Pantry Essentials for Asian Cooking

Cooking traditional and authentic Asian food doesn’t have to be a daunting task. It does require some basic pantry items. We’ve got a list of essential pantry staples for you and how to use them. While it’s not a comprehensive list, it’s a jumping-off point to start your journey into authentic Asian cooking. 


Rice is a staple pantry item for Asian kitchens. Rice serves as the blank canvas on which flavorful dishes are served and is singlehandedly one of the most recognizable and most important staples in Asian cuisine. It can be cooked both sweet or savory and can be fried. (We all love good fried rice). 

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is also one of the more well-known Asian cooking staples. Its dark color brings a beautiful brown to its dishes and provides a salty and umami flavor. Traditional soy sauce is also known as light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce has molasses or sugar added to it and has a more intense flavor compared to its light counterpart, which is saltier. Recipes that call for soy sauce usually mean light soy sauce or general-purpose soy sauce. Dark soy sauce should only be used when a recipe requires it, otherwise, the flavor can overpower the dish. For those who are gluten-free, use tamari as a soy substitute.

Fish Sauce

Many tend to be put off by the fishy smell but it’s by no means fishy in taste. Similar to soy sauce, fish sauce not only adds salt to a dish but depth and savoriness too. Use this sparingly and flavor to taste. Look for brands that contain only two ingredients: anchovies and salt.

Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce is a deep brown syrup-like sauce made from oyster extract. Like fish sauce, oyster sauce does not have a fishy taste. It’s salty, slightly sweet, and earthy in flavor. It’s usually made with cornstarch which helps create its thick consistency. Oyster sauce can be used as a single sauce, added to other sauces, or as a finishing sauce. It works great for stir-fry recipes, marinades, and flavoring steamed vegetables. 

Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar can be used to add acidity to a dish but it also helps to brighten and enhance flavors. It can be used in marinades, Asian dressings, dipping sauces, and sushi. The vinegar adds a kick similar  Rice vinegar and rice wine are not the same and should not be used interchangeably. 

Ginger, Garlic, Green Onions (The Three Gs)

These aromatics are commonly used in traditional Cantonese and Asian cooking. Ginger provides a sweet, floral, and sharp cooling flavor. Garlic has a pungent and intense fiery flavor. Green onions are similar to garlic but have a more herbaceous and fresh flavor. Together, these three aromatics complement the flavors of any savory dish, adding bright flavor notes.

Like most things in life, cooking takes trial and error. Try these ingredients and see what works for you. Expand your tastebuds and culinary skills further by using ingredients that aren’t listed here. Asian cuisine expands far beyond just fried rice, sushi, and soy sauce. Asian cuisine is incredibly diverse and expands from region to region, so with that, ingredients, pantry items, flavors and dishes do as well. 

Ready to dive into Asian cooking? For Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’ve teamed up with Chef Josh Coates of Seoul Brothers, here in Knoxville, Tennessee to celebrate with authentic Korean dishes. 

BigOven Original Recipes:

Budae Jjigae (Army Stew)

Dak Juk (Rice Porridge) with Spicy Beef

Galbi (Korean-Style BBQ Short Ribs)