Forget ketchup, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. There’s a host of Asian condiments with which to customize your cooking. At an Asian restaurant, that menagerie of unlabeled bottles or little glass dishes on the table empowers you to make anything as sweet, sour, hot, fishy, or salty as you want. But what goes with what, and which will break a sweat? Here’s a guide to some common condiments.
Not for the faint of palate, in the Philippines this aromatic mixture of fermented fish or shrimp gets drizzled on everything from mangoes to steamed greens.
2. FISH SAUCE
It’s ubiquitous across most Asian cultures, but no one relies on this fishy splash like the Vietnamese. Add some to just about anything for a bit of sweet, salty depth.
3. SRIRACHA CHILI SAUCE
A Rosemead company makes this Thai-style hot sauce; it’s hard to find an L.A. fridge without the red rooster bottle. Just a small squeeze gets your nose running.
Smear this Korean fermented pepper paste on lettuce cups filled with rice. It has just the right amount of tang, salt, and mellow warmth.
5. HOISIN SAUCE
You won’t care what’s in this candylike spread (fermented soybeans, sugar, usually a heap of preservatives) once it’s on a pancake filled with hot mu shu pork.
6. SWEET CHILLI SAUCE
The garlicky Thai dipping sauce is great with chicken, and it’s not so bad on sticky rice, fish, or veggies, either. Those chili flakes should be a warning to wimps.
7. OYSTER SAUCE
Reduced oyster broth and a little MSG make up the thick, savory seasoning. Stir-frywith Chinese broccoli and mushrooms for a rich side.
A foundation of Japanese cuisine, this salty liquid, known as soy sauce in the United States, has about as many names and grades as it has uses. It’s made from fermented soybeans, grains, and salt, though these days you can find it with less of the last ingredient.
9. BANANA SAUCE
Also known as banana ketchup, this Filipino condiment is slightly fruitier than its American cousin, but it pairs just as well with french fries. Homesick Filipinos, however, pour it on piles of spaghetti.
10. KEWPIE MAYONNAISE
The Japanese aren’t the only ones who go bonkers for the special brand of mayo with a Kewpie doll on the package. Toss that jar of Kraft. This spread has a touch of sweetness and a tart, citrusy snap.
Photograph by Maryellen Baker