• Lapsang souchong is made from Chinese black tea leaves that are double-smoked over pine or cypress wood. (John Laurie)Source: John Laurie
Make sure your kitchen is stocked with these essential ingredients.
8 May 2013 - 3:31 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Light soy sauce

Lightsoy sauce is the result of the first stage of production. Soy beans are fermented for approx forty days. It is pleasantly salty and this is its main contribution to many dishes. Use in stir-fries, marinades and as a dipping sauce.

Dark soy sauce

Dark soy sauce is the light soy that has been left to ferment further. This process develops the flavour and intensity but reduces the saltiness. Use where a thicker sauce is needed such as braised dishes (especially with dark meats like beef) and heartier spicy stir-fries. It also adds a rich caramel brown colour to food.

Sesame oil

An edible vegetable oil derived from sesame seeds that has a rich nutty flavour and is used in sauces, stir-fries and marinades.

Five-spice powder

A delightful, aromatic spice blend that typically contains star anise, Szechuan pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and fennel seeds.

Potato starch

Potato Starch is used for thickening and coating meat or fish before frying. European cooking would use cornflour, cream or egg yolk. Arrowroot, tapioca starch or cornflour can be substituted.

Shaoxing rice wine

Also known as Shaoxing or Shaozhing wine, the most famous and prized Chinese rice wine, otherwise referred to as hua tiao or carved flower wine due to the patterns carved on the urns in which it is fermented. It is a little like a dry sherry in flavour and is used in many Chinese marinades and braised dishes.

Oyster sauce

A bottled all-purpose Chinese seasoning made from oysters, water, salt, cornstarch, and caramel colouring. A popular Asian seasoning used to prepare many dishes (particularly stir fries) and as a table condiment. Oyster sauce imparts a richness to dishes without overpowering their natural flavour.


Otherwise known as Chinese Cabbage, wombok is used in soups and stir-frys or added to stuffing. It has a mild flavour with tender pale green leaves and crisp white stems. Shred finely for soups or cut into thicker pieces for stir-fries.

Bok choy

A leafy-green Chinese vegetable belonging to the cabbage family. It is best suited to brief stir-frying or steaming to keep its mild flavour.

Pak choy

Pak choy and baby pak choy are tender vegetables with pale green stems and darker green rounded leaves.

Gai lan

Gai Lais also known as Chinese Broccoli and has thicker mid-green stems. A very popular vegetable dish in Chinese restaurants, served simply steamed and with oyster sauce.

Choy sum

A common Chinese green with long slender stems and leaves. It has small yellow flowering heads.

Baby corn

Tiny tender ears of corn that are available both fresh and canned. They require little cooking and add more colour and texture than flavour.