Learn the basics for Asian cooking – stocking your kitchen and pantry with essential ingredients and handy cooking utensils.
Asian cooking can be quite diversified across Asian countries spanning from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea to Japan. Each country has their own unique cuisines. Despite the diversity, Asian dishes share many common ingredients. It is useful to stock up your kitchen with a few of the basics that will bring you on your way to cook a range of delicious Asian dishes.
Start your journey with your kitchen utensils as the basics for Asian cooking:
Wok and lid
The wok has a round versatile shape that allows even heating of the food. This helps in reducing the cooking time and less oil, in turn resulting in healthier dishes.
The bowl-shape is ideal for most cooking methods like stir-frying, pan-frying, deep-frying, braising, steaming and boiling. The high sides of the wok also allow the food to be tossed around easily. Although this is a versatile utensil, there is nothing stopping you to use the normal frying pan or skillet to start cooking Asian dishes. However, if you intend to purchase one, an inexpensive and good quality carbon-steel wok would suffice. Take a look at the Amazon site for various options.
Get one that is ideal for stir-frying and tossing of food.
Tongs are good for turning the food or picking it up and keeping your hands away from the heat.
Cleaver and Chef knife
A cleaver is a large knife for chopping the meat through the bones. The cleaver stands to be one of the prominent basics for Asian cooking.
A Chef’s knife is useful for slicing veggies.
A steamer is used to steam food like dumplings, fish, tofu or meat patties. You can double up the wok or frying pan as a steamer by placing a bowl or plate in the wok or pan submerged partially in the water over a stand.
Mortar and Pestle
A mortar is a heavy bowl made of granite or marble. A pestle is a bat shaped tool used to grind, crush and pound inside the mortar. The mortar and pestle is traditional used in Asian cooking to crush spices like peppercorn, garlic, chilli. Nowadays in the market, there are many brands of food processors or grinders that you can purchase that makes cooking much easier. You may want to consider these appliances once you gain more confidence in cooking.
Stock your pantry with these few essentials:
Rice is a stable in Asian countries and this carbo fills up your tummies. There are many types of rice available and to choose from. Typically for Asian cuisines, go for Jasmine long grain rice or Basmati rice. Both can be used for Thai or Chinese cuisines. For Japanese sushi, you can use Japanese short grain rice.
This is a fermented fish sauce used to salt or enhance the overall depth and flavor of a dish. Frequently used in Chinese and Thai cuisines.
Typically made with oysters (extract), a vegetarian version made of mushrooms and soybeans is available as well for vegetarians and those with shellfish allergies. Although it is made of oysters, the oyster sauce does not have a fishy taste. Instead, this all-purpose sauce is a mix of sweet and salty.
Oyster sauce is a flavor booster for meat, vegetables and even tofu dishes, giving you that savory edge. All you need is one to two teaspoons into your wok while cooking. We call this household staple ‘every veggie’s best friend’ as you can stir fry any kind of blanched vegetables with oyster sauce.
A tip for rookies is to keep your oyster sauce refrigerated immediately after opening. Without contaminating the bottle, the (refrigerator) shelf life can last for a year!
Soy Sauce (Regular or Light)
Soy sauce is probably the first ingredient people think of when it comes to Chinese or Japanese cuisine. Brewed from fermented soy beans, the light brown sauce has a distinct salty taste and acts as an all-purpose seasoning in many dishes. In many Asian restaurants, soy sauce also accompanies appetizers or meat dishes as a dipping sauce. This includes dishes like Chinese dim sum and Japanese gyozas.
Despite having a low calorie count, soy sauce is high in sodium. It should always be consumed in a moderate manner.
Garlic is that one ingredient we both love and hate at the same time. Albeit a pungent smell in its raw form, garlic transforms into an aromatic once fried in the pan with oil. Commonly used when stir-frying, garlic is the go to ingredient for natural flavoring.
The best way to cook garlic and extract all that fragrance is to sauté it in oil or butter with a wok or frying pan. After mincing the garlic, add it into a wok or pan of heated butter or oil and stir it frequently to prevent the garlic from burning. Be careful! Burnt garlic tastes bitter and will affect your cooking. Once the fragrance has been extracted, you can use the flavored butter/oil to cook your dish.
The staples in every home kitchen differ depending on the taste buds of each family member. With Asian cuisines, you would definitely need more than these five ingredients to cook. What are your kitchen and pantry essential basics for Asian cooking? We’ve love to hear what staples you stock up on for cooking!