Essential Asian Ingredients

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The flavours of SE Asia are popular and many of us like to cook Thai, Vietnamese etc… at home yet don’t have the space or inclination to buy loads of extra ingredients.

What essential ingredients do you need to get by and where do you find them?

Here is our simple list of essential Asian ingredients, how does this compare to yours?


Tamari Soy Sauce – good flavour and perfect for dipping sushi, also generally gluten free.
Rice Wine – Predominantly used in Chinese cooking and is usually found in master stocks where meat is poached in a liquid that is then reused.
Fragrant Fried Chicken
4 1/2 Cup Chicken
Sticky Asian Oxtail

Rice Wine Vinegar – Used in dipping sauces and dressings this vinegar is much milder than most other vinegars.
Sesame Soy Dressing
Soba Noodle and Salmon Salad
Asian Slaw

Sesame Oil – Generally used in conjunction with other oils sesame oil has a rich strong sesame flavour and is generally used sparingly.
Aromatic Salmon
Sesame Chicken Salad

Fish Sauce – An essential ingredient, fish sauce is made from fermented fish and salt.  It doesn’t need refrigeration (even after opening) and is used as both a condiment and ingredient.

Srirachi Chilli Sauce – Fiercely hot and totally addictive.  As well as being a great condiment for Asian recipes try a few dots on your bacon and eggs….

Neutral flavoured oil e.g rice bran,  canola – Oil is needed for frying and also dressings.

Coconut Milk –  Much thinner than coconut cream, coconut milk is great for curries and also poaching chicken or fish.  We use Kara brand due to the fact that it has a consistent texture and good colour.
Chicken Poached in Coconut and Lime

Coconut Cream – Thick and creamy, coconut cream can be used along with coconut milk in curries.  Once again my preference is Kara brand.

Peanuts – great for satays or for providing texture to stir-fries and salads.

Cashew Nuts – 
Add texture to stir-fries and salads.

Coconut – Toasted coconut provides flavour and texture

Sesame Seeds –  Often used to coat chicken or sprinkled over stir-fries.

Crisp fried Shallots/Onion – These may have to be bought at an Asian supermarket.  They are packaged in sealed bags or plastic jars and are used for adding crunch and flavour.  Sprinkle over curries, stir-fries, soups and salads.

Jasmine Rice


Ground Cumin
Ground Coriander
Dried Chilli Flakes
Ground Turmeric
Sri Lankan Fish Curry

Whole Star Anise
Chinese Five Spice

 – A more gentle flavour than regular brown onions, shallots are ideal of SE Asian recipes but if none then use red onion.


Lemongrass – Buy frozen at Asian supermarkets and store in the freezer simply breaking off pieces as needed.  Pre- chopped frozen lemongrass is also often available.

Root Ginger – just grate straight from the freezer.  No need to remove skin.

Galangal – Difficult to substitute, galangal looks like ginger but actually has a peppery flavour that is also sour.
Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup
Fish Amok


Turmeric – More fragrant and flavoursome than dried turmeric.  Buy this when you see it and store in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer.

Small Red Chillies – forever useful but not always available so just buy when you see them and freeze in a resealable plastic bag.

Kaffir Lime Leaves – Providing a lovely citrus aroma and flavour to dishes without the acidity usually associated with citrus.  Those in mild areas can easily grow trees while others can store leaves in the freezer for use over the winter months.





Coriander – Easily grown in most of NZ but season dependent.  Grocery stores usually have this all year round.
Basil – Thai basil is great but you can also use sweet basil.
Mint – English mint is used in Vietnamese cooking as is, of course, Vietnamese mint.
Limes – Juice is indispensable.  Freeze some for the summer months when limes are not typically fruiting.
Lemongrass (or in the freezer) – A mild climate is needed for growing lemongrass, so is vigilant watering.
Kaffir Lime Leaves (or in freezer) – In warmer areas kaffir lime trees flourish.

Have I missed anything obvious that you think is essential for SE Asian cooking?


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