Also known as ikan bilis in Malaysia, dried anchovies are one of the components in the popular dish nasi lemak and are sometimes used as an ingredient in sambal. In Korean cuisine, they’re also used to make stock. Dried anchovies are even eaten on their own as a snack – it’s best to toast them in a dry pan before eating them.
Also known as green laver, aonori seaweed is a delicate, calcium-rich seaweed most commonly sold as dry flakes, which are sprinkled over noodle dishes, takoyaki octopus balls and okonomiyaki pancakes.
Also known as Thai chillies, they are used extensively in Thai cooking to add heat to curries and salads, but are a popular ingredient throughout all of Southeast Asia. When using Bird’s Eye Chilli, note that the spiciest part is the seed, so it’s best to remove them when cooking for those with a lower spice tolerance.
Black sesame is often used as a garnish in both Western and Asian cuisine. However, black sesame provides a great nutty flavour in everything from ice cream to macarons, and soup to porridge. They have a slightly bitter, nutty taste and are a bit more intense than white sesame seeds. Toasting them in a dry pan helps to bring out their flavour.
Bonito flakes are prepared through a process of smoking and drying the fillets of fish, which are then thinly shaved. This ingredient is combined with dried kelp to make dashi—a base used for broths and soups. Bonito flakes are also used to garnish dishes like takoyaki, okonomiyaki and ramen.
Candlenuts are found in many Malaysian and Indonesian recipes. They’re usually ground into a paste and used to thicken and provide a creamy texture to curries, sambals and satay sauce. Although they look like macadamia nuts, they’re more bitter, slightly toxic and have a laxative effect when eaten raw.
Known as sil-gochu in Korean, chilli threads are primarily used in Korean and Japanese cuisine to garnish. Sprinkling a pinch of bright red chilli threads on top of your dish is an easy way to make it look visually appealing. Lightly toasting chilli threads helps to bring out their flavour.
Cinnamon is a flavour many of you will know. In Australia, cinnamon is generally associated with sweet dishes. However, in different cuisines across Asia, cinnamon sticks are mostly used for savoury dishes, and can be found in recipes for curries or as part of the broth for Pho. As with other spices, toasting cinnamon sticks in a dry pan helps to bring out the flavour and aroma.
Available both ground or whole, coriander seeds are a common spice used around the world. In Asian cuisines, they are often toasted, and then ground up with other spices to create spice mixes or for curries. They have a slight citrus flavour, and taste very different to fresh coriander leaves.
Dried shrimp are small, sun-dried shrimp that provide a umami seafood flavour to dishes. This ingredient is widely used across Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines. Dried shrimp are used in Cantonese XO sauce, some variations of sambal, soups, salads, dumplings, congee, fried rice, or simply eaten as a snack.
Made from red seaweed, dulse is soft and chewy, but you’ll find it more commonly used in its dried, flaky form as a flavouring in salads and soups.
Edamame is a popular side dish made from using soybeans that haven’t been fully ripened. Compared to fully ripened soybeans, these beans are usually sweeter in taste. Edamame are typically blanched in hot water and then served with salt. Alternatively, in Japan, the unripened soybeans are sometimes blanched in salt water and then served without salt.
Fish sauce is a pungent, amber-coloured liquid. This condiment has an intense fishy smell, but is salty with a distinct umami flavour. A staple throughout Southeast Asia, it’s used to make dipping sauces like Thai Prik Nam Pla or Vietnamese Nuoc Cham, but can be used to marinade meat, or is simply added to a dish as a seasoning. But remember: a little bit goes a long way.
Garlic is a species of plant in the onion genus, where it is closely related to a shallot, leek or chive. It is used around the world, with the bulb of the garlic plant with its numerous fleshy sections called cloves being the most commonly used part. These cloves can be eaten raw or cooked, or used for medicinal purposes.
There are several different varieties of Ginseng, such as Korean, Vietnamese, American and South China. This root is prized for its medicinal qualities – although studies on its health benefits are inconclusive. Most accessible in its dried form, ginseng is used to infuse into soups, teas, drinks, poaching liquid and liquors, impart a bitter flavour.
Growing on the coastlines of Japan, Korea and China, hijiki seaweed is a firm, nutrient-dense seaweed that resembles little black twigs when dried. It cannot be eaten raw, but when it is rehydrated in water, it will swell to three to five times its size. Hijiki has more texture and bite than delicate wakame, adding body to dishes.
This is the most commonly available form of edible seaweed, with kombu and wakame being the two most popular. Kelp is common in both Japanese and Korean soups or with sashimi. These are especially served fresh as a salad with some sesame oil on a bed of lettuce.
Lotus seeds are widely used in Chinese cuisine for its medicinal properties and nutritional benefits. They’re most often found in soups, made into a paste used as a filling for many Chinese pastries, or crystallized and eaten as a snack during Lunar New Year. Lotus seeds are most accessible in their dried form; it’s best to soak them in water overnight before using them.
Made of finely grounded green tea leaves, Matcha is prepared in a similar fashion to ground coffee. Scoop a small serving of matcha powder into a bowl and add 60-80ml of water of 70-85°C, not boiling. Stir thoroughly until no powder is left and serve. The drink is milky with smooth and subtle flavours.
Also known as moong bean or green grams, the mung bean is packed with nutrients and is used in many recipes ranging from soups, to paste made for pancakes, and gravy. Because they’re dried, if you’re not cooking them in a soup, they need to be soaked in water overnight before being cooked.
Split mung beans are used for both savoury and sweet dishes. In Korea, split mung beans are used to make savoury Bindae-tteok pancakes. In desserts, a mung bean paste is used to fill things like mooncake or glutinous rice dumplings, or boiled to make pudding or porridge. To cook split mung beans, soak them in water overnight and steam until soft.
Nori are dried seaweed sheets used extensively in Japanese cuisine, most often to wrap sushi and onigiri. It is also used as a garnish or eaten as a snack. Known as Gim in Korea, seaweed sheets are used to make Gimbap or toasted and eaten as a side dish or snack. It is not necessary to soak Nori sheets in water when using to make sushi rolls at home.
Dried oysters are a delicacy in China, and are especially popular during the Lunar New Year. They have a strong seafood smell and add lots of flavour to dishes, and can be included in soups and congee, or stir-fried with vegetables. Dried oysters require soaking in water before they are cooked with.
Oyster sauce is a thick, rich sauce with a hint of sweetness made from oyster extracts, sugar, salt, water and thickened with cornflour. This sauce is used widely in Chinese cuisine in stir-fries, stir-fried noodles, marinades or simply to dress blanched vegetables.
Pandan leaves (or screwpine leaves) have both savoury and sweet applications in Southeast Asian cuisine. Pandan is the key ingredient in Pandan Chicken, where it’s used to wrap chicken before it’s fried, and is found in many curry recipes. Pandan paste is used to provide colour and an aromatic scent to many desserts, like vanilla is in Western cuisine.
A persimmon is the edible fruit of the Diospyros genus of trees. The ripened fruit is sweet in taste, although if consumed before having ripened, the fruit will be bitter in taste. The most commercially common type of persimmon is the Japanese persimmon, with these being used in many different forms of preparation ranging from being dried to being preserved in limewater.
The Pomelo is the largest citrus fruit, similar in appearance to a large grapefruit. It features a thick rind layer that when cut into reveals a white, red or sometimes pink flesh that can be compared in flavor to a sweet, mild grapefruit. Although the skin is largely considered bitter and inedible, it is sometimes candied or made in to marmalade.
Red dates are actually jujube fruit, which naturally turns red when dried. They are often candied and eaten as a snack. Red dates are also used in Korean and Chinese cuisines to make tea, juice, wines and vinegar. Red date is a key ingredient in the sweet dessert soup Ching Bo Leung or Che Sam Bo Luong.
Sichuan peppercorn isn’t related to pepper but are dried husks of an ash shrub. Remove any tiny black seeds from the husks, and use the husk either whole or grounded into powder. Prized for its mouth-numbing properties, the sichuan peppercorn itself isn’t spicy but the numbing sensation is said to reduce the sichuan chilli pepper’s heat and enhance its taste.
Rice Vermicelli are a thin type of noodle made from the grains of rice. These noodles can be found in many different cuisines throughout Asia due to their versatility. These uses can range from being cooked in a stir-fry, to being used in soup dishes, to being incorporated in to salads.
Both fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms are used in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Dried shiitake mushroom have a much stronger aroma and flavour, and should be soaked in water before cooking. Just like other mushroom varieties, they are versatile and can be used in anything from soups to stir-fry.
There are many different variants of soy sauce across the Asian continent, all made in different ways, with varying flavours, textures and uses. It can be used in stir-fries, as a dipping sauce, or to marinate meat, season dishes, or add flavour to just about anything. Soy sauce has an almost infinite number of applications and is a staple in every Asian kitchen.
Star anise has a similar intense, aromatic licorice flavour to anise seed, but with a slightly more bitter taste. It’s used extensively in Chinese cuisine to flavour meat and soup, and is one of the ingredients in five-spice powder. Star anise is a key ingredient in the recipe for Pho broth.
Wasabi or Japanese horseradish is a plant native to the mountain river valleys of Japan. The stems are typically grated into a fine paste that is used as a condiment for sushi or other Japanese dishes. The paste itself has a characteristically strong, spicy flavor that is similar to that of mustard or horseradish.
Although they’re mainly seen on the top of bagels or burger buns, white sesame seeds are a versatile ingredient. They’re stirred through Japanese salads, sprinkled over Chinese dishes and are used in many Vietnamese desserts. Toasting sesame seeds in a dry pan helps to draw out their nutty flavour. Sesame oil too is used throughout Asia for frying, stir frying, marinades, dressings and sauces.