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Indispensable Asian Ingredients?

I love to cook all types of Asian foods. I'm trying to build up my pantry for a few reasons. First, I like to have everything on hand, so I don't have to head out. Second, there aren't any Asian markets nearby for me to frequent (which is upsetting, but I deal).

I ask you...what are your most indispensable ingredients to have around the house for Asian cooking? Spices, sauces, noodles...all that sort of stuff. I cook and enjoy all different varieties of Asian foods, so give me Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, etc...

Right now I have the following (and probably more I'm forgetting)
Soy sauce
Kecap Manis
Oyster sauce
Fish sauce

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  1. just a note about keeping ginger - if you don't find that you're using it up real fast and it's shrivelling up or molding then consider peeling the ginger and keeping chunks of it in rice wine. not quite as nice as fresh but it will keep this way for many weeks.

    3 Replies
    1. re: gordon wing

      Yep, that's how I store it. In white wine in the fridge in a jelly jar. Works great.

      1. re: QueenB

        ginger actually keeps well in the freezer. i would have never thought to do so until i saw it on a cooking show. but it's very easy to grate when it's frozen and it seems, to me, to retain its flavor well.

      2. re: gordon wing

        I take a very large piece of ginger, and put it in my food processor and blend it as fine as possible. Then I simply put it in a zip bag, mash flat and freeze. When I need ginger for a dish, simply break off a chunk and put into your recipe. You can also make a "ginger-garlic" bag the same way, then you have the standard Asian combo that is used in many dishes handy at all times. I do this with parsley, cilantro, etc. and always have what I need for cooking.

      3. coriander, cayenne pepper, turmeric and cumin (for indian)
        Different thai curry pastes and canned coconut milk for thai
        Hot bean paste and dark sesame oil for chinese

        3 Replies
        1. re: Megiac

          Which thai curry pastes would you recommend? I see a bunch of different ones (green, red, penang?, etc...) and don't know the differences between them all.

          1. re: QueenB

            I like to keep green and red around. Yellow if you want to make Massaman.

            1. re: Megiac

              Thanks. I'll get one of each and see which I like the best. I've used the green before in a coconut curry and it almost burned my face off! I think I used too much!

        2. Well, I am straight up American, but some of those I consider basics. Certainly the rice, ginger, garlic and the spices. The soy and fish sauce I use more than salt, which I do consider a speciality spice.

          What I would add, is dried mushrooms, at least shitakes.

          1. Dried northern Chinese style noodles (the Korean brands actually tend to be best)
            rice wine
            rice vinegar
            black vinegar (more of a Taiwanese thing)
            white pepper
            chili oil
            Szechuan peppercorn oil
            dried mushrooms
            dried shrimp

            3 Replies
            1. re: Pei

              I must have shoyu - a lighter japanese style soy sauce. I like the hawaiian style lots of flavor not so salty. I have three types of soy sauce - I never thought I need different strenghths and styles but......sesame oil is a must as megiac mentioned. I really like Sambal. Five spice powder is probably a no no but I use it for lots of things - non-asian marinades, salad dressings. Good hoisin sauce, peppercorns and finish with butter - great steak sauce. I find I throw my asian ingredients in whatever I make...
              I also always have Vietnamese salad roll wrappers and rice sticks on hand ( spring rolls and Pad thai)

              1. re: Pei

                Quick question about the noodles. Do they go by a specific name? What kind of noodles should I be looking for? Rice? Egg?

                1. re: QueenB

                  the type of noodles depends on what you intend to cook. you may want to keep a variety on hand.

              2. Chinese: Hoisin sauce (for stir fries, BBQ/roast marinades, mu shu and duck), rice vinegar, peanut oil, scallions and cilantro, 5-spice powder (the best blend I've had comes from Spice Market http://worldspice.com


                Japanese: Miso (for soup, salad dressings), mirin (for salad dressings, other dishes)

                Vietnamese: Caramel sauce (make it at home for the catfish and pork claypot dishes)

                Thai and Indonesian: Limes, lemongrass (trim and freeze if you want), shrimp paste, palm sugar, shallots

                4 Replies
                  1. re: QueenB

                    refrigerator for a very long time, can't remember how long I had mine in, but it was months.

                    1. re: justagthing

                      Red or yellow miso?

                      Sorry for all the questions!

                1. For Chinese cooking, I recommend Shao Xing wine. Definitely adds a nice punch to the taste.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chowhoundwoof

                    ditto the shao shing. I use it for everything, asian or not- it's my go to for a sherry substitute as well. I marinate in it, deglaze with it, it's very versatile.

                  2. For Chinese:
                    sesame oil
                    chili paste
                    hoisin sauce
                    dried black beans

                    1. Found some more things that I actually own:
                      toasted sesame oil
                      Rice wine
                      Dried lemongrass
                      garam masala
                      Rice vinegar
                      garlic chili paste
                      black bean sauce (I have no clue what to do with this, bought it on a whim)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: QueenB

                        I've been throwing the black bean sauce into my marinades and also into my sauce for stir fry - yummy stuff.

                      2. Sriracha sauce
                        Sambal Oelek
                        Curry paste (in the refigeratable tub) i use Arroy-D brand.
                        coconut milk (arroy-d or roland)
                        sesame oil
                        rice vinegar
                        fish sauce
                        miso paste
                        hoisin sauce
                        palm sugar

                        1. The things you've listed and: different curry spices (in quantities stored in the freezer) to make up different curry powders, coconut milk (powdered, as you can see in another thread), star anise, hon-dashi (bonito flake stock base), katsuo bushi, mirin, nori, canned unagi, pickled ginger, noodles (I have 8 different kinds), miso(s), rice (Japanese, long grain, basmati, others), bamboo shoots (canned), fermented black beans, water chestnuts (canned), ume (salted "plums"), dried shitake and other Asian mushrooms, Chinese cooking wine, toasted sesame oil, peanut oil, dired squid, kim chee, white pepper corns, Vietnamese rice paper wraps, lumpia wraps, all the dumpling wraps (available in the US but not here), ...

                          1. Pork broth base. Pork broth is more basic than chicken broth in some Chinese cuisines.

                            1. Star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fresh tumeric (when you can get it)

                              1. This is what I keep on hand (on top of what you listed):

                                sesame oil
                                coconut milk
                                seaweed (nori and arame)
                                rice paper wrappers (i love summer rolls)
                                rice vinegar
                                rice noodles
                                dried shiitakes
                                cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, ginger

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: piccola

                                  I personally find that I end up using the red and the green Thai curry pastes the most. When I want something "yellow-curryish", I have other asian alternatives.

                                2. Star anise
                                  Five spice powder
                                  Soy sauce
                                  Rice wine
                                  Young tender ginger
                                  Black bean paste
                                  Soy sauce
                                  Rock sugar
                                  Dried scallops

                                  1. Some of my more frequent always-on-hand items (in addition to what you've listed)

                                    mirin, sake, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds
                                    gochujang (korean red pepper paste), red pepper flakes and powder, sriracha sauce
                                    miso, dwenjang
                                    rayu oil
                                    malt syrup
                                    dried mushrooms, bonito flakes, instant hon dashi
                                    dried anchovies, dried small shrimps, danggit/jeprox (dried fish)
                                    a couple boxes of morinu tofu
                                    curry blocks
                                    panko, mochiko
                                    kewpie mayo
                                    generous supply of fish cakes, frozen unagi, frozen, frozen udon, frozen croquettes

                                    1. You mentioned rice, but there are different kinds. Japanese tends to use short grain, Indian tends to use long grain basmati, Thai uses jasmine, other southeast Asians use sticky/glutinous short grain white rice, which I discovered is really good with dishes with lots of sauce, plus black sticky rice which my Thai cooking teacher informs me is a staple in northern Thailand along with grilled chicken.

                                      In cooking sticky rice, be careful as the technique is different from 'regular' rice.

                                      Don't think I saw galanga on this list, something else that freezes well.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Louise

                                        Right now, I've got short-grained sushi rice and basmati. I definitely want to get some jasmine

                                        As for galanga, what is the best way to freeze the fresh? How does the dried compare to fresh, frozen?

                                        1. re: QueenB

                                          Galangal and ginger: peel and freeze.You can grate the stuff frozen. Dried is no good.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            I've been buying whole dried ginger in the Mexican cello packages. I grate it with a nutmeg grater when recipes call for ground ginger (such as baked goods). Dried, fresh, and candied ginger have complementary qualities.


                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              Final question...I swear!
                                              To freeze galangal, you peel it...then what? Just into a freezer bag? Is that the best way to protect it? I hear you can also freeze lemongrass and lime leaves, is this correct?
                                              I'm heading out to the Asian market today and grabbing a huge stash of stuff. I have two cookbooks so far (one just Chinese, the other one encompasses many different Asian cultures), and two of Fuchsia Dunlop's on the way. I have a feeling we'll be eating Asian-influenced meals for a while!

                                              1. re: QueenB

                                                Peel and into a freezer bag. Suck the air out of the bag with a straw. Over time galangal and ginger will loose some moisture. You'll see some water crystals in the bag. No worries. Lemongrass (you use only the thick base portion) and lime leaves can be frozen as well. Have fun shopping, QB.

                                          1. re: chalenegirl

                                            Hoisin sauce
                                            Soy sauce
                                            Rice wine vinegar
                                            Sesame oil
                                            Garlic-chili paste
                                            Sriracha hot chili sauce

                                            1. re: LordOfTheGrill

                                              Around 15 years ago, I was so bent on learning how to cook Chinese food I took a 6 week class where each group cooked their designate piece of the menu, then we all sat down and enjoyed the meal. We discussed the results, and documented our changes. My simple list of ingredients that Mrs. Yu started me off with ended up as the following.
                                              I can make almost anything on impulse because of my well stocked pantry.
                                              And just as important was to purchase the cooking vessels, tea pots,chop sticks, steamer and etc. I was and am still love to cook any Asian dish. So don't laugh
                                              when you read my accumulated items. But I use them all at one time or another!
                                              And I can't stress enough, purchase all you can at the China/Japanese town if you can. You will find much more, and it is not marked up ridiculously.

                                              Here is a peek into my treasure chest. Hey some women love shoes...

                                              Soy sauce - many different, light, med dark, really dark like molasses almost & tamari
                                              Hoisin Sauce
                                              Garlic Black Bean paste
                                              Oyster sauce
                                              Fish sauce
                                              Plum Sauce
                                              Sesame oil/Hot sesame oil Vietnamese Sweet Hot & Sweet Chilli Sauce
                                              Garlic Chili Paste- Several, Vietnamese, Sriaracha,
                                              Dried Shitaki, dired oyster, tiger lily buds, clouds ears - shelf life is indefinite
                                              Rice wrappers. rice sticks, large rice noodles, and noodles, egg noodle srice waps, shu mei wrappers, egg roll, wonton (need to use soon) it is so much fun to make lumpia, spring rolls or shu mei when you have a craving

                                              Rice- jasmine, need sushi rice
                                              Rice vinegar, several, Mirin, Palm vinegar - filipino 4 adobo,
                                              Panko bread crumbs
                                              nori wrappers
                                              bonito flakes
                                              sesame seeds
                                              Star anise, Chinese 5 Spice, White pepper, ground cardamon& pods, tamarind,
                                              hon dashi
                                              dried wasabi
                                              hot mustard -dry
                                              miso - instant miso for nice cup of miso broth quick
                                              creamed corn, ketchup, or tomato paste
                                              coconut milk, sweetend and non
                                              evaporated milk - vietnamese coffee if you like it, get the little ss single cup pot

                                              Ginger fresh & ground
                                              Garlic fresh
                                              Different Currys, hot red, green yello, madras,one that I got at store in Oakland loose, that is very hot, I was told Jamaican but is smokin hot great in seafood curry
                                              bamboo shoots, chestnuts, baby corn, mushrooms - little baby shitake
                                              Mung beans, dal
                                              Rice flourm, cake flour (pork buns)

                                              Every week I buy, fresh ginger root, garlic, bean sprouts and cilantro, scallions, lemons and limes, sometimes, lemon grass
                                              And if you can buy different good Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese teas
                                              It is so much fun to offer a good tea and Japanese beer or the like whenyou have the dinner.
                                              I hope your question was serious, I tend to be a bit obsessive with my cooking at times, never wanting to run out in the middle for an ingrediet.

                                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                                Of course my question was serious.

                                                And after my shopping spree at the Asian market, I'm proud to say that I now own just about everything on your list, plus a little bit more!

                                                1. re: QueenB

                                                  I'm sorry QB, no insult was intended, sometimes I get carried away and am very detailed to a fault at times.

                                                  When I go into great depth, I worry that I might be annoying and all that was wanted was the basics.

                                                  I am thrilled for you, cooking Asian food is so rewarding and fun to cook, beautiful and almost romantic to me when I read stories about where some dishes originated. I have the utmost respect for their culture, and wnat to learn as much as I can. So if I can help ever, please ask.

                                                  What am I missing in my pantry? I will need to go get it!!

                                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                                    In addition I am going to making Butter Yaki this weekend. years ago a wonderful Hawiaan gal, Japanese decent gave me a very delicious looking recipe.
                                                    It calls for the 5 leaves of Makina. I can't find it.

                                                    Would you happen to know what that is? I have never heard of it?

                                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                                      CC, no offense taken. I've cooked Asian food before (Indian, Chinese, Thai), but this is my first real attempt to get down and dirty with it. I figure four cookbooks is enough!

                                                      The things I bought that weren't on your list were:
                                                      Fermented black beans
                                                      Potato starch
                                                      Shaoxing rice wine
                                                      Sichuan peppercorns
                                                      Chinkiang vinegar
                                                      TianJin preserved vegetable

                                                      At least those are the ones that I can remember! The wonderful thing is, I bought so much stuff for under 50 dollars. I pretty much have a full Asian pantry. (I also bought some steamed pork buns and a rice cake filled with mung and egg...wonderful!)

                                                      I'll let you know for sure if I need advice. I'm sure I will need it and I really appreciate the offer.

                                                      I've never heard of Makina before. Can't seem to find anything about it on Google either.

                                                      1. re: QueenB

                                                        Thanks for the additional items. I know there are several on there that I really need to have. I got the list noted!

                                          2. this is what I always have on hand:

                                            soy sauce -korean usually or japanese
                                            rice wine - unseasoned
                                            garlic - cant have korean without it
                                            green onions
                                            vietnamese fish sauce
                                            rice of course
                                            seasoned seaweed
                                            unseasoned seaweed
                                            barley (for mixing in with rice)
                                            black rice (for mixing in with rice)
                                            dried anchovies
                                            dried mushrooms