Once in a blue moon, I will mention certain products that I regularly use or that are great for particular recipe when sharing recipes with you. Those mentioned products, which include ingredients or kitchen gadgets, are already tried and tested in my own kitchen and they are stored neatly in my pantry. So, it should be very good or useful tools for me if I personally mention it.
I would like to call this page a living Wikipedia because I will constantly update as I add description to the essential must-have ingredients, at least in my kitchen pantry.
Note: Credit to Amazon for products images seen below.
Belacan or a.k.a Terasi (Shrimp Paste):
It is a fermented salted ground shrimp that is sun-dried and usually sold in blocks. Usually, it is dark brownish in color and could be found in Asian market. The paste adds rich salty flavor of seafood that in my experience, it is like the seafood version of chicken stock. When you do cook with the paste, it will create a strong odor around the house that may stay for several days. Very versatile and can be used in various recipe that prefer the rich salty flavor of seafood.
Recipes that call for Belacan
Ebi (Dried Shrimp):
Ebi is basically made of shrimp that has been sun-dried. It has a unique salty and sweet flavor that is quite distinct and different than fresh shrimp. The flavor is ‘released’ usually by soaking it in warm water prior to using. Good quality Ebi should be bright pink in color.
Kecap Asin (Soy sauce):
It is a salty condiment that is made from soybean and a bit thinner and watery compared to sweet soy sauce. Before I arrived to the United States, I did not know that there are many different versions of soy sauces – less sodium soy sauce, regular one, the chinese version or Korean version. Now, at least I have two different versions in my pantry – the dark soy sauce and the light one.
The Indonesian soy sauce is thicker, darker and has a stronger flavor, however, it is quite similar to the Chinese light soy sauce. I like to use ABC brand or, sometimes, if I cannot find it in my Asian grocery store, I use Kikkoman or Kimlan brand.
Recipes that call for Kecap Asin
Kecap Manis (Sweet Soy Sauce):
This is one of the most popular sauces in Indonesian household and my must-have in the pantry. I kid you not; this stuff is a staple in Indonesian cooking. From the main dish, marinade, or sauce, they all use kecap manis. It is a sweetened soy sauce that is slightly thicker and sweeter (more syrupy). There are many different brands that carry sweet soy sauce. I personally like Bango or ABC.
Recipes that call for Kecap Manis
Santan (Coconut Milk):
Santan (Coconut Milk) is very often used in Indonesian cooking and Thai curries. To make the coconut milk, first we need to grate the flesh of matured coconut. Then, you squeeze the grated part with water. The thickness of coconut milk is depending on how much water you use to squeeze out the coconut milk. The more water you use, the thinner it will become. However, nowadays, you can easily find the pre-made coconut milk either packaged in a box or in a can. Personally, I like to use Kara or Chaokoh.
Lao Gan Ma (老干妈) Black Bean Sauce:
It is quite tough to describe the taste of this Lao Gan Ma (a.k.a. “old grandmother”). Basically, it is spicy, but salty and a little sweet at the same times. It is very good and goes well with practically anything. Rice noodle, steamed bun, rice, rotisserie chicken, and many more, you name it. I would say it is a must-have item in my pantry. Yes, it is THAT good.
Recipes that call for Lao Gan Ma Black Bean Sauce
Oyster sauce (蠔油 or haoyou):
This sauce is made from oyster’s extract that has been cooked down to get the juice out of it. It has sweet and savory flavor that is good to enhance the flavor of your cooking. It is an essential ingredient in many Cantonese, Thai or Vietnamese meals. The good quality one is usually fairly thick and naturally dark. I find it best to use oyster sauce mainly for stir-frying, although sometimes, you can use it for making sauce as well.
Recipes that call for Oyster Sauce
Rice Wine (米酒 or mijiu):
It is made from fermentation of glutinous rice with yeast and water. It is somewhat sweet, clear and very similar to Japanese sake. The alcohol content is quite low and you can actually drink it. Besides for cooking Oriental chinese food in general, I find it good for marinades, especially to make the meat more tender.
Recipes that call for Mijiu
It is probably one of the most used pastes in Korean dishes. There are many Korean dishes that have this red pepper paste in it, such as, Bibimbap (비빔밥), Kimchi Stew (김치찌개), Tteokbokki (떡볶이), and many more. It is a fermented red pepper paste that is spicy, sweet and salty at the same time.
Recipes that call for Gochujang paste
This paste is very similar to Japanese’s miso paste. I cannot really tell the difference between the two. It is basically fermented soybeans and has a natural pungent smell due to fermentation. It tastes salty and has an earthy flavor. I find it best good for making soups or stews, but you can also use it to marinate fish or meats. A good paste should be on the lighter brownish color, not too dark. Make you that you refrigerate it after opening.
Sesame Oil (참기름 or Chamgireum):
This oil has its own unique and particular aroma – strong nutty flavor. The nutty flavor is because it is mainly made from sesame seeds. You just need a little bit of it and you can already smell it. Mainly, this oil is used for making sauces, soups or porridge. I like to use Kadoya brand, but I cannot really distinguish the difference if I use a different one.