If you like Asian food, and have been thinking about how to make more of it at home, you may be a little intimidated by the thought of buying the right ingredients. Creating an Asian pantry, even a general one with a reasonable amount of ingredients, is a little mystifying to many Western cooks.
And another factor is the “what else can I use ___ in?” question. No one likes to spend money on an ingredient they feel like they might only use once or twice, only to store it for what feels like forever without finding another use for it.
Let’s jump in, get this Asian pantry party started, and find a bunch of uses for everything you buy, shall we? And if you don’t see an ingredient here that you love, you might see it in another article here soon … I’m working on a bunch of pantry basics pieces, from Thai to Indian, and welcome your suggestions!
1. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is probably the number one ingredient you need in your pantry if you’re going to jump into any kind of Asian cooking. It’s a very dark colored sauce that packs a rich, salty taste, and is brewed from soybeans and wheat. It's a popular and versatile staple that can be used for dipping, marinating and cooking — especially in stir fries — in all kinds of Asian cuisines. You can find less-sodium and gluten-free versions as well, if that fits your needs better.
Try soy sauce in:
- Mongolian Beef
- Noodles with Peanut Sauce
- Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts
- 5-Ingredient Honey Ginger Salmon
- Asian Stir Fried Shrimp and Rice Noodles
- Chicken Larb
2. Sesame Oil
Made from toasted sesame seeds, this oil has a distinct, nut-like and aromatic flavor. It's used as a condiment or seasoning, often added at the end of cooking a dish to preserve its wonderful flavor. It’s quite strong, so use it in small amounts. Chili sesame oil is also available, which is a nice way to add that great sesame flavor and some heat at the same time. Keep it in the fridge to keep it from getting rancid (if it smells off, it probably needs to be tossed).
Use sesame oil in:
- Cauliflower with Sesame Drizzle
- Spicy Sesame Asian Marinade
- Sesame Asparagus and Shiitake Mushrooms
- Noodles with Peanut Sauce
- Shrimp Lo Mein
3. Chili Garlic Sauce (or Chili Paste)
This versatile sauce is lightly spicy and garlicky, and has a fairly rough texture. It can be used for dipping, cooking, marinating or stir-frying.
Try Chili Garlic Sauce in:
- Kale, Cabbage and Mint Salad with Peanut Dressing
- Pork and Bok Choy Stir Fry
- Dan Dan Noodles
- Thai Chicken Thighs
4. Oyster Sauce
Made from oyster extracts, this savory, thick, salty, dark brown sauce is considered a staple in Chinese family-style cooking. It's used to flavor meat and vegetables, and sometimes drizzled over a finished dish or as dipping sauce.
Use oyster sauce in:
- Chicken, Broccoli and Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry
- Chicken and Spinach Stir-Fry with Ginger and Oyster Sauce
- Shrimp, Sugar Snap Pea and Scallion Stir Fry with Miso Sauce
5. Sriracha Chili Sauce
This sauce has very much entered the mainstream in recent years, and it is a great hot sauce made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It is believed to have originated in Thailand (it’s named after a coastal city in Thailand), though it’s very commonly used in Vietnamese food as well, and these days, all sorts of Asian dishes. It’s thick, tangy and spicy, and I use it constantly in soups, sauces, noodles, or anything that I want to add some heat to (doesn’t have to be an Asian dish!).
Try Sriracha chili sauce in:
- Indonesian Chicken Salad
- Roasted Winter Vegetables Sriracha Honey Glaze
- Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia with Sriracha Sauce
- Blistered Green Beans with Miso Butter
- Lamb Satay
6. Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin is a thick, somewhat intense sauce made from ground soybeans and some kind of starch, seasoned with red chiles and garlic. Vinegar, Chinese five spice and sugar are also commonly added. The word hoisin is from the Chinese word for seafood, but the sauce does not contain any seafood ingredients. The sauce’s base of sweet and salty makes it a very savory element for marinating, stir-frying, dipping and glazing meat, vegetables and noodles. It's often used in Chinese and Vietnamese dishes.
Try hoisin sauce in:
- 15-Minute Hoisin Shrimp
- Honey-Hoisin Salmon
- Chicken Stir Fry with Peanuts
- Spicy Stir Fried Beef and Vegetables
- Asian Baby Back Ribs
More Recipe Ideas
- Korean dishes to try tonight
- Indian dishes you can make at home
- Better-for-you versions of your Chinese favorites
- Thai dishes you'll love