiao Xing (or Shaosing) and it is amber in color with a rich, sweetish taste.  Almost like a very mild flavored sherry wine.  (It can be substituted with dry sherry wine that is been diluted with a bit of water)


Mirin – (sometimes called Aji-Mirin) – It is a Japanese rice wine, almost like sweet sherry.  It differs from Rice Vinegar as it is slightly sweet and mildly acidic with very low alcohol content


Sake – Made from fermented rice and it comes clear, which is the filtered type or unfiltered and it has a milky appearance


SRIRACHA – A Thai chili sauce that packs a punch made with chili peppers, distilled vinegar, salt, sugar and garlic


SWEET CHILI SAUCE – Sweet and amazing.  The best brands out there are Mae Ploy and Lingams


SAMBAL OELEK – Paste and sauce made from fresh red chilies.  It’s mashed and mixed with salt, garlic and vinegar and it is typically quite spicy


SCZCHUAN PEPPERCORNS – Brownish red and they are not hotter than regular black peppercorns.  However they do have a mouth numbing quality around the mouth


SESAME OIL – Amber in color and very aromatic, typically comes toasted.  Usually made from white sesame seeds and it has a very strong, rich and nutty flavor, so use sparingly.  It is used widely for flavoring in Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean and South East Asian and it is not used for cooking.  Store in a cool, dark place and not in the fridge as it will turn cloudy



White – Used widely all over Asia for their flavor and high protein content. White are the most common, toasted and crushed and used both savory and sweet and also a variety of pastes (Tahini, widely used in Middle Eastern Food)

Black – Have more earthy taste than the white, they are used more as a garnish


SOY SAUCE – Made from fermented soy beans, roasted grains and salt.  There is dark and light soy sauce available


SHOYU SOY SAUCE – Japanese Soy and it is much lighter in color, less salty and a tad sweet


TAMARIND – An essential flavor in many Asian and Indian dishes.  The tamarind tree has brown pods which is the fruit.  It is pretty tart in flavor and sold in bottles or jars as a concentrate


THAI BASIL – It differs from regular Basil because of its sweet, anise-like flavor and it has purple stems


TOFU – Also called Bean Curd and it is the processed extract from soy beans.  Excellent source of protein and it is available in the soft kind (called silken tofu) and the hard type, used mainly in stir fry’s.  They come in blocks packed in water.  Once opened, change the water daily and it should be used within a few days


VIETNAMESE CINNAMON – It has the highest oil content and therefore it’s the sweetest and most aromatic


WASABI – Also known as Japanese horseradish and it is a pungent and extremely spicy, green paste made from the wasabi root, indigenous to Japan


WATER CHESTNUTS – White fleshed roots prized for their semi-sweet and crisp taste, which is retained once cooked.  Available fresh but the canned variety is the most common

Pantry Rat