Pantry essentials for Asian flavour

By TASTE, 3 August 2017

With an arsenal of Asian store-cupboard ingredients, you can go from parathas on Monday and pad Thai on Wednesday to pho on Friday and Korean shortribs on Sunday. Who needs takeaways, right?


Detonate this umami bomb at will to give almost any Asian dish savoury depth. Its funky base note makes kimchi irresistible, it intensifies the meaty flavours of sticky Korean shortribs and instantly transforms a batch of pan-fried tofu.

Try fish sauce in: this Khai jiao recipe here.


It adds caramel complexity to everything from pad Thai (mashed into a curry paste with tamarind, lime, fish sauce, shrimp paste, garlic and chilli) and Gujarati dhal (it’s the sweet counterpart to the tamarind that gives the dish its signature sourness) to Vietnamese ca kho to (fish caramelised in a marinade of palm sugar, garlic, chillies and fish sauce).

Try palm sugar in: these Thai recipes.


Giving local Cape Malay denningvleis its unmistakable tartness, its flavour plays well with fishy ingredients (think Cambodian sweet-and-sour soup), peanuts and coconut milk (no satay sauce is complete without it) and aromatic spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric.

Try tamarind in: this lamb rendang recipe.

Dried chillies

Run out of fresh chillies? The flavour of dried ones is slightly sweeter and milder than fresh, but when rehydrated can be transformed into just about any Asian chilli paste: Chinese la jiao jiang, Korean gochujang, Mayalasian sambal tumis, Thai nam prik pao...

Try the dried chillies in this recipe guide.


Muskier and more peppery than its kissing cousin ginger, it’s essential to Thai curry pastes (Red! Green! Massaman!), Singaporean laksa and Indonesian rendang. Fresh galangal isn’t readily available in SA; you can find the dried version at Asian supermarkets. To use, soak in boiled water until soft, about 30 minutes.

Try galanfal in this: tom yum goong recipe.


A little of this seedy operator adds nuttiness and body to dressings, marinades, stirfries and soups. How do we love thee Chinese sesame noodles? Just about as much as we love Korean bulgogi (marinated barbequed meat),
Japanese ramen bowls and Burmese sesame beef.

Try sesame oil in: this glazed sesame-chicken noodles with pak choi recipe.


Name a southeast Asian dish and we bet you it’ll star these perfumed leaves. Indonesian beef rendang? Check. Thai tom yum goong soup? Yep. Malaysian laksa? Right again. Filipino chicken adobo? You’re starting to get the picture.

Try Thai lime leaves in this: Indonesian rendang with super-easy chickpea dosas recipe.


A key ingredient in Japanese sushi rice and pickled ginger, Chinese potato salad (you’ll never want to make yours with mayo again) and Indonesian nasi goreng, it’s much milder than Western vinegar, with a hint of sweetness.

Try rice vinegar in this: Asian-style slow-cooked pork shoulder recipe.

Discover more Asian-inspired recipes here.

*Available at selected Woolies stores.


Article by TASTE

The TASTE team is a happy bunch of keen cooks and writers, always on the look out for the next food trend or the next piece of cake.
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