All You Need to Know About Basic Chinese Pantry Ingredients

What are the staples of Chinese cooking? Learn all about the common pantry staples in our free, downloadable guide so you can start enjoying authentic Chinese home cooking from your own kitchen!

  • By Brittany Yamamoto-Taylor
  • September 21, 2021

Chinese food has become a staple in cities around the globe, with its sweet and sour, hot and salty flavors that influence cuisines wherever it goes. From the moment you walk into a Chinese restaurant, a burst of aromas hit you like a revelation. The heat of chili peppers, the lightly floral fragrance of steeping oolong tea, and the deep, mouthwatering scent of simmering sauces.

Yet, as much as the world loves Chinese food, most people know little about the ingredients that make it so darn delicious. That’s why we put together a guide to help connect the taste to knowledge so you can start making authentic Chinese recipes at home. We focus on the basic Chinese pantry staples that are used from northwest Xinjiang to southern Hong Kong and will teach you the difference between cellophane noodles and rice vermicelli (and when to use each!). 

Whether American orange chicken take-out is your go-to or you are a frequent dim sum goer, this Guide to Chinese Pantry Staples can help you learn about essential pantry ingredients and bring delicious Chinese home cooking to your own kitchen. Download your free guide below and keep reading for a list of fresh ingredients that you should know, even if their shelf life isn’t quite pantry-worthy.


Chinese Pantry Staples

Keep your pantry stocked with many of these core ingredients of Chinese cuisine, and you'll be able to easily make Chinese dishes at home.

Notes on Fresh Chinese Pantry Staples

Now that you have gotten acquainted with ground black bean sauce, shrimp paste, the 3 main vinegars that add just the right amount of acidity to the dishes you love, let’s dive into some fresh ingredients that are important in Chinese home cooking. 

Chinese Aromatics

Scallions, ginger, and garlic have been called the Chinese holy trinity and are all on our basic Chinese Pantry Staples Guide. However, these are other important aromatics that are often used in authentic Chinese cooking, too:

  • Chinese chives (green or yellow) – thin, flat leaves with strong garlic fragrance and flavor
  • Cilantro – often used for garnish and in soups
  • Garlic scapes / hearts – buds and stems from the garlic plant
  • Long hot green peppers – long peppers with a heat index that varies

Fresh Green Vegetables

Authentic Chinese cooking is also full of fresh leafy greens that bring nutrients, flavor, and color to so many dishes. Here are some common veggies to look out for at the grocery store or local Asian market:

  • Bok choy (regular, baby, and Shanghai) – small to medium leaves with fat, light green stems
  • Chinese broccoli – long green stems and thick leaves, sometimes with edible flower buds
  • Choy sum / yu choy – similar look to Chinese broccoli, but sweeter and more tender
  • Chinese water spinach – long, tender leaves and hollow stems
  • Chinese spinach / amaranth – similar flavor to spinach and wonderful stir-fried
  • Cabbage (napa, Taiwanese, savoy) – mild flavor and used widely in soups, stir-fries, dumplings and noodle dishes
  • Chinese celery / kun choy – longer and thinner and a stronger flavor than regular celery
  • Chinese mustard greens – bitter, wide, very healthy leaves
  • Pea shoots / leaves / tips – medium to large, tender leaves that are wonderful stir-fried
  • Watercress – mild when cooked and slightly peppery when raw

Now that you know about the basic Chinese pantry staples for authentic Chinese cooking, we hope you will start bringing more Chinese dishes to your dinner table. And if you want help getting started with quick and easy recipes, sign up for a free 14-day trial of our meal plan service to access dozens of Chinese-inspired meals in our Recipe Archives. To sample some of our favorite recipes, enjoy a taste test here:


11 Easy, Healthy Chinese Food Recipes

Enjoy some of our favorite Chinese food recipes: Learn to make char siu, mapo tofu, shrimp lo mein, pork potstickers,… Read more.

If this guide about the pantry staples of Chinese cooking has been useful to you, check out our Indian, Middle Eastern, and Thai Pantry Guides. You can also stay tuned for more infographics and how-to articles by signing up for our weekly email below.


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