Asian cuisine varies massively in its richness, versatility, and depth of flavour across the continent. With such variety in cuisines, and such a large range of ingredients to choose from, trying to learn to cook Asian cuisine can be an arduous task. That being said, there are dishes from India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and beyond that use the same base ingredients. Here we have created a list of a few of the essential ingredients to stock your pantry with when learning to cook some of the most culinary complex, rich and versatile foods in the world.
Soy Sauce is synonymous with Asian cooking, and can be used in a wide variety of Asian dishes. Created from soybeans that have been boiled and fermented (along with roasted grain, brine and other ingredients), soy sauce can vary in its sweetness, saltiness, pungency and acidity. There are many variations of soy sauce, with some types complimenting certain foods more so than others. Light soy is a light, salty flavour, generally used for soups, stir fries and with white meat. Dark soy is thicker and more pungent, but less salty, and compliments red meat dishes. Soy sauce is often used in place of salt when creating soups and sauces, or used as a dipping sauce for sushi.
Rice is a staple food of Asian cuisine, and is used in many dishes. There is a great deal of variation in the types of rice that are available, so it is often worth researching which type of rice is likely to compliment the flavours in the meal you are creating. If you’re looking for simplicity and versatility, basmati rice and jasmine rice are favourite for Thai, Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines. Some dishes (such as Sushi) may call for a softer rice. Other dishes may call for a more wholesome brown rice.
There are dozens of different types of noodles suitable for a variety of different Asian dishes. Noodles are commonly made from wheat or rice, but can also be made from different starches such as Mung Bean. The wide variety of noodles that are available to buy makes it difficult to classify each different type of noodle product. Some are soft, some hard, some relatively flavourless, and others will change the character of a dish entirely. Often in supermarkets, noodles are grouped together by their country of origin, so when picking a variety of noodle for your dish, it is important to consider where your dish originates from, however, noodles are incredibly versatile, so feel free to experiment.
Curry pastes are used in many Indian and Thai dishes, though they are not solely for use in curries. A little bit of curry paste can add a much needed punch to a number of meat dishes. It is relatively easy to create your own curry pastes using oils, herbs and spices, but they can be bought pre-made from any supermarket. Thai curry pastes come in the form of green (best for chicken, seafood and pork), yellow (best for beef and lamb) and red curry pastes (best for beef, lamb and fish). As can be expected, there are a huge array of Indian curry pastes available, which vary significantly in their richness, versatility and heat.
Fish and Oyster Sauce:
Fish sauce (commonly known as ‘nam pla’), is a key ingredient in Vietnamese and Thai dishes, along with many Chinese dishes. Fish sauce helps to add depth and flavour to dishes such as stir fries, vegetables, and noodles. Though it is a little more expensive, Oyster sauce is also a popular ingredient in vegetable dishes such as Brussels sprouts, or Chinese food such as Bok choy or Gai lan to add a sweet and savoury kick.