What’s In My Pantry

best items to pickup at asian grocery stores

Having lived in the San Francisco bay area all my life, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded in a wonderfully diverse melting pot of cultures and cuisines. It wasn’t until high school that I began to try different types of Asian food and was able to discover the complex flavors of other kinds of Asian cuisine. My curiosity of different kinds of Asian cuisine was also fueled by my ability to travel to different countries and discover dishes that I wouldn’t find otherwise. Nowadays, you’ll find that I steadily rotate between cooking Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cooking at home. In addition to changing it up every now and then to keep things interesting, one big benefit of cooking various Asian cuisines is that it exposes my kids to different cultures and flavors. 

Less Means More Spices

When I first started cooking other types of Asian cuisines, it was overwhelming because each recipe had such a long list of spices for each kind of cuisine. Over time, I realized that I bought a lot of spices, wouldn’t use enough of it, and eventually it would go to waste. Over time however, I realized that there are a few base ingredients and spices that I use interchangeably among multiple cuisines. What I love most about all these asian seasonings is finding the umami and savory component in each cuisine and sometimes substituting it in another dish will surprise you with a new flavor profile. I think using seasonings from different cuisines and learning about them can deepen the flavor and by keeping the basic staples. You don’t have to invest a lot of money in spices for just one cuisine. With the main staples, you can make Chinese one night and Japanese the next.

Below you’ll find that I’ve comprised a list of spices that I use to cook most Asian dishes. If you’re just getting started with cooking Asian food, my suggestion would be to start with this list, and then slowly add more spices as you expand your range in Asian cuisine. I hope you enjoy this and good luck!


  1. Soy Sauce– The most common in all asian cuisine, soy sauce is the main staple that is good for all types of asian cooking. The all purpose soy sauce is actually called a light soy sauce that is saltier to enhance flavors of cooking. I use Japanese soy sauce by Kikkoman or Chinese brand Pearl River Bridge. I didn’t find a big difference between the two so I use both interchangeably. 
  2. Corn Starch– Corn starch is used for a thickening component to make sauces that works for all cuisines. It is used for tenderizing proteins and also act as a coating for deep frying.

3. Chicken Bouillon– Other than salt, I use chicken bouillon as a nice flavor enhancer to any asian dish

4. Black Bean– Black Beans are a staple for Chinese cooking, it’s a sauce you can create that compliments meats, vegetables, or fish. You can buy black bean sauce that is in a paste form in a jar or the actual fermented black beans. I like using the fermented black beans because they have great shelf life and when you use it the flavor is more intense and stronger than the paste.

5. Chicken Broth– Chicken broth is a basis for a lot of soup noodles, sauces, and can be used to make Chinese stews. 

6. Oyster Sauce– After soy sauce, oyster sauce is the next sauce that is used for most asian cooking, this sauce is a primary staple for any asian household. Oyster sauce is a thick and dark salty sauce that has the fishiness from the sea. The more expensive the oyster sauce, the more oyster flavor there is in the sauce. I prefer using Lee Kum Kee’s premium oyster sauce, Lee Kum Kee is the founder of oyster sauce, and you can taste it in the sauce. 

7. Dashi– A fish based seasoning, dashi is usually the basis of what gives Japanese dishes that umami flavor. I like using Hondashi for japanese dishes and as a flavor enhancer.

8. Ground White Pepper– white pepper is the subtle heat that goes into chinese cooking. It is used for marinades and also great to use for a sauce. The spice level is about the same as black pepper.

9. Vegetable Oil/Corn Oil– Great for deep drying for any asian cooking, vegetable oil can retain high heat which is good for asian cooking

10. Sesame Oil– Sesame oil is a fragrant oil primarily used in Korean cooking, but is also used for Chinese as well. The sesame oil by Kadoya is my favorite. Right when you pour it out, the fragrant sesame oil spreads to the whole kitchen. It’s a great quality sesame oil. 

11. Shao Xing Hua Tiao Wine– All Chinese cooking uses this cooking wine as a marinade, to make sauces, and to cook with. It is good for marinating meats like chicken and beef. It is labeled cooking wine on the bottle, which is what it is primarily used for. 

12. Rice Wine– Rice wine is a Chinese cooking wine that is good for cooking seafood, like fish, shrimp, lobster, and crab. 

13. Sake– Most Japanese dishes I make use sake, having it in your pantry as a wine substitute is also helpful.

14. Mirin– Mirin is a sweet cooking wine that is often used in a lot of Japanese dishes. 

15. Fish Sauce– Used for Chinese and Vietnamese cooking, fish sauce is the salty component primarily in Vietnamese cooking. I like using Viet Huong Fish Sauce, it has an intense fish sauce flavor that is superior to other brands. 

16. Shrimp Paste– Shrimp paste is another savory salty paste that is used for Chinese, Malaysian, and Vietnamese dishes. 

17. Ground Ginger Powder– This ground ginger powder is ideal for asian dishes, primarily compliments chicken dishes really well

18. Miso Paste– Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisines often use different types of miso paste. I like to use the Japanese kind primarily because of its mild flavor that can be used for all these cuisines.

19. Dark Soya Sauce– Dark Soya sauce is a thick and less salty soy sauce that can be used primarily for marinades. I use Pearl River Bridge because it has a beautiful color for braised dishes and I like the subtle soybean flavor from this soy sauce. 

20. Curry Powder– curry powder stores for a long time in the pantry and can be used as a  quick sauce that can be whipped up really quickly to go with any meat or seafood. 

21. Red Pepper Powder– I prefer to use the Korean brands red pepper powder to make Korean dishes, sides, and sauces. 

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