How to Make Chinese Food with These 6 Ingredients

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When I was growing up, I had just a couple of experiences with Chinese food. I had a good friend named Amy, whose dad knew how to cook Chinese food and it seemed to me like the most amazing talent. Because, well, they weren’t Chinese. And also, because I wondered how anyone could learn to cook Chinese food.


Didn’t Chinese food just live in the restaurants I went to with my grandparents on Sunday nights? The places where my sister and I got to sip on Shirley Temples and tried to vie for extra maraschino cherries? How did Amy’s dad know where to buy the ingredients, and where did he get those little things my sister called “crunchies?” (water chestnuts! ;0)

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I’m not sure when I became obsessed with Chinese food. It was definitely a favorite of mine when I was growing up, right up there with pizza from Torchia’s and Vinnie's Pizza.


I don’t think I was obsessed with Chinese food when I traveled to China in 1987 with my volleyball team. Plus, the food was a bit different than Tung Sing restaurant in New Rochelle, NY and The Magic Wok in Pleasantville.


It could be that I became obsessed with Chinese food when I figured out how to make it myself. It was like I had been given the key to the emperor’s secret treasures. The Asian food aisle in my local grocery stores made more sense, and I discovered my true “happy place,” HMart…..(cue the angelic harps).

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With the upcoming Chinese New Year, I have the chance to teach my little chefs about cooking Chinese food. I enjoy the unit on Chinese food because the recipes are more forgiving and fluid than other recipes I teach during the year. And the kids usually get a kick out of making foods that they recognize from restaurants!


I thought I would open the emperor’s gate a bit and share some of the secrets I’ve learned about how to cook Chinese foods. Come with me down the Asian food aisle now and take a look at the 6 ingredients I have in my pantry that allow me to make many Chinese dishes.






These 6 Ingredients Make You Legit Chinese Food!


  1. Soy sauce. Well, this is an easy one. It’s the iconic Chinese ingredient and is used for many sauces for stir fry dishes and can be used to add flavor to your food when it’s served. There are gluten-free kinds and also low-sodium soy sauces. You can also opt for tamari, which is fermented soy sauce that is made without wheat, and is usually gluten-free in most cases. You can use coconut aminos which gives a similar flavor to soy sauce but made without the soy. There are several brands of soy sauces, and the one you can find easily is the one you should use. You don’t need the one in my picture!

  2. Stir fry oil. This is a flavored oil that I use to flavor my light olive oil or vegetable oil when I prepare the insides of egg rolls and moo shu dishes and noodle soup. It comes out slowly when you pour it, and that is a sure sign that it is to be used sparingly rather than abundantly. What does “stir fry” mean, you ask? According to wikipedia, Stir frying is a Chinese cooking technique in which ingredients are fried in a small amount of very hot oil while being stirred in a wok. A wok is a bowl-shaped pot that is pretty versatile. For what it’s worth, I don’t use a wok, I use a heavy-bottomed skillet.

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3. Hoisin sauce. This is the wonderful thick sauce that is put into Moo Shu dishes. It’s thick and pungent and it’s also a great dipping sauce for your Moo Shu pancakes. Whenever I use this sauce I’m always reminded of the girl who asked me why we were cooking with “poison” sauce!! Ha!


4. Rice vinegar. There are many uses for this vinegar, and one of its claims to fame is that it’s one of the ingredients in the marinade for sushi rice. I use it when we make Moo Shu Vegetables and Sesame Noodles. It’s pretty easy to find in stores, but if you absolutely had to use a substitute, you can use apple cider vinegar. But, you should really just get rice vinegar.

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5. Oyster sauce. You can use oyster sauce in many stir fry dishes and noodle dishes like Singapore style noodles and spring rolls. Note: it’s made with oysters so it’s not vegetarian but it provides a wonderful umami taste.


6. Toasted Sesame Oil. I saved the best for last because truly, if there’s one ingredient that makes Asian cuisine taste like Asian cuisine, it’s this wonderful oil. The kids love the way this oil smells, and whenever I smell it, I feel like singing! I use sesame oil in many dishes, including egg rolls, sesame noodles, vegetable dumplings, Moo Shu and loads of other Japanese and Korean dishes. If you have to choose just 1 ingredient from this list, make it toasted sesame oil. It’s glorious. 


The other great thing I like about cooking Chinese food is that I can use many produce items that I usually have on hand. You can use broccoli, scallions, ginger, garlic, peppers, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots and make several dishes. In fact, these very ingredients are part of my Chinese New Year feast for which I will be offering you the keys to the kingdom very soon. Stay tuned!


Chinese Lunar New Year is on February 16th this year, so you have a few weeks to get your ingredients and think about what you’d like to make with the kids!


Do you feel like cooking Chinese food is a little more within your grasp? You, too can be just like Amy’s dad and wow the kids in your life!!

Have a good week, friends. Let me know how you did