Now that you have the right cookbooks and the right utensils to cook Chinese food let’s examine what ingredients you should stock up on if you are novice. Finding bottled or canned ingredients can be a struggle especially if you can’t read Chinese characters so that is why I am concentrating on these. Don’t be afraid to bring a list and show to the shop or market assistants.

  • Sesame paste: used in Dan Dan Mian and in countless other recipes.
  • Sesame oil: use to finish off fish and stir-fries.
  • Sweet bean sauce: goes by many names including Hoisin. It is made from soybeans and it is sweetened.
  • Sichuanese chili bean sauce: made from soybeans and chili
  • Cooking oil: rapeseed, peanut or sunflower
  • Potato flour: key ingredient to thicken sauces
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms: umami flavoring in many recipes.
  • Smoked tofu, silken tofu, firm tofu: versatile and cheap. They absorb all the flavors.
  • Chili oil: drizzle over dishes
  • Sichuanese peppers: unexpected numbing and tingly lemony flavor.
  • Star anise: one of the most used spices in the Chinese kitchen.
  • Chinese wind dried sausage: the key to amazing fried rice
  • Chinese wheat noodles: different texture (chewy) to other wheat noodles.
  • Dried shrimp: Used in vegetable stir-fries to provide flavor.
  • Fermented black beans: earthy and salty ingredient. Provides a lot of flavor.

If you are new to cooking Chinese food these are dishes I would recommend to start off with, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, zhajiang noodles, sesame noodles, stir fried mushrooms, ma po tofu, dan dan noodles, egg fried rice, chicken with black bean sauce and cabbage with dried shrimp.

Zhajiang Mian is one of our staple family meals these days. My daughters, whom are two and four years old, eat it miraculously in silence; one wolfs it down with little chopsticks.

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Zhajiang Mian
Serves 4

  • 2 tbsp. of peanut oil
  • 300 grs of minced pork
  • 1 tbsp. ginger, chopped
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • a splash of Shaoxing wine
  • ½ cup hoisin sauce
  • salt
  • 400 grs. wheat noodles
  • various vegetables: cucumber, cabbage, carrots, peas

Put the oil in a wok and heat up. Add the pork and sauté. Add the ginger, green onion and the wine. Add salt, hoisin sauce and water to cover the meat. Cook for 20 minutes at low heat until the liquid is reduced. Sauce should be seasoned with salt generously. Julienne the vegetables. Blanch the carrot, cabbage and peas. Cook the noodles. Serve noodles with meat sauce and vegetables on top.

*special thanks to Karen Brown our prop stylist.