Essential Ingredients For Cooking Chinese At Home

Asian cuisine ingredients on wooden background, top view. Vegetables, spices, shrimp, noodles, sauces for cooking

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Cooking Chinese At Home

I’m Chinese-Singaporean, my Dad’s side of the family is Cantonese, whilst my mum’s side of the family is Hokkien. Having been brought up in an extended family environment with my grandparents as my primary caretakers, the person who’s had the biggest influence on me is my late Grandma. She was a migrant from the province of Guangzhou in China, and spoke no English. That is until she met my late Grandpa, fell in love, got married and settled into her new home in Singapore. Her English was a bit of a mish-mash of everything, but her cooking style remain firmly grounded in her Cantonese roots.

The taste of food and the style of Chinese cooking can vary depending on where your origins are in China. Szechuan is renowned for their love of spice and flavour, whilst the Cantonese prefer a lighter style of cooking with simple ingredients. The Cantonese are obsessed with their stews and soups. Gran would almost always, prepare a clear soup to accompany a light vegetable stir fry, a meat or fish dish and rice for dinner. She takes a lot of pride in her soups, patiently brewing a cauldron over her charcoal stove. Her belief is that soups always taste better overnight after having the night for the ingredients to stew, soak up all of the yummy goodness from complimentary ingredients and release that amazing aromatic flavour. My favourite is her infamous lotus root with peanut and pork rib soup. I could have that soup for days on end, and it would always taste better on the next.

Growing up next to Gran meant that I’ve learnt a lot of her secrets in and around the kitchen. And I’m now sharing some of those with you in part 1 of this blog series.

Let’s kickoff with the 5 essential ingredients that you’ll be needing to create that perfect Chinese cuisine in the heart of your own home.

1. Oyster Sauce

I’ve never discovered the beauty of oyster sauce until I made my very first veggie stir-fry (Gran’s recipe of course!). Add a splash of oyster sauce, about a tablespoon after the heat is turned off, give it a good swirl around all of those lovely greens and serve on top of warm jasmine rice.

Oyster sauce adds a more robust flavour than soy, gives that hint of sweet and salty, and gives your stir fries a drool worthy sheen. Many Chinese restaurants and chefs use oyster sauce in their stir fries too, so if you’re wondering what that divine tasting sauce is, it’s most definitely oyster sauce!

2. Sesame Oil

Sesame oil is one of my all-time favourite ingredients. You can use it in stir fries, salads, steamed meat or seafood dishes and more. The only caution is to use sesame oil sparingly. Because of its intense flavour, it’s more of a dressing oil than an oil for cooking or deep frying even though it has a pretty high smoke point.

I like a sprinkle of sesame oil to add flavour to Asian-inspired chicken or beef salads and finish it with a garnish of toasted sesame seeds for that extra crunch.

3. Cornflour

Cornflour is a must-have in any Asian family’s kitchen, or any kitchen for that matter. Gran taught me to use cornflour as the secret key to thickening a sauce. All you need to do is to dissolve a tablespoon in a cup of water, slowly add it to the sauce and stir as you go. Keep adding the mixture until you come to the consistency that you desire.

I’ve tried using plain flour but found out the hard way that it clumps into a sticky gooey mess. Cornflour dissolves easily if you add it to room temperate water first. Like oyster sauce, cornflour also adds that delectable sheen to your stir fries!

4. Soy Sauce

Soy sauce has become a staple in almost every household. It’s versatility and flavour is something that we’re very used to these days. It is still high in sodium so do use sparingly. Gran loves to add a touch of soy to her steamed fish and meat dishes to add another level of flavour. Salt is rarely used at home as soy is often the go-to when it comes to the salty ingredient of choice.

There is a difference between the sweet soy sauce and the ‘common’ soy sauce. Sweet soy sauce is exactly what the name suggests, it’s much sweeter and has a thicker, syrupy consistency. Also known as ‘kecap manis’ based on it’s Indonesian origins, it’s used a lot in stir fry dishes such as the ever popular ‘nasi goreng’ (Indonesian fried rice).

5. Five-Spice Powder

If you love your spices like I do, then the 5-spice powder is going to tantalise those tastebuds and treat your noses. I could smell it in my mind even whilst writing this blog. This divine smelling concoction is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Szechwan peppercorns. Some recipes also contain ginger, nutmeg, and licorice.

Adding 5-spice powder to any meat, roast or poultry is sure-fire way of adding that Chinese Asian accent to your dishes. Gran used it a lot in home-made marinades and stews, particularly with pork.  Pork and 5-spice powder create a sensational combination of taste and aromas that is set to leave you wanting more.

And that’s a wrap for part one of my Chinese cooking blog series ! I’ve shared some of my classic Chinese recipes below using all, or a combo of the ingredients above so you can try them out at home too. In part 2, I’ll be sharing the customs and etiquette of Chinese eating. So stay tuned!

With Happy Food Vibes,

Ali signature with profile photo

Join our “Of Dinner Parties and All Things Food Fabulous”  FB group for more inspiration, ideas, recipes and hang out with a lovely community of fellow food lovers! I look forward to welcoming you to the group.



Simply Delish Asian Vegetable Stir-fry


  • 2 bunches of bok choy, washed well and vertically sliced
  • Mushrooms, roughly cut into chunks (go crazy here and use a single or several varieties of mushroom. My favourite is shiitake or cup mushrooms)
  • 2 carrots, cut into uneven matchsticks
  • 2 cloves of garlic, neatly sliced
  • 1/4 cup of oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour dissolved in 1 cup water – don’t use all of the mixture in one go, instead, pour it in slowly until desired consistency of the sauce is reached.
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • Dash of white pepper


  • Heat up tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan or wok
  • Toss in garlic slices and cook until fragrant
  • Toss in mushrooms
  • When mushrooms are almost cooked, toss in carrots.
  • Toss in bok choy
  • When veggies are cooked and crunchy (about 5 mins in, don’t overcook them), add water, sesame oil, oyster sauce and white pepper. Toss until veggies are covered with the sauce mix.
  • Stir in cornflour mix slowly until sauce thickens to your desired consistency
  • Add a dash of white pepper
  • Serve with steamed rice


Honey Chicken Drumsticks


  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • Cooking oil
  • Marinade:
    • ¼ cup soy sauce
    • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
    • 1 teaspoon 5-spice powder
    • a dash of white pepper
    • 3 – 4 tablespoons honey
    • 1 clove ginger, crushed


  • Rinse chicken drumsticks and pat dry with kitchen towels
  • Mix well with marinade and refrigerate in the fridge overnight
  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees or use a grill.
  • Line and prepare a roasting tray
  • Remove marinated chicken from fridge, drain any remaining marinate and keep this aside
  • Heat cooking oil in a deep pan over medium heat and add chicken drumsticks
  • Cook for about 5 minutes or until chicken is starting to brown
  • Remove chicken and place into oven
  • Brush remaining marinade over chicken drumsticks
  • Cook for about 15 mins, or until chicken is cooked through, turning every 5 mins and brushing with marinade.
  • Serve and enjoy with your choice of veggies and steamed rice
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