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How To
Virtually all kitchens in China, whether they be in private homes or restaurants, all tend to have a basic stock of ready ingredients. The same is true for table, so here we list the most common or useful ones for foreigners, and explain what others are that you may not be familiar with.

Note: My own table always has Table (refined) Salt and Ground Black Pepper. Chinese tables do not.

Category   Comments  
Cooking Oil
  This is the most important ingredient in any Chinese kitchen.

1. By far the most common type is peanut oil, which is very cheap and totally disgusting!

2. High quality 'ground nut' oil is simply refined peanut oil, and this is expensive.

3. Corn or Maize oil is common and ok, but perhaps doesn't reach the temperatures we are used to in the west.

4. Sunflower Oil is not so common, but available in most supermarkets - and worth looking for.

5. Olive Oil is beginning to take a large share of the high-end luxury oil market throughout China. It is used as a condiment or cold ingredient, and totally unsuitable for stir-fry. I doubt the cheaper versions have any virgins in them at all!
Image: Chinese corn oil - Click to Enlarge

Image: Olive Oil bought in Hong Kong - Click to Enlarge
Salt or yim   Chinese kitchens always have salt, which is available in many sizes of grain. The bag pictured right is table salt and cost around Y4.

Chinese chef's do not use monosodium glutamate (in China).
Image: A typical bag of table salt - Click to Enlarge
Pepper   Black peppercorns are found in every kitchen.

Some kitchens may have ground white and/or black pepper in the cupboard somewhere.
Image: A selection of Chinese store-bought pepper powders - Click to Enlarge
Rice Wine
ba zhou
  Many Chinese dishes contain a nip of rice wine. This is usually the cheaper type which costs a few RMB per bottle, pictured right.

Most tables will have a higher quality rice wine for drinking with the meal, with a typical cost of between 40 and 70 RMB.

The best rice wine is called Mou Tao, and costs several hundred RMB a bottle, but it is very well worth it.
Image: Rice Wine - Click to Enlarge
Soy Sauce
Xi Yao
  Soy sauce is a basic ingredient of many Cantonese dishes, and is also used as a dip at table.

China generally only has one type of Soy Sauce, although taste and quality vary enormously. We think the best is made in Hoi Peng City, Guangdong (开平 or Kai Ping in Mandarin). In the picture (right) this is written as 广东省 开平市(Guangdong Province, Kai Ping City).

It is light and flavoursome without being overpowering, acid, or sour. There are several manufacturers in this southern city, and they all seem to sell their soy sauce in square shaped bottles, which is most unusual. Their products are good for both kitchen and table. Highly recommended.
Image: Soy Sauce - Click to Enlarge
Soy Sauce Dips   A small bowl of soy sauce if often provided at table for dipping, and may have other ingredients in it as listed below:

1. A squeeze of Wasabi. Normally presented with hot dried squid.
2. Finely diced ginger, chopped spring onions (Scallions) and diced coriander leaves. Stir and leave to marinade for a few minutes. This is served with Sik Juk (Congee in Hong Kong parlance, or Rice Porridge).
3. Thinly chopped chilli rings. Again, leave these to marinade in the soy sauce for a few minutes, and use a deeper bowl perhaps?
Sugar, Honey and Sweet Bamboo
These now have their own dedicated page - Click for Sugar
Chicken Bouillon
gai ze'ing
  This is a standard feature of every Chinese kitchen, and is used commonly whenever a dish requires a little gravy type sauce.

Chef's normally add a teaspoon of granules directly to the food in the wok and stir fry, adding extra fluid (usually water) as required.
Image: Chicken Bouillon granules - Click to Enlarge
Chilli and Chilli Sauces
now have their own dedicated page - click for Chillis
Blackbean Sauce   Nearly all Cantonese kitchens have a large jar of Blackbean sauce. It is used in many dishes, and some of these may surprise you. Most commonly it is added to meat and seafood for a distinctive and spicy sauce. Chinese spare ribs - the ones that are about an inch square will often be cooked with this sauce. Image: Blackbean Sauce, this one has chilli in it - Click to Enlarge
Coriander   Fresh coriander leaves are a basic ingredient of the majority of Chinese cooking, but are also used as garnish and used to embellish the table - see soy sauce dips above. Image: Fresh Coriander - Click to Enlarge
Plum Sauce   Plum sauce is fairly common in Cantonese kitchens, but is not an essential. This sweet sauce is used as is, or combined with other ingredients for certain dishes.

It is one of the basic ingredients of 'Sweet and Sour' sauce, which is always made and never bought ready mixed. It is also used as a sauce for things like 'Western Style' spare ribs, where it may be combined with black pepper or chilli.

Plum Sauce can also be served at table as a dip for specific dishes such as suckling pig.
Image: Plum Sauce - Click to Enlarge
Oyster Sauce   This is a sweet and flavoursome fish sauce that slightly tastes of Oysters. It is not commonly used by Cantonese chef's in China, and provides the basis for specific seafood sauces for special dishes. It is commonly used for dressing Abalone.  
Hoi Sin Sauce   This means Fish Sauce, but it is not commonly used by Cantonese chef's

1. Bottled fish sauce is used as a fish stock and is normally shaken direct from the bottle into the wok.

2. The thicker fish paste is used as a base for specific fish sauces.
Image: Standard bottle of fish stock - Click to Enlarge
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