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hzrt8w

A pictorial guide to Chinese cooking ingredients

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I would like to start this thread to post some guides to buying ingredients to cooking Chinese food, such as sauces, fresh produce and dried goods. This is for the benefits of those who are not familiar with Chinese cooking ingredients. Each page will have a picture accompanying with the description of the item, and some tips on where to find them and what to look for, and (if any) my favorite brand.

Feel free to add comments. At some point, I will create an index page for easy references. Over time, we will have a comprehensive list.

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Picture:

gallery_19795_2352_6307.jpg

English name: ShaoHsing Cooking Wine

Chinese name: 紹興酒

Chinese pronounciations: (Click here)

Category: Cooking wine

Usage: Marination and cooking

Description: ShaoHsing cooking wine is one of the most important ingredients in Chinese cooking. You will find it used in most Chinese recipes. It is a rice wine, with taste close to Japanese sake. It is often used to marinate meat, poultry, and add-on when stir-frying.

Where to find it: Asian grocery market, wine section

Shopping tips: ShaoHsing (some spells it Xiao Xing) cooking wine is fairly generic, produced by many different manufacturers. Some are of a better grade than others. I would stay away from the super cheap brands. The bottle shown in the picture costs US$6.00.

Storage suggestions: Keep in room temperature.

For more information:

Check out this thread on:

Shao Xing Wine & where to purchase


Edited by hzrt8w (log)

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Picture:

gallery_19795_2352_6031.jpg

English name: Oyster Flavored Sauce

Chinese name:蠔油

Chinese pronounciation: (Click here)

Category: Cooking sauce

Usage: Marination, cooking, condiment

Description: Oyster flavored sauce (or simply Oyster sauce) is a popular sauce used in Cantonese style cooking. You will find it used in many Cantonese dishes that have a brown color sauce. Often, chicken broth (or other broth) is used with oyster sauce (with corn starch to thicken) to produce the sauce to the right consistency. It is often used to marinate meat, poultry, and add-on when stir-frying. Oyster sauce tastes salty. It is made by steaming fresh oysters to extract their flavor, then adding MSG and food coloring.

Where to find it: Asian grocery market, sauce section

Shopping tips: I have tried many different brands of oyster sauces. Their qualities vary. My favorite brand is "Lee Kum Kee Premium Brand oyster sauce". Note that Lee Kum Kee produces 2 grades of oyster sauces. IMO the premium brand tastes much better, though it costs a bit more. In California, such a bottle typically sells for under US$3.00.

Storage suggestions: Store in the refrigerator once opened.

For more information:

Check out this discussion thread:

Oyster Sauce, Manufacturing/Cooking with Oyster Sauce


Edited by hzrt8w (log)

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Picture:

gallery_19795_2352_7510.jpg

English name: Light Soy Sauce

Chinese name:生抽

Chinese pronounciations: (Click here)

Category: Cooking sauce, condiment

Usage: Marination, cooking, condiment

Description: Light soy sauce is different from dark soy sauce. It is used more in Cantonese style cooking than in northern Chinese style cooking. It is more fluid and a bit saltier. It is used very often in Cantonese seafood dishes. Light soy sauce tastes salty, and is made from fermented soya beans.

Where to find it: Asian grocery market, sauce section

Shopping tips: I have tried many different brands of light soy sauces. Their qualities vary. My favorite brand is "Pearl River Bridge Brand Superior Light Soy Sauce" (珠江橋牌 生抽王). This is a very popular brand and should be readily available in many Asian grocery markets. In California, such a bottle typically sells for around US$1.00.

Storage suggestions: Storing in room temperature once opened should be okay, though some prefers to store it in the refrigerator.


Edited by hzrt8w (log)

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Don't know what the price difference is in the US, but I find the older and stronger Shaoxing wines well worth the premium for the amount of flavour they add. Do you get the PRB gold label soy where you are?i find this really good.

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Picture:

gallery_19795_2352_15054.jpg

English name: Dark Soy Sauce

Chinese name:老抽, 醬油

Chinese pronounciations: (Click here)

Category: Cooking sauce, condiment

Usage: Marination, cooking, condiment

Description: Dark soy sauce is another important sauce in Chinese cooking both in Cantonese and other regional styles. You will find it used in most Chinese dishes. Dark soy sauce is rich and more body. It is used in marination, cooking and as a condiment as well. Dark soy sauce tastes salty, and is made from fermented soya beans.

Where to find it: Asian grocery market, sauce section

Shopping tips: My favorite brand is "Pearl River Bridge Brand Superior Dark Soy Sauce" (珠江橋牌 老抽王). This is a very popular brand and should be readily available in many Asian grocery markets. In California, such a bottle typically sells for around US$1.50.

Storage suggestions: Storing in room temperature once opened should be okay, though some prefers to store it in the refrigerator.


Edited by hzrt8w (log)

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[...] Do you get the PRB gold label  soy where you are?i find this really good.

Is this PRB gold a different grade than regular PRB light/dark soy sauce? I don't think I have seen that before (or have paid enough attention to it).

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Picture:

gallery_19795_2352_13063.jpg

English name: Fermented Bean Curd, or Preserved Bean Curd

Chinese name:腐乳

Chinese pronounciations: (Click here)

Category: Cooking sauce/condiment

Usage: Marination, cooking, condiment

Description: Fermented bean curds (or Fu Yue) are basically tofu (bean curd) that has gone through the fermentation process. They are salty. Some are made with red chilies added. Some are plain. Some call them "Chinese cheese" but this is a misnomer because they are not made from milk, although the texture of fermented bean curds are very close to soft cheese. Fermented bean curds taste very salty.

Where to find it: Asian grocery market, sauce section

Shopping tips: Fermented bean curds are very generic. Most brands taste about the same for the most part but some taste better than the others. It's hard to tell by looking at it. You probably have to try different brands to conclude on the one you like. My favorite brands are "Dragonfly" (shown in this picture) and "Mei Mei". In California, such a bottle typically sells for between US$1.50 and $3.00.

Storage suggestions: Store in the refrigerator once opened.


Edited by hzrt8w (log)

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Thank you Ah Leung! I was just about to do a blog about this since a few of my readers aren't experienced with the ingredients I use often. One thing I might request is that you include a mention on what these ingredients taste like? Like how oyster sauce is sweet/salty and maybe how it is made if possible? Either way the thread is a great one so thanks once again!

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[...]One thing I might request is that you include a mention on what these ingredients taste like? Like how oyster sauce is sweet/salty and maybe how it is made if possible? Either way the thread is a great one so thanks once again!

That's a great idea! I will try my best!

Let me go to a time-warp to edit the 5 posts I have written so far to add it in.

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Yay! Terrific idea for a topic!

I'm especially liking the "Shopping Tips" -- knowing whether there's a big difference between brands, and which brands to look for, is really helpful.

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[...] Do you get the PRB gold label  soy where you are?i find this really good.

Is this PRB gold a different grade than regular PRB light/dark soy sauce? I don't think I have seen that before (or have paid enough attention to it).

Supposed to be brewed and matured much longer,with the finest ingredients. Still cheap,and very good.

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Can I take a little advantage of your kindness???

I am very interested in all the different type of tofu. In the US is more common to eat soft or fried tofu (that I don't like and neither my husband-that is chinese :biggrin: ), but on September when we went to visit relatives in Shanghai, the different types of tofu were a revelation to me! There was one in salad, pretty dark, with cilantro and soy sauce...and also another one, always dark, quite hard, very good. Could you explain to me how many tofu there are and how to deal with it.

I asked my mother in law, but her English is not at the level where she can explain to me in details...

If I don't disturb I have more questions coming :rolleyes:

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Worth noting - the best shaoxing for my cooking i've found is Pagoda Brand, with the Blue label - it is usually clled Hua Tiao Chiew.

This is the original Shaoxing, made in Zhejiang province and is a great sipping wine as well - although if I am drinking it, I stick with the $20+ bottles in ceramic urns - it is aged far longer and is absolutely wonderful with any Chinese meal.

cheers, JH

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if we bought an ingredient and want to know what it is, or how good it is, or something, do you mind if we post a pic in this thread?

i scoured the store for a shaoxing that didn't have added salt in it, and only found one... in addition i have a ceramic bottle of rice wine that a friend brought me from china. i'd love to know more about them, and also about the fermented tofu i bought.

edit: did i forget to say thank you? i meant to...


Edited by mrbigjas (log)

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Thanks for this. It will be most helpful to have the Chinese characters together with the English translations, so the next time I find myself in a Chinatown, I don't need to rely upon finding someone to tell me what's what!

MelissaH

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I am very interested in all the different type of tofu. In the US is more common to eat soft or fried tofu (that I don't like and neither my husband-that is chinese :biggrin: ), but on September when we went to visit relatives in Shanghai, the different types of tofu were a revelation to me! There was one in salad, pretty dark, with cilantro and soy sauce...and also another one, always dark, quite hard, very good. Could you explain to me how many tofu there are and how to deal with it.

What you had is "pressed tofu". It is firm tofu that goes through a pressing process to squeeze out most of the water. That's why they are extra hard. They are typically sold marinated with five spice and soy sauce. So the tofu can be eaten as is, or cooked with other ingredients to make a dish.

Indeed there are many types of tofu. They come in all kinds of packaging. But basically there are only a few main types:

Plain (not fried) tofu: Firm, regular, or soft. This refers to the texture softness. Tofu itself tastes very bland. You need to season it with some sauces when you cook it.

Fried tofu: Most of them use regular or firm tofu and deep-fry it to get the brown skin. They sell these in plastic packages (refrigerated) in Asian grocery stores. They are usually used to make some braised dishes with oyster sauce and soy sauce, or cooked with vegetables.

The fried tofo that you have in Chinese restaurants are mostly regular tofu coated in some batter (regular wheat flour and egg, or corn starch, or some kind of flour), deep-fried and served (with light soy sauce typically).

Pressed tofu, as stated above, are firm tofu that have gone through a pressing process to squeeze out the extra water.

Then there is "tofu puff". I am not sure how they are made. They are deep-fried and have many air bubbles inside (very puffy). We usually cut each one in half and stuff it with fish paste, shrimp paste then pan-fried or steamed to make a dish. We also use it to cook vegetarian dishes or fish.

And... there is "tofu fa" (or silken tofu, extra soft tofu). We usually eat it with sugar or ginger-flavored syrup as a dessert or snack.

And, of course, there is "stinky tofu"... but I am not going into that... :raz:

If I don't disturb I have more questions coming :rolleyes:

Don't hold back. :biggrin: I am sure there are many knowledgeable bodies on this board who can answer your questions.

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i have another question if you don't mind. i have always wondered about dried shrimp. how do you know which are good? also how do you know which size to buy? i've bought the little tiny ones before, but i've seen them in all kinds of sizes.

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[...]i have always wondered about dried shrimp.  how do you know which are good?  also how do you know which size to buy?  i've bought the little tiny ones before, but i've seen them in all kinds of sizes.

Yes, dried shrimp comes in many sizes. The general rule is: the bigger the size the more expensive for obvious reasons. As far as which ones are better, I think it is more a personal preference. Theoretically the bigger the size the better. But sometimes they might be a bit hard. I personally like the tiny ones. They seems to be more flavorful and easier to cook. These tiny ones are the size of a dime.

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[...]i have always wondered about dried shrimp.  how do you know which are good?  also how do you know which size to buy?  i've bought the little tiny ones before, but i've seen them in all kinds of sizes.

Yes, dried shrimp comes in many sizes. The general rule is: the bigger the size the more expensive for obvious reasons. As far as which ones are better, I think it is more a personal preference. Theoretically the bigger the size the better. But sometimes they might be a bit hard. I personally like the tiny ones. They seems to be more flavorful and easier to cook. These tiny ones are the size of a dime.

thanks. the last pack i bought (which i used tonight to make the stir-fried hairy melon and bean threads you posted in your pictorials) are even smaller than that--maybe half that size. they almost look like ... i don't know. did i buy something awful? the chinese equivalent of velveeta or something? they were only about $2.75. i think i will get slightly bigger ones next time...

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The tiny ones are traditionally used in Malaysian and Indonesian food. If you're making recipes from those countries, unless otherwise specified, "dried shrimp" means the tiny little ones. Very salty, but a very good flavoring in appropriate dishes.

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[...] Do you get the PRB gold label  soy where you are?i find this really good.

Is this PRB gold a different grade than regular PRB light/dark soy sauce? I don't think I have seen that before (or have paid enough attention to it).

Our family has stopped using PRB and other Chinese brands and now use mostly Japanese brands. Ths was partly becuase of taste (Japanese brands seem to have a 'fuller' taste) - partly because of safety concerns over products made in the PRC. I have more faith in HK and Singapore Brands (Lee Kum Kee is Hong Kong, I think).

One of my uncles has taken to making his own soy sauce simply because of health concerns - he wants a completely organic product and to know what is exactly in the soy. He only makes it in the summer - but the flavour is a little sour as we don't get enough strong sun here in Vancouver. When he goes through the process - I will try to document and post here.

When I taste PRB now - it tastes so sharply salty to me.

Great thread BTW....


Edited by canucklehead (log)

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The tiny ones are traditionally used in Malaysian and Indonesian food. If you're making recipes from those countries, unless otherwise specified, "dried shrimp" means the tiny little ones. Very salty, but a very good flavoring in appropriate dishes.

thank you! there's practically no writing on the bag--i guess i picked them up by just going to the dried shrimp section and choosing what wasn't the cheapest, but wasn't the most expensive either.

i'll go look for the others.

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thank you!  there's practically no writing on the bag--i guess i picked them up by just going to the dried shrimp section and choosing what wasn't the cheapest, but wasn't the most expensive either.

The one that I usually buy is what you see in the pictures in this pictorial. Dried shrimp the size of a dime, may be smaller. US$2.50 or so a pack, about 4 oz, which makes it about US$10.00/lb. I have seen much larger dried shrimp, each bigger than the size of a quarter. They sell at about US$40.00/lb I think.

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Wonderful topic, thank you! Could you also include clues about how to choose veggies that we did not grow up eating? For example, lotus roots or bitter melons or....(the list goes on indefinitely.....)

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