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How to Build an Ethnic Pantry: Chinese

By Justin Chan | July 5, 2012

Photo: Jan Zeschky

Chinese cuisine has become a huge part of American culture. Nearly every city and town across the country has a restaurant dedicated to serving Chinese food, and it seems as if the average American can’t get enough of it. In fact, Chinese food has become so popular that many non-Chinese have tried to imitate it, but few have successfully replicated it. Chinese chefs often stress that preparation is key, but what may be even more important is the selection of ingredients.

Sammy Kwok, a restaurant chef who operates Shanghai Asian Cuisine on 14 Elizabeth Street and Shanghai Asian Manor on 21 Mott Street in Chinatown, is well aware of what it takes in order to create a delicious meal. He learned to cook when he was just 14 years old and developed his skills in Hong Kong. His extensive experience and work ethic have helped his restaurants earn glowing reviews. To help fellow cooks get acquainted with cooking Chinese food, Kwok suggested several ingredients he considered essential to Chinese cuisine:

  1. Salt
  2. Sugar
  3. Corn starch
  4. Oil
  5. Soy Sauce
  6. Oyster Sauce
  7. Cooking Wine
  8. Sesame Oil
  9. Water
  10.  Monosodium glutamate

Kwok said that most, if not all, of the aforementioned ingredients can help make dishes taste better. Some of his dishes that feature these components, he said, include wine chicken, Shanghai-style lo mein, Shanghai-style fried rice cakes, steamed pork buns and noodle soup with pork chops. Though some of the listed ingredients may be nothing out of the ordinary and rather typical, Kwok said that the beauty of Chinese cuisine lies in the fact that it can still come in different varieties.

“The magic in cooking Chinese food is that you can use the same ingredients to make all different kinds of dishes,” he said.

Try out your newly enhanced spice collection with this quick and easy sesame chicken recipe.

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