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Chinese Cooking – Sauces & Spices

Sauces and spices are the key in any cooking. No dishes would taste good without them. The only exception is that some sea animals can be simply steamed or boiled before serve. Well, that is because they are salty already in their body. Imagine eating steamed river shrimp? I wouldn’t bother!

I’d like to introduce some of the most popular sauces and spices that we use everyday. You may already know some of them, but I bet you haven’t heard of others.


Bean Curd Sauce (Dou Fu Ru):

Fermented bean curd, rich in proteins. May be kept for fairly long time. Comes in two types – red and white. Red is typically used to cook Braised Pork. White tastes spicy and is normally used as a side dish along with noodles, buns, or congee. Some like to serve with soy sauce and vinegar for meat dumplings, hot pot dishes, and others. Favored by north and west of China.

Oyster Sauce:

Oil from oyster. Heavily salted. Use sparingly for sautéed dishes. Popular in Hong Kong, Cantoon (Guang Dong, to be exact), and some areas in south of China while not used at all in north and west of China except for hotels and some restaurants.

Shrimp Sauce:

Oil from salted baby shrimp dried and fermented. Use sparingly for sautéed dishes. Used heavily for dishes from south of China.

Sesame Sauce (Zhi Ma Jiang):

Ground sesame seed with strong flavor. Used for cold dishes.

Hot Pepper & Bean Sauce:

Hot sauce made from combination of hot spices and beans. Red or brown in color. Use sparingly in sauteed dishes or cold dishes. In north, people often mix this sauce to stir fried minced meat and serve with noodles (make it Noodles with Meat Sauce).

Hot Pepper Oil:

Made from sesame oil and red pepper. Serve with meat dumplings, buns, etc.

Sesame Oil:

Flavor is too strong for use in frying and sautéing. Use only for enhancing flavor of cooked and cold dishes, noodles, hot pot sauce, soups, etc.

JiangXi Vinegar:

A special vinegar produced in JiangXi province. Light amber in color with a distinctive fragrance. Use for meat dumplings and cold dishes.


Star Fennel:

Shaped like eight cornered star, brown in color. Use for cooking with chicken, meat, offal and fish.

Anise Pepper:

Dried brown round spice. Added sparingly in chicken and meat can remove the unpleasant smell (fishy smell). Can also be used for making pickles or even some deserts.

Five Flavored Powder:

A mixture of anise pepper, star fennel, clove, cinnamon, and dried tangerine peel. Sparingly used in cooking fish and meat.

Pepper Salt:

Mixture of anise pepper powder with salt. Serve with fried chicken, meat, and fish.

Jacklyn Chen