Chinese Pantry Essentials


Soy Sauce 

 We can’t talk about Chinese cuisine without mentioning soy sauce! It is foundational to so many Chinese dishes we have grown to love. It’s also used across an array of other Asian countries who use it as a staple for cooking, dipping sauces, marinades and dressings.

Chinese Pantry Essentials

Soy sauce is made from a fermented paste of boiled soybeans, roasted grains and salt. After ageing and fermentation, the soybeans are ground into a paste and pressed to produce a liquid. This liquid becomes the delicious soy sauce we use in our kitchens. It has a savoury, umami taste and is perfect to add to soups, stir fries, marinades and other sauces. There are huge variances in taste, saltiness and colour among different brands and country of origin. The key to identifying a good soy sauce is to ensure it states that it’s ‘naturally brewed’ on the label.

If you need a soy sauce that’s gluten free, there are many options available at the supermarket and Asian grocer. Tamari and gluten free soy sauces are becoming readily available as alternatives to regular soy.

When it comes to stocking soy sauce for your Chinese pantry, both regular (light) AND dark soy sauces are a must! Light soy is used for dressings, dipping sauces and for adding a salty element. Whereas your dark soy is great for marinades and adding a depth of sweetness and colour to your dishes.  

Chinese Cooking Wine

Mijiu (cooking wine) is a generic term for rice wine from China. The most common varieties we see here in Australia are varying ages of shaoxing (yellow) wine or the clear, unaged Miju. Rice wine is excellent for meat marinades and stir fries. It adds extra flavour and acidity to your Chinese dishes. Compare its similarity to how Europeans use white wine in cooking. If you cannot find Shaoxing wine, a good substitution is a dry sherry.

Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce is traditionally made by slowly cooking oysters to form a delicious, thick sauce. The most common variety found now days is a dark brown sauce made from sugar/caramel, salt and water, corn starch and oyster essence (or small amounts of oysters). This sauce is commonly used in stir fries or marinades to add a sweet and savoury umami kick!

Sesame Oil

Sesame oil is a vegetable oil pressed from toasted sesame seeds. It is valued for its flavour and fragrance which is strong and nutty. Only small amounts are needed at the end of cooking to retain maximum flavour. By adding a few small drops to a dipping sauce, dressing or stir fry will add a huge flavour bomb! For storage, you need to keep a tight on the bottle and only buy in small amounts as it can go rancid quickly.


A wide variety of rice and malt vinegars are used across Chinese cooking. Vinegar provides the sour acidic element to many dishes, especially dressings and dipping sauces. A combination of black vinegar and soy sauce is an excellent accompaniment to dumplings and wontons. Vinegars are also used in sir fries and soups for their tangy properties. Clear rice vinegar is used in sweet n sour dishes and black (chinkiang) vinegar in the famous hot n sour soup.

Thickening Agents

Corn flour or corn starch is the most common thickening agent used in Chinese cooking. By mixing a 1:2 ratio of corn flour and water creates a mixture called a ‘slurry’. Corn starch slurries help us thicken sauces in stir fry dishes, braises and soups. Top tips for using corn starch are:

  • Mix the corn starch and water well right before you use it (it will separate within just a few minutes).
  • Stir the sauce or soup quickly while drizzling in the corn starch slurry, so lumps don’t form.

Other starches such as tapioca, rice flour or potato starch can also be used in a similar fashion.

Other Useful Aromatics & Condiments

  • Condiments - chilli oil , chilli sauce, fermented soybean pastes, fish sauce

  • Fresh Aromatics - ginger, chilli, spring onions, garlic, fresh & dried mushrooms.

  • Spices - star anise, casia bark, Sichuan peppercorns, white pepper, salt & sugar.