Finding Higher Quality Ingredients

Popular Ingredients You May See Listed On A Chinese Restaurant Menu

by Marvin Martin

Most people are familiar with a few basic seasonings used in Chinese cuisine, such as soy sauce and sesame seeds. But when browsing a menu, particularly at a more upscale Chinese restaurant where dishes are described in more detail, you may also see some ingredients you're unfamiliar with. Here's a look at some of the most popular ones.

Chinkiang Vinegar

This vinegar is the go-to vinegar for cooked Chinese dishes. At a glance, it looks just like soy sauce since it is deeply colored and slightly thick. Its flavor offers the perfect balance of acidity and earthiness, however. It's not completely unlike Balsamic vinegar, and since it is fermented, the older it is, the more complex it becomes.

Shaoxing Wine

Shaoxing wine is used in a lot of stir-fried meat dishes. It's often what the chef adds to deglaze the pan. It has a high alcohol content, but most of the alcohol evaporates off as soon as the wine starts bubbling. Shaoxing wine contributes to the umami flavor in many Chinese dishes as it is typically fortified with salt in the bottle. It is definitely not a wine you would drink; it is only for cooking.

Oyster Sauce

You might think this sauce would taste like oysters, which might deter you from ordering a dish made with it. But in fact, oyster sauce barely has a hint of seafood flavor. It is made from oysters, but since it is fermented for so long, most of the seafood flavor is gone by the time the sauce is used. Instead, it has an incredible balance of salty and sweet flavors. Its thick consistency also allows it to stick to meats and veggies well. 


Another popular sauce, hoisin is sometimes known as "Chinese barbecue sauce." It is made from sugar and soybeans and has a much lighter flavor than American barbecue sauce. It can be served as a dipping sauce for dumplings or slathered on chicken before serving.


Often seen in Sichuan-style dishes, Doubanjiang is a paste made from fermented beans. It is often added both to thicken and add flavor to a dish. When combined with the spicy peppers seen in Sichuan dishes, it adds nice richness and balance.

Now, if you see any of these ingredients on a Chinese restaurant meal, you will have a better idea of what you're getting into. Place your order, and enjoy; there are so many fun flavors to explore.

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