You may have seen on our Instagram that we fought our fear of coronavirus to go to the Chinatown. As we needed to replenish our stocks, we thought it was the occasion to let you in our Asian pantry. We stumbled upon a review of a Jamie Oliver video the other day, and it felt like this could be actually useful. So here it goes, our guide to a happy Asian pantry.
Our favourite spot to get East Asian essentials is Tang Frères in Paris, but you will be able to find most of what we recommend in your local Asian/Chinese store. Fun fact: if you live in mainland Europe, it is highly possible that the food markets get their stuff from this very company.
For those looking to go in Paris, there are a few stores, but this one is the biggest one (Olympiades metro).
Kitchen essentials for the modern Asian
It is no secret that soy sauce can be found in all East Asian countries. It is however important to know that there are different soy sauces for everything. Indeed, as we French pair wines with different dishes, Asians have different sauces for different purposes. Now, I understand that you may not want to have so many different bottles of sauce in your pantry as it takes up space. We usually use a big bottle of the classic Kikkoman brand.
As we are of Vietnamese descent, we have a very soft spot for fish sauce, or nuoc mam. Again, because we’re Vietnamese, we always go for the Phu Quoc one. The squid fish sauce is very good also, but it’s from Thailand. It works very well for a quick stir fry dish, combined with soy sauce.
This is THE sauce that saves us any kind of dish and is widely used in all of Asia. You can use it with everything: eggs, rice, pasta… Of course, it is forbidden in the US as it contains MSG, the universal flavour enhancer. But still, this is almost a religion and as Uncle Roger puts it ‘Good food is better than body’.
The famous Asian chilli sauce, which you can use with pretty much all your dishes ? It’s becoming easier and easier to find in European supermarkets.
Whatever the name it bears according to the country, rice vinegar is almost sweet compared to other vinegars, and helps you make killer marinades.
It isn’t a sauce per se but this oil will give flavour and great scent to your dishes. This is mainly used in Korean and Japanese dishes.
A great thing about Asian supermarkets is that you can buy pastes for a LOT of things. This saves you cooking time and allows you to still have tasty dishes. These are available for all different types of curry, satay, soups. They contain all the spices you need. According to what you prepare, you will have to add water, coconut milk, meat and/or vegetables.
A few pastes worth outlining:
Gochujang: the Korean chili paste. You can make a killer sauce out of gochujang, minced garlic, rice vinegar (Mirin), and some sugar. This is what goes with bibimbap.
Miso paste: to go with your miso soups and ramen noodle soups.
Dried stuff for all your needs
Also very practical to have: dried mushrooms, chillis and roots for all your needs. These however need to be soaked in before use, so make sure to read the instructions. At the moment we have dried black mushrooms and lotus roots, which are great as side dishes or to put in soup.
Fresh herbs & roots
Galangal: Similar to ginger, but smoother and less lemony to taste. You can find it frozen from the Asian supermarket, or buy it fresh and freeze it after. The reason is it will rot very fast, so it’s preferable to keep it in the freezer.
Ginger: for broths and other dishes. Can be found in any supermarket.
Coriander: to garnish most of your dishes. Even though i know loads of people hate it.
Keffir lime leaves: will be required for a surprising amount of recipes. Can be cut and sprinkled over fish or chicken.
Mint: to garnish most of your dishes.
There are different types of noodles which suit different needs. I’ll go through the principal we use.
Rice vermicelli (bun in Vietnamese): suitable for both soups and salads.
Flat rice noodles (pho in Vietnamese): you may have recognised by the name that these are mainly used for soups in Vietnam. However, you can use similar ones in pad Thai.
Ramen noodles: These are wheat based Japanese noodles. It goes in the famous Lamen soup.
Japchae: Korean sweet potato noodles. They are absolutely delicious stir fried with vegetables.
Tteokbokki: Korean rice cakes. They are very popular and can be cooked in hot sauce with chicken or seafood.
That’s it for today! Obviously, you do not need to have all of these at hand at all times, but it will show useful to prepare yummy recipes.