Basic Asian stuff for an American pantry?

Joined Dec 20, 2008
I want to expand my typical American pantry to be able to cook up some one pot/wok stir fry or other Asian dishes when inspired.

What 8 or 10 basics ingredients / sauces should I have on hand?

I do have :
Oyster Sauce,
Teriyaki Sauce,
Soy Sauce,
Hot chili oil,
Hot Chili sauce,
Joined Jan 3, 2010
Well, you didn't really define "Asian dishes"... but here's what I have in my own pantry:

Soy sauce
Red miso
White miso
Cooking sake
Regular rice vinegar
Black rice vinegar
Rice wine
Shacha sauce
Szechuan peppercorns


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
There's plenty of generic basics, but as an idea you'd need

corn starch
chicken stock
egg noodles

For Chinese:

Light Soy
Dark Soy
Oyster Sauce
Rice Vinegar
Rice Wine
Toasted Sesame Oil

Martin Yan talks about this a bit here:
YouTube - Chef Martin Yan, Interviewed by

Fixed the link

You can cook a large array of Chinese food with those condiments.

At the next level
hoisin sauce
black vinegar
chile garlic paste
specific vegetables (choi sum, bean sprouts...)

Vietnamese, to the above add:
fish sauce
rice paper/noodles


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
I don't like Oyster sauce. There's something about its taste I don't like and I'm apprehensive about the manufacturing process. I don't like Hoisin sauce either for some reason. Other than that, I feel with Chinese cooking that freshness and technique are more important than just ingredients.

I do, however, like hot bean paste. Hot bean paste is the bomb! :roll:


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Have you tried the vegetarian Oyster Flavor sauces? They're generally not as briny and deep but still add a lot to the food. I tried a few different ones cooking for a friend who has strong seafood allergies and there are some good ones. I'd have to go back to the store to remember which brand I liked best.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
hoisin is the next level? ketchup of China, way less expensive to buy it in large quantity.

spring rolls are fun and easy once you get the well as a good way to get veg.
rice paper, rice noodles, hoisin, thin soy sauce, sirachi

miso, last forever and really enhances sauces if you don't use it for soup

lemon grass, I keep some in the freezer

canned coconut milk, curry paste (green & red)

soy, black vinager, toasted sesame oil....

sorry to blather on saying essentially what's been already stated....just found this thread interesting.

for those of you that cook Chinese, Thai, Japanese or Vietnamese which sauces or "premade" dishes do you purchase?
I buy curry pastes, frozen and dried wrappers...wonton, eggroll, lumpia, potsticker.....occasionally I'll have Trader Joe's soyaki around.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
That was based on Martin Yan's comments in the video I linked.
Joined Feb 26, 2007
What they all said :)

Tinned water chestnuts
Tinned bamboo shoots
kecap manis
dried ground coriander
dried ground ginger
szechuan pepper
dried shitake mushrooms
Sesame seeds
shrimp paste

Must have tools:
curved spatula
Joined Aug 18, 2007
Posts so far seem to be China, Vietnam etc. Do u include Indian.

The whole basic asian includes so many cultures and cuisines, it would be impossible to pare your store cupboard down to 8 items.

Here's my attempt anyway.

Soy sauce. I find Kikomans covers all bases


Cumin and coriander

Fresh herbs for the cuisine your cooking for :- Coriander, lime leaves etc.

coconut milk

dark brown sugar

Fresh ginger

Fresh garlic

Rice vinegar

that was 9 but i reckon i could make most things with these basics

Just want to add black pepper
Joined Jan 5, 2007
I find it interesting that Americans (and Australians, too!) seem to think that 'Asian' means Chinese, Singaporean, Laotian, Vietnamese etc. Whilst we in the UK think that 'Asian' means - Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani.

Two (or more) nations, separated by a common language?:look:
Joined Aug 7, 2009
imo if you are gonna do any asian curry indian style is the best but also the most work.
Indian cooking is a whole new world :rolleyes:

I'm assuming you are talking about orientals though


if you are going to do any stir frying a medium sized carbon steel work should be good. make sure you wash it correctly.

Sherry makes a good substitute for shaoxing wine.

dried bean curds and tofu ( in general) are super tasty

fermented bean paste is a must if you want to work with five spice (not same as miso)
here is a image
Fomenting Fermented Red Bean Curd - The Digital Awakening
flat rice noodle( not sure if this is correct since I only know how to say it in Chinese but its the one that you can only buy fresh in the refrigerated section :p)
shanghai noodles
baking soda
Long grain rice ( the cheap stuff)
I'd like to point out that shitake mushroom tastes much more stronger and more chewy if bought in the dry form.


japanese curry cubes ( the curry is sweet)
soba noodles
somen noodles ( similar to vermicilli)
sushi rice
kelp/kombu (type of seeweed)
bonito flakes
above 2 is necessary for dashi stock.
Joined Dec 20, 2008
Thanks for so many helpful replies. I need to do some shopping.

I think my approach on this pantry expansion is minimalist, meaning use what I have available including ingredients and equipment bolstered by a few essential Asian ingredients that deliver unique Asian flavors and some technique that can easily be used in a typical American kitchen.

My kitchen is electric, and I have an electric wok. From what I have read I will not be able to get the temperatures necessary for genuine stir fry. Has anyone successfully managed to turn out good stir fry with just regular frying pan. What little I have done with stir fry, for thicker vegetables I steam them until al dente and add at last 1 or 2 minutes of cooking, and rely heavily on the sauce to deliver the flavors, possibly losing some flavor by not cooking the veggies in the stir fry prefering crisp perfectly cooked texture.

I believe in the kitchen its the cook not the equipment that turns out great food. Although equipment will certainly help especially for dishes that require specific tools. So put Masaharu Morimoto in even my wimpy kitchen he can turn out amazing Asian dishes. Of course after 20 years of tutoring by Morimoto I might be able to as well.
Joined May 8, 2009
I'll put my "essential list" at the end of the post, but it will be Thai influenced :p

I've lived with and without a wok on several occasions and can produce seemingly "authentic" dishes using a saute pan. The difference is that I need to add and remove ingredients from the pan more often than when I use a wok. Without getting too technical, one can cook/half cook some of the ingredients, remove them from the pan, and then add them back to the heat source (saute pan) near completion of the dish. So, keeping it simple, yes -I have successfully turned out some amazing fried rice dishes using a saute pan. Also, pad siew, pad Thai, pad kee mao, gai pad med mamuand himaphan... larb gai, etc.. (some of these dishes are made in a sauce pan, so... not what you'd call stir fry)

I agree with you: "its the cook not the equipment that turns out great food". A good wok and other utensils do help :), but using FRESH vegetables and meats is paramount; the rest is technique and seasoning.

Gotta have's:
peanut oil
golden mountain sauce (seasoned soy sauce)
fish sauce
lime leaves (frozen)
oyster sauce
dark soy sauce
sesame oil
palm sugar
dried Thai chilies

After that, I buy everything as needed:
cilantro (corriander leaf)
coconut milk

That's my 2 cents worth.
Let us know how it all turns out, or if you need more help!
Joined Feb 26, 2007
Ish, I think the understanding here of Asian/Oriental cooking is far east asia. Indian & that general area is the sub-continent, and so varied in the country itself it cannot be defined easilly either.

So too with English cooking. Many dishes influenced by other nations, particularly the sub-continent. As for Australian cooking..... :D


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Wok vs Skillet

Very interesting question and more nuanced than appears at the surface.

Cook's Illustrated decided that for a western stove, no it wasn't nor was it desirable. And they made a reasonable argument for the general cooking public. They prefer a 12 inch non stick skillet.

Reasoning is that a wok loses too much heat and become a steam/boil on common US home stoves.

On the other side of the argument, they clearly overloaded the wok as measured against the heat source they had available. Working in smaller batches and returning par or pre-cooked things to the wok makes it work just fine. Which is what you're doing in the skillet anyway.

Which makes them sound identical, but there is more to wok cooking.

Passing through oil--a sort of par frying-- is a texturizing and cooking technique important to many Chinese dishes. This is easier, cleaner and uses less oil in a traditional wok. Also easy to drain the food up the side of the wok while you cook the next batch.

I'd much rather cook a noodle dish or fried rice in the wok. Much easier process.

I think it's easier to sauce in a wok and toss the food to get the proper glaze. In a skillet you're more likely to oversauce in my experience. Sadly, that's closer to how many Chinese restaurants serve food in the US.

Wok hei

This is a Cantonese concept about the heightened smell and taste and nuance of properly wok cooked dish available only in first couple of minutes after the dish is cooked. It quickly dissipates.

Is wok hei real or cultural? I think I've achieved it in a couple of dishes cooked on a high output burner outside. I don't think I've achieved it on my home stove. Grace Young says you can in Breath of a Wok, an excellent book about woks and wok cooking.

So yes, I think a wok is necessary to achieve the best results.
Joined Feb 26, 2007
Re: wok hei
Go into an Oriental restaurant frequented by traditional type customers.....they'll have the tables next to the kitchen door so they can enjoy the wok hei.

I cook a lot of oriental dishes on a wok (finally have a gas stove-yay!!!) and the aroma is almost the best part of the meal. Just gotta get the pan searingly hot, really smoking.
P.S. Open the window, turn the fire alarm off hehe :)
Joined Jan 5, 2007
I think this is the problem. We in the UK think 'Asian' means Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi - the rest is 'Oriental' or 'chinese'!:lol:
Joined Feb 13, 2008
A wok is absolutely necessary to proper "stir-frying." Phatch the Wise mashed the nail on it's itty bitty head when he talked about "passing through."

In a wok "stir fry," food is passed through a certain depth of oil for a certain amount of time -- in other words, it's briefly "pan fried," then, it's pushed up the side of the pan where it's still hot but dry.

In a frying pan of appropriate diameter, the same amount of oil gives much less depth. The food is cooked more by the heat of the pan rather than the minimal depth of oil. However, if more oil is used, the food absolutely pan-fries since there's nowhere for it to go to mix up the processes.

In physics of cooking terms, contact conduction is not immersion conduction, nor vice versa.

Cook in batches, if you must. Don't overcrowd your wok.

But, as important as a good wok of an appropriate size for the heat source is -- mise en place is more important still.

Just an opinion,

PS Here, where I live, unlimited varieties of top quality ingredients imported from asia or locally produced for asian cuisines are available at competitive prices no more than a few miles away. This thread reminds me that people who live elsewhere have to have to plan so far ahead as to include mail-ordering. You have to respect that degree of desire, curiousity, commitment and organization. Props to ya.
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