Cloud Ears - A type of fungus, also known as black fungus, tree ears, and jelly mushroom. Cloud ears have a crunchy texture, but very little flavor of their own, and therefore absorb the predominant seasonings of soups, and stir-fry dishes. Since they are delicate, they should be added in the last few minutes of cooking. Cloud ears are typically sold dried and packaged, and must be soaked in warm water. When placed in water, they will expand significantly, and should be trimmed and chopped before adding to a recipe.
Chinese Black Mushrooms - Comparable to Japanese shitake mushrooms, Chinese black mushrooms are usually sold dried and may range anywhere from light tan to dark brown in color. Before using in a recipe, they should be soaked in warm water, and chopped for use in soups and stir-fry dishes.
Oyster Mushrooms - A fan-shaped fungus, also called oyster caps , tree mushrooms , tree oyster mushrooms , summer oyster mushrooms , pleurotte and shimeji. They vary in color from pale to dark gray, and their flavor is mild and slightly peppery when cooked. They are available fresh or canned at Asian markets.
Straw Mushrooms - Cultivated in a bed of straw, and typically available in only in cans, straw mushrooms are meaty in texture and have a subtly sweet flavor.
Wood Ears - A darker and less delicate cousin of the Cloud Ear fungus, Wood Ears are sold dried and must be soaked in warm water, trimmed and chopped before adding to soups or stir fry dishes.
Bean Thread Noodles - Made from mung bean starch, bean thread noodles are translucent. Also known as cellophane noodles or glass noodles, they are available in various lengths and thickness. Bean thread noodles may be softened in warm water for salads and wrapped rolls, or deep fried for a crunchy texture. They can even be shaped to form a crispy nest for serving other items.
Egg Noodles - Made with wheat flour and eggs, Chinese egg noodles are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, widths and thickness, and may be used in soups or stir-fried noodle dishes.
Rice Noodles - Made with rice flour, rice noodles are sometimes called rice sticks and may be used in a variety of ways in Chinese cooking. When fresh, they are soft and flexible, when dried they are brittle and fragile. They can be soaked in warm water before adding to stir-fried noodle dishes or deep fried without soaking to form a nest or crispy bed for a creative recipe presentation.
Sauces and Condiments
Barbeque Sauce - Unlike its North American counterpart, Chinese barbecue sauce is typically composed of hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar, and soy sauce, seasoned with various other spices such as garlic, ginger and five-spice powder.
Bean Sauce - A thick, salty fermented soybean paste, usually sold in jars or earthenware pots. Color varies from yellow, to brown, to black, and this strongly flavored condiment is often added to sauces and marinades.
Char Siu - A thick barbeque sauce made from fermented soybeans, vinegar, tomato paste, chilies, garlic, honey or sugar, and spices.
Chili Sauce - A paste of hot chili peppers sometimes seasoned with garlic, used in dipping sauces, marinades, soups, and stir-fry dishes. A little bit goes a long way.
Chili Oil - A potent mixture of soybean oil, laced with dried chili flakes, sesame oil, garlic oil, and ginger oil.
Fish Sauce - Also known as nuoc mam, nam pla or patis, Asian fish sauce is a dark brown, fermented brew made from salted anchovies. Fish sauce is most commonly found in Southeast Asian recipes, however, some Cantonese dishes call for it as well. A little goes a long way, and may be used in stir-fry dishes, marinades, dressings and dipping sauces.
Hoisin Sauce - A dark, rich Chinese condiment made from soybean paste, garlic, sugar, and spices, commonly used as a flavoring ingredient for stir-fry, marinades, barbeque, and dipping sauces.
Hot Mustard - A simple mixture of dry yellow mustard with water, and perhaps a little oil and/or vinegar. Most commonly served as a condiment for Chinese appetizers such as spring rolls and spareribs.
Kung Pao Sauce - A mixture of sesame oil, soybeans, sweet potato, red chilies, garlic, ginger and spices.
Mushroom Soy Sauce - Soy sauce infused with straw mushrooms, which add a uniquely richer flavor to ordinary soy sauce.
Oyster Sauce - Made from oysters boiled in soy sauce, commonly used as a flavoring agent in stir-fry dishes, marinades, dipping sauces and as a table condiment.
Plum Sauce - A light amber sauce made from salted plums, apricots, yams, rice vinegar and spices, often served with roast duck, as a barbeque sauce, or as a dip for fried appetizers.
Dark sesame oil - Nutty and rich, it's made from roasted or toasted sesame seeds and is not interchangeable with the pressed sesame seed oil found in health-food stores. Because it smokes at high temperatures, it's primarily used as a seasoning and not for stir-frying.
Sa Cha Sauce - A combination of soybean oil, fish, shrimp, garlic, onion, chili peppers and spices, often used for seasoning stir-fry dishes, especially seafood, and hot-pot dishes.
Shrimp Sauce - A thick, salty, pungent sauce made from fermented shrimp.
Soy Sauce - The most common essential ingredient to Chinese cuisine, soy sauce is brewed from fermented soy beans, wheat flour, water, and salt. Soy sauce comes in both light and dark varieties. Light soy sauce is lighter in both color and flavor, while dark soy sauce, which has molasses added, is thicker, darker and stronger in flavor, and should only be used when specifically mentioned in a list of ingredients. There are also two other varieties, thin soy sauce, and thick sweet soy sauce. Thin soy sauce is much lighter, thinner, more salty, and does not affect the color of the recipes to which it is added. Thick sweet soy sauce is sweetened with palm sugar and spiced with garlic and star anise.
Sweet and Sour Sauce - A simple combination of vinegar and sugar, sometimes flavored with catsup, ginger and chili peppers.
Bird's Nest - Believe it or not, the famed Chinese Bird's Nest Soup is made with actual birds' nests, the nests of the Southeast Asian swift, Collocalia inexpectata, which builds its nest not with twigs, but by expectorating strands of sticky saliva that harden with exposure to air to form a nest for their young on cavern walls. These costly and unique Chinese delicacies are cleaned and simmered in a rich chicken broth.
Chinese Almonds - The pit of an apricot, available in mild Southern and bitter Northern varieties. Remarkably similar to North American almonds, they are often used in soups and confections. They must be roasted before using in a recipe.
Cornstarch - A common ingredient in the cuisines of many cultures, cornstarch is used in Chinese cuisine to thicken sauces and give them their light, velvety texture. Ground from the endosperm of corn kernels, cornstarch is usually mixed with a small amount of water to form a thin paste and added in the last few minutes of cooking.
Dried Bean Curd Sticks - Made from soybean curd, which is also used to make tofu, dried bean curd sticks are a noodle-like ingredient used in soups and stir-fry dishes. They must be soaked to soften them before adding to a recipe, and may also be deep-fried to give them a crispy texture.
Dried Lily Buds - Sometimes called golden needles, dried lily buds are the young blossoms of the day lily, Hemerocallis. When added to soups or stir-fry dishes, they impart a distinctively earthy flavor. Since they are dried, they must be soaked to soften before using in a recipe, and may be added whole or sliced.
Fish Paste - A thick paste made of pureed fish. Available at Asian markets, or may be homemade in a food processor.
Five-Spice Powder - An aromatic and intense blend of ground cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, ginger, licorice, Szechuan peppercorns, and dried tangerine peel, used to flavor many Chinese dishes, from marinades to barbeque sauces, meats, and even cookies.
Ginko Nuts - The yellow-orange seeds of the ginko tree, available fresh, dried, or canned at Asian markets. Believed to have medicinal qualities, but may also be added to stir-fry dishes for their delicately sweet taste.
Ginseng - An aromatic root used mainly for medicinal purposes. Its name means 'human-shaped root', and its flavor is much like sweet licorice. The sun-dried variety is called white ginseng, and when steamed and fire-roasted it is called red ginseng. It may also be used to make soups and tea.
Peanut Oil - Sometimes referred to as Groundnut Oil, peanut oil is essential t Chinese cuisine for frying and flavoring many dishes. For frying because it has a high 'smoke point', and for flavoring because it imparts a distinctively nutty taste.
Rice - Several varieties of rice are used for Chinese cuisine. Long-grained rice is dry and fluffy when cooked, and is most often used in fried rice dishes. Short-grained glutinous rice, when cooked, becomes tender, pearly, translucent, and sticky, which is best for shaping into balls. Medium grained rice has characteristics in common with both long and short varieties, and jasmine rice is aromatic and brings its own unique flavor to any dish.
Rice Flour - Milled from glutinous rice, rice flour may be used in a variety of ways in Chinese cuisine, including noodles, wrappers, chewy boiled dumplings, crunchy deep-fried skins, steamed buns and light cakes.
Rice Pot Crust - The crust that forms at the bottom of the rice pot after cooking is sun-dried, deep fried and served with dipping sauce as a popular snack. Commercially prepared versions are available at some Asian markets.
Rice Vinegar - There are several varieties of Chinese rice vinegar, including black, red, white, and sweetened. Generally milder in flavor and acidity than white vinegar and wine vinegars, rice vinegar is used for many purposes in Chinese cuisine. White vinegar is often used for pickling, and for sweet and sour recipes; red vinegar for noodle dishes and seafood; black vinegar for dipping sauces and braised dishes.
Rice Wine - A fermented beverage made from glutinous rice, Chinese rice wine is also used in cooking, to flavor marinades, dipping sauces, broths, and stir-fry dishes. Rice wine is low in alcohol, and can be found at most Asian markets, and is sometimes referred to as Shaoxing, the province most renowned for rice wine production.
Sesame Oil - The sesame oil used as a flavoring ingredient in Chinese cuisine is made from toasted sesame seeds, and therefore is richer in flavor than ordinary sesame oil, which is not a suitable substitute for the toasted variety. It is never used for deep-frying, but is rather added in small amounts to salad dressings, marinades, dipping sauces, and stir-fry dishes.
Soy Bean Curd - Known in Chinese as doufu, and as tofu in Japanese, bean curd is made from fermented soybeans, and is often compared to cheese, since the production process is so similar. Tofu has a neutral flavor that absorbs the seasonings of the dish, and is available in several textures from silky to extra firm. Bean curd is a common ingredient in many dishes, including soups, stir-fry dishes, sauces, and even by itself, as a grilled or deep-fried dish.
Szechuan Peppercorns - The dried berries of the prickly ash tree, these deep orange berries have an intense flavor and aroma, and are usually toasted before adding to recipes. They may be added whole, coarsely ground or finely powdered for a distinctive flavor and fragrance. Szechuan peppercorns are available whole or ground in most Asian markets.
Szechuan Preserved Vegetables - A salty-spicy medley of greens such as napa cabbage, mustard, kohlrabi, and turnip, preserved with salt, Szechuan peppercorns and chili powder. Used as a flavoring agent in many Chinese dishes.
Tapioca - A starchy ingredient made from the cassava root, in Chinese cooking, tapioca is used as a thickening agent and in the making of dough for dumplings.
Wheat Starch - Wheat flour with all gluten removed to produce a fine textured powder for dim sum dumpling dough. When steamed, the dough becomes shiny and translucent.