How to start making Chinese Food at home with these 9 Essential Ingredients
Suppose you are thinking about making Chinese food at home but don't know where to start. I'm here to help.
Just a quick back story. I moved to the U.S. when I was 20 years old and lived in LA for 16 years. I'm from Shandong Province, just north of Beijing; we eat a lot of steamed buns, dumplings, and noodles. Traditionally, rice is not a staple for Shandong cuisine. For the coastal cities in Shandong Province, they eat a lot of seafood. Usually, fresh seafood served steamed or on the grill, really simple and straightforward.
Shandong cuisine is just one of the many cuisines in China. If you say, "let's go eat Chinese food," it's too broad. From east to west, north to south, the Chinese food flavor varies largely per region. In the U.S., the most common Chinese food type is Cantonese cuisine, such as the dim sum that everyone loves.
With more immigrants from inland China, Sichuan and Hunan Cuisine became very popular among young people in recent years. I personally love Sichuan and Hunan cuisine because they are both very spicy and bold. Usually, you see red chili oil all over the dish. Sichuan cuisine is famous for its peppercorns; it gives you a numbing sensation, which is very new to the western population. Hunan cuisine uses more chili rather than peppercorns and has many smoked and cured meat ingredients.
Okay, we can talk about different Chinese regional food all day, but let's get to the topic. What I have in my panty and what essential ingredient to have in your kitchen to start making simple, yummy Chinese dishes at home. I don't like complicated recipes, partially because it takes too long, or maybe I'm just lazy. Luckily, there are a lot of Chinese dishes that are very easy to make.
Here are 9 Essential Ingredients
1. Light Soy Sauce
Make sure it's Chinese Soy Sauce, not the Japanese soy sauce. You can find it in your local Asian grocery, amazon, or some of the local non-Asian markets carry it as well.
2. Dark Vinegar (Black Vinegar)
This one is also a must-have, and you can't replace the flavor with white vinegar. It is mostly used for cold dishes and dipping sauce for dumplings. I also use it for making noodle soups.
A lot of Chinese recipes call for cornstarch. Either to thicken the sauces or soups or to coat chicken, pork, or even vegetables to give it a smooth and silky texture.
4. Jasmine Rice
Let's not forget about the rice! Steamed rice is great for stir- fry dishes, or any kind of Chinese food.
5. Scallion/ Ginger/ Garlic
The majority of Chinese dishes need one of these ingredients, or sometimes all of these. So it's nice to have them in your fridge.
6. Dried Red Chilli
If you like spicy food, you will need those. I use these dried chilies in all sorts of Chinese dishes.
7. Sichuan Pepper Corn
You will need this if you want to make Sichuan dishes. I usually use them for my noodle soup (I'm a noodle lover, if you can't tell).
8. Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce adds a unique umami flavor to many dishes. I don't use it too much in my cooking. However, it is one of the essential sauce to have. If you are making a trip to an Asian grocery, definitely grab one.
9. Cooking Wine (Shaoxing Wine)
This is one type of rice wine from Shaoxing region in China. It's widely used in Chinese cooking applications. A lot of Chinese recipes call for Shaoxing wine. It is good to have one bottle in your panty, and it lasts a long time.
Last but not least, you need a wok!
Traditionally, the wok used for stir fry dishes has round bottoms. However, it's not realistic with modern lifestyles, especially if you have an electric cooktop, it's impossible to use the rounded bottom pans. I bought mine at target a long time ago. It's a flat bottom wok, works great.