The production of authentic type Chinese dishes requires the use of the correct ingredients or the nearest similar substitute. The majority of commodities required are readily available in supermarkets or in the main oriental grocers that operate in larger towns and cities, many of these will forward items by mail order.

The following is a list of the more common items in general use and the items used in the modern day restaurants. Many more commodities are available and information may be gained from the many publications readily available on Chinese cookery and ingredients.

Bamboo Shoots

The edible shoots of certain types of bamboo. Mainly available in tinned form outside of the orient, although fresh ones are becoming more and more popular in today’s supermarkets. Pale yellow in colour with a crunchy texture, they come ready peeled, whole or in thick slices. After rinsing, leftovers may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week covered in water, which should be changed daily.

Black Beans

A small black soya bean, available in a spicy salted brine in tins, or occasionally dry and pre-packed. They have a distinctive flavour and aroma and are slightly salty. Rinse well before use. Leftovers may be stored, sealed in the refrigerator for long periods of time.


Available in fresh, dried or powder form. They are the seed pods of capsicums.

Fresh Chillies

Like small elongated capsicums. They should have a fresh bright skin with no brown spots apparent. There are several varieties; green chillies tend to be hotter than the red chilli. The red chillies are milder due to the sweetening as they ripen. To prepare first rinse in cold water, and then split lengthways, trim out and discard the seeds. Rinse again and use as directed by the recipe. Thoroughly wash your hands, board and knife before preparing other foods. Do not touch your eyes or face prior to washing as the burning effect is undesirable.

Dried Chillies

Small thin red chillies used to season and flavour oil for stir frying and braising sauces. May be used whole or split and used with seeds left in, as they are very hot and spicy you may wish to remove them before completing the dish, or leave them in. Western races tend not to eat them. May be stored indefinitely in sealed containers.

Chilli Powder

Made from ground dried red chillies and is also known as cayenne pepper. Ranges from hot to very hot.

Chilli Sauce

Made from red chillies, salt and vinegar, available as a mild through to a very hot sauce.

Cinnamon Sticks

Thin and curled bark of the cinnamon tree. The Chinese variety is thicker, more pungent and aromatic than the common type. An important ingredient of the five spice powder, may be stored for long periods, sealed to preserve flavour. Ground cinnamon is not considered to be a good substitute.

Citrus Peel

The dried peel of oranges or tangerines used to flavour stir fried and braised dishes has a strong concentrated flavour and should be soaked in warm water to soften it prior to use. Easily made by removing the pith and drying it in an airing cupboard or cool hotplate. Fresh peel may be used in its place.


Also known as Chinese parsley, looks like flat leaf parsley and has a citrus like flavour. Used as a garnish or chopped and used as a flavouring and additive to various dishes and sauces. Should be a fresh bright green colour, it is past its best if starting to turn yellow or feels limp.

Corn Flour

Used as a binding or thickening agent or to make batters. A good substitute for the oriental starch and flours sometimes called for in recipes. Arrowroot may be used in certain dishes.

Five Spice Powder

A highly fragrant brown powder, made by grinding together star anise (the dominant flavour), cloves, Sichaun peppercorns, fennel and cinnamon. Keep sealed to preserve the flavour.


Widely used in oriental cookery as a flavouring agent. May be used whole, chopped, crushed or in a combination with other ingredients such as root ginger, black beans or spring onions.

Fresh Root Ginger

Another ingredient used in a wide range of dishes, it is knobbly and pale brown in colour, somewhat resembles a Jerusalem artichoke. The ginger is peeled, discarding any woody parts then sliced, chopped or liquidised using a little water. It has a distinctive pungent, fresh flavour and is used extensively with fish and shellfish as it neutralises fishy smells, ground ginger is considered a poor substitute.

Chinese Ham

Used as a garnish and flavouring in many soups, sauces, rice dishes and stir fries. It has a rich, salty, smoked flavour. Parma ham or smoked back bacon may be used as a successful substitute.


Many varieties are available and used fresh or in dried form. Certain mushrooms are also available in tins.


A variety of oils are used, especially in stir fries, the most popular being groundnut or peanut oil. Animal fats are used but not extensively. Corn or maize oil is also frequently used. Vegetable oils such as soya bean and sunflower oil can be used. Sesame oil is used as a flavour or a seasoning agent but not as a frying medium due to its low heat threshold.


Another ingredient used to add flavour and texture to a variety of dishes.

Rice Wine

Used in cooking and marinading. A good, pale, dry sherry may be used as a substitute.

Sichuan Peppers

Not actually of the pepper family, but a dried berry, reddish brown in colour, picked from the bush of the citrus family. They have a strong pungent flavour and are often roasted to enhance the taste. Use as peppercorns.

Star Anise

The star shaped seed pod of the anise bush, used as a spice in braising and the main ingredient of five spice.

Rice Vinegars

Many varieties ranging from spicy to tart, to sweet to pungent. Three common types are:

White. Clear and mild, used in sweet and sour dishes.

Red. Sweet and spicy, used mainly as a condiment for seafood.

Black. Rich, dark but mild used as a condiment in cookery.

Cider vinegar is a suitable alternative. Malt vinegar can be used sparingly but is stronger and very acidic.

Water Chestnut

Not actually a nut but a root vegetable mainly available in tins. They are white in colour, crunchy in texture with very little flavour. Will keep several weeks in the refrigerator stored in water which is changed daily.

Bean Sprouts

The sprouts of mung beans. May be purchased fresh, frozen or tinned. Tinned varieties are considered tasteless and soggy due to pre-cooking. The sprouts may be easily grown from dried mung (or Moong) beans which have been soaked then treated in similar fashion to the home growing of mustard cress.

Chinese Greens

A leaf vegetable with dark green, crinkly leaves and a smooth, flat creamy white stem. Similar in appearance to Swiss chard or flattened rhubarb with leaf intact. Swiss chard and leaf spinach are both suitable alternatives.

Chinese Leaves

Similar to a tightly packed, but pale green cos lettuce. White cabbage may be used in its place.

Mooli or Chinese Radish

Similar in shape to a carrot but larger and thicker, requires peeling prior to use. It can withstand long cooking periods whilst retaining radish flavour and texture.


Many varieties of rice are used, long grain and short grain. The short grain rice should not be confused with Carolina or pudding rice. All rice needs to be picked over and washed until the water is free from starch and clear.


Many varieties and cooking methods exist. They may be homemade or purchased fresh or dried. Many are now produced using flavour enhancers.

Wheat and Egg Noodles

Made, finished and cooked in a similar fashion to Italian pasta. Egg noodles are simply wheat noodles with egg used in the production. Served separately, or in stir fries.

Rice Noodles

Made from rice flour and usually supplied in dried form. Available in various shapes and are a popular accompaniment to seafood, requires little cooking, apart from soaking in warm water, re-heating or adding to stir fries.

Bean Thread, Cellophane or Transparent Noodles

Made form mung beans as opposed to grain. Available dried and pre-packed, requires soaking in warm water for five minutes, then may be added to soups or braised dishes. May also be deep fried and used as a garnish.


Many sauces are used as readymade items. Popular types used are as follows:

Chilli Bean Sauce

Soya beans, chillies and seasonings. It is hot, spicy and pungent, thick and dark in colour.

Hoisin Sauce

A thick, dark brownish red sauce, with similarities to barbecue sauce. Often used as a condiment to such dishes as Peking duck, or in cooking or marinading.

Oyster Sauce

A thick brown sauce made from a concentration of oysters, soy sauce and seasonings. Whilst made from oysters it is not fishy in flavour. Used in cookery, marinades and as a condiment.

Sesame Paste

A paste made from sesame seeds. Peanut butter may be used as a substitute.

Soy Sauce

Is made from soy beans, flour and water, which is then fermented. It is aged by storage, distilled then bottled. There are two main varieties which are:

Light Soy Sauce. Light in colour but full in flavour and salty.

Dark Soy Sauce. Very dark in colour and strong in flavour. It is matured much longer than light soy sauce hence the colour.

If you are looking to further your education maybe you will visit my other articles on  French Culinary Terms or even for Culinary Cooking terms.