Updated: Jan 3
There are over 100 different types of cuisines in the world, with some of the most popular being Italian, Thai, Japanese, Mexican, and Chinese cuisine. Chinese cuisine has a long and rich history that dates back to ancient times, with many of the foods we consume now being produced thousands of years ago. It is also a cuisine so diversified that there are subcategories of Shandong, Sichuan, Huaiyang, Guangdong, Hunan, and other cuisines within it. Each of these groups includes foods with diverse flavor profiles, with some having more historical significance than others.
To achieve a rich and aromatic flavor, each dish in Chinese cuisine contains a plethora of carefully crafted ingredients, sauces, and condiments. While the Italians have herbs and sauces such as pesto and tomato sauce, the Indians have spices such as cumin, turmeric powder and coriander, and the Mexicans have limes, avocados and beans for cooking, the Chinese also have their own list of important chili sauce, oils, ingredients and condiments to thank.
Today, we share with you the commonly used sauces in Chinese cuisine, how they are used in cooking, some recipes you can try whipping up at home, as well as a sauce supplier in Singapore you can get all these condiments from. Get ready your notebook and let’s get started.
#1. SOY SAUCE
Soy sauce is a sauce that is familiar to us in Singapore, and even to western chefs and individuals these days. We use it whenever we need a little flavor boost in our food, and even substitute soy sauce for salt in congees, soups, stir-fries, and a variety of other dishes. Its aroma and flavour make it a staple in most Singaporean households.
This sauce, also commonly known as light soy sauce, or shēng chōu, is a liquid condiment and flavouring that originated in China. To acquire its flavour, it is made by fermenting soybeans, grains and yeast for months, up to years.
Light soy sauce is golden brown in color and has a thin, watery consistency. It has a strong aromatic, umami, and savory flavor that makes it perfect for use as a marinade, dressing, dipping sauce, and simply as a seasoning.
Now, check out this recipe adapted from Onion Rings and Things with soy sauce as its star ingredient.
Shrimp In Soy Sauce
Ingredients You’ll Need:
Step 1: Combine soy sauce, Shaoxing wine and brown sugar or honey in a small bowl. Stir till well blended. Set it aside.
Step 2: Heat up oil in a wok or skillet over high heat. Then, add green onions, ginger, and garlic. Cook and stir continuously for about 30 seconds or until softened and aromatic.
Step 3: To the same wok or skillet, add your shrimps and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until the colour starts to change. Remove from the pan and keep warm.
Step 4: Add your soy sauce mixture to the pan and bring it to a boil. Continue to cook until slightly thickened and reduced.
Step 5: Return the shrimp to the pan and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes.
Step 6: Garnish with additional chopped green onions and sesame seeds. Serve hot with fluffy white rice.
#2. DARK SOY SAUCE
Dark soy sauce is thicker, darker and slightly sweeter than light soy sauce. It is aged for a longer period of time, and its sweetness is due to the addition of molasses or caramel. Although it is less salty compared to regular light soy sauce, it actually contains 15% more sodium.
It is most typically used in cooking to season or darken dishes because it requires heating to release its full flavor. It is, however, occasionally combined into dipping sauces. In Singapore, dark soy sauce is also the ingredient we mix into our soft boiled eggs to have alongside our kaya butter toasts at the coffee shop or drizzled above our Hainanese chicken rice.
Dark soy sauce is most commonly used in braised dishes or red-cooked dishes such as red-cooked pork, but today, we have here an easier recipe adapted from Serious Eats.
Black Pepper Tofu
Ingredients You’ll Need:
Step 1: In a large bowl, sprinkle the cut firm tofu with cornstarch and toss them well to coat
Step 2: Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the tofu cubes and cook until golden and crisp all around, turning the pieces occasionally. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with paper towels and set aside.
Step 3: Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel and add 3 tablespoons of butter. Heat the skillet over medium heat until the foam subsides, then add in the shallots, chillies, garlic, and ginger. Cook and stir them until completely soft.
Step 4: Add the soy sauces to the skillet, along with the sugar and peppercorns. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then add the tofu back into the skillet and stir to coat it well with the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you please.
Step 5: Add the remaining spoon of butter and turn the heat off. Stir well until the butter is just melted into the sauce. Add the scallions and stir, then serve with warm rice.
#3. OYSTER SAUCE
Oyster sauce is a rich, dark brown, syrup-like sauce with a thicker consistency than dark soy sauce. It is formed from oyster extract, which is produced by boiling oysters and seasonings such as soy sauce and garlic together; some versions may even be colored with caramel.
Contrary to popular belief, oyster sauce does not taste fishy. Instead, it's rich with umami flavor and an earthy taste, similar to a combination of soy sauce and barbecue sauce, with notes of caramel, and could be the key ingredient to every Chinese dish. A dash of oyster sauce in anything can enhance its flavor, much like what MSG does.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, many brands also offer a vegetarian option made with mushrooms instead of oysters. You will be able to find a variety of them from sauce suppliers in Singapore.
For meat lovers, here’s a quick and easy chicken recipe we found on The Spruce Eats you can try making for dinner this week.
Chinese Chicken with Oyster Sauce
Ingredients You’ll Need:
For the marinade:
For the sauce:
For the stir-fry:
Marinating the Chicken and Making the Sauce
Step 1: In a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil.
Step 2: Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat well. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cornstarch evenly across the meat and toss till well coated. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes.
Step 3: Dissolve 1½ tablespoons of cornstarch in the water, then mix it with the dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice wine, sugar, and sesame oil.
Stir-Frying the Chicken
Step 1: Heat up a wok or heavy skillet over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil. When the oil shimmers, add garlic, ginger and green onions. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, or until fragrant and just starting to brown.
Step 2: Transfer everything to a small bowl
Step 3: Remove the chicken from the fridge, transfer to the same wok and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until it changes colour. Discard the unused marinade and remove the chicken from the wok.
Step 4: Add the remaining canola oil to the wok and return the garlic, ginger and green onions to the work. Add the mushrooms and bamboo shoots (or baby corn) and stir-fry for 1 minute.
Step 5: Return the chicken to the wok. Then, make a well in the middle and add the sauce, giving it a quick stir before combining it with the chicken and vegetables.
Step 6: Stir-fry for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and coats all the ingredients. Serve and enjoy.
#4. MALA SAUCE
For many years, Mala has been a hot favourite due to its numbing sensation, spiciness and savouriness. Especially in Singapore, sharing a large bowl of Mala Xiang Guo with our friends and family at the food court or hawker centre is an amazing experience that we can’t get enough of.
Mala food can be made with dried chilies, peppercorns, and a variety of other spices, but there is also mala sauce that we can use to make a mouth-watering bowl of Mala Xiang Guo at home. The sauce is made out of primarily dried chili peppers, chili powder, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, and other spices simmered for many hours before being packed and sold to mala lovers like you and me.
Whilst most mala sauces out there are non-halal, our Muslim friends can rejoice at the Man Kee Sichuan Mala Sauce we bring in. To enjoy this sauce at home, check out this recipe we adapted from China Sichuan Food.
Easy Chong Qing Mala Chicken
Ingredients You’ll Need:
Step 1: Remove the bone of the chicken thighs and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Place them in a large bowl and marinate it with all the marinade ingredients. Mix well and set aside for 10 minutes.
Step 2: Heat up some cooking oil in a wok or large pan until hot. Add the chicken pieces in and fry until golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.
Step 3: In a clean wok, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Then, fry the garlic and white part of scallions until aromatic. (You can choose to add dried chili peppers if you want more spice)
Step 4: Return the chicken pieces to the wok and add the desired amount of Man Kee Sichuan Mala Sauce. Add sesame seeds, salt and sugar to taste, and green parts of the scallion. Mix well and serve.
#5. FERMENTED BEAN PASTE
Fermented bean paste is a common ingredient in many cuisines, with multiple versions available in different countries and produced from a variety of beans and ingredients. There is the Cheonggukjang and Doenjang in Korea, Miso in Japan, and the Chinese Doubanjiang we’ll be talking about today.
Chinese Doubanjiang, or fermented bean paste, is predominantly made of broad beans and seasonings such as salt, chili and sesame oil, before being aged between one and eight years. The fermented bean paste is a popular condiment in Sichuan food, but it is also widely used in many Chinese regional cuisines including those of Hebei, Shandong, Chongqing and Shanxi.
When cooked into foods, the fermented bean paste's savory, spicy, and salty flavor generates a powerful umami flavor, adding profound nuances to the food it touches. It's great in stir-fries, marinades, stews, salads, soups, and even as a dipping sauce. Keen on giving it a try? Check out this recipe by Épices de Cru.
Ingredients You’ll Need:
Step 1: In a large pot, prepare some water and bring it to a simmer. Then, add the pork and boil for roughly 20 minutes until cooked. Remove from the pot and set aside.
Step 2: Slice the pork into thin slices such that each slice is half meat and half fat.
Step 3: Heat up oil in a wok over high heat until it shimmers. Then, add the pork slices. Stir-fry for about 2 to 3 minutes until the meat begins to brown and some of the fat melts into the oil. Remove the pork and set it aside.
Step 4: Add the fermented bean paste (doubanjiang) to the wok and fry for about 30 seconds, mixing the paste into the oil. Repeat this process with the tianmian jiang and laoganma. Then, add the dried ground chilies and stir so the sauce is uniform.
Step 5: Add the green onions and garlic stems, stir-frying vigorously for a minute or two, ensuring that they are well coated in the sauce.
Step 6: Return the pork to the wok and stir until all the ingredients are well combined and coated.
Step 7: Add the yellow wine, soy sauce, salt and sugar, toss lightly, and remove from heat. Serve and enjoy with a bowl of warm rice.
#6. PEPPERCORN OIL
Peppercorn oil is used to give dishes a numbing, spicy flavor. It is a neutral cooking oil infused with Sichuan peppercorns, a spice with a light floral taste and a mouth-numbing effect. Ironically, these peppercorns are actually a type of berry that comes from the prickly ash tree.
Peppercorn oil is most commonly used in Sichuan dishes to impart a strong tingling sensation; it can be used as cooking oil, as a seasoning, or even in dressings and dipping sauces. If you love mala or spice and would love to try using peppercorn oil at home, here’s a recipe we adapted from The Woks of Life that we think you will love.
Sichuan Stir-Fried Potatoes
Ingredients You’ll Need:
Step 1: Peel and julienne the potatoes. Then, soak them in cold water a couple of times until the water is somewhat clear. Drain and set them aside, but don’t let them sit longer than 20 minutes as they’ll turn brown.
Step 2: Heat the peppercorn oil in a wok over medium heat until shimmering. Then, add the ginger, garlic and chilies to the oil. Cook for a minute before adding the julienned potatoes and peppers.
Step 3: Turn the heat up to high and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, chicken stock (or water) and salt. Stir-fry for a minute and cover for 45 seconds.
Step 4: Uncover the wok, stir in the scallions, and serve.
#7. CHILI OIL
Popular in western Chinese cuisines such as Sichuan, Hunan, Guizhou and Shanxi cuisine, Red chili oil adds an aromatic and spicy taste to dishes that need an extra kick. It is essentially pure spicy oil, much like chili sauce, but in oil form. It is most commonly used in cooking, but can also be used to garnish your dishes or mixed into dressings or dips.
It is typically made from vegetable oil, soybean oil or sesame oil and can contain other spices such as Sichuan pepper, garlic, or paprika to achieve different flavors.
A popular dish that incorporates lots of red chili oil is the Hóng Yǒu Chāo Shǒu, or Sichuan Red Oil Wontons. This dish is spicy and vinegary, perfect as both a side dish to pair with your rice, or simply as a snack. Check out this recipe we’ve adapted from Rasa Malaysia.
Sichuan Red Oil Wontons
Ingredients You’ll Need:
Step 1: In a bowl, combine all the Filling ingredients together. Set it aside.
Step 2: In a separate bowl, mix all the Sauce ingredients together. Set it aside.
Step 3: Place a teaspoon of the filling in the center of a wonton wrapper. Dap some water along the outer edges of the wonton wrapper.
Step 4: Fold the wonton up to form a triangle shape. Then, pinch the edges to seal them tight, making sure that there is no leakage.
Step 5: Using the thumb and index finger of both hands, pinch and fold both corners of the wonton inwards, with the right corner overlapping the left corner. Pinch to seal tight. Then, place the wonton on a floured surface to prevent it from sticking to the surface. Repeat until all wontons are made.
Step 6: Bring 2 to 3 cups of water to boil in a pot. Gently drop all the wontons into the water and stir them gently with a ladle to prevent sticking. Boil for about 1 to 2 minutes until they float to the top. Transfer them out immediately with a strainer or slotted spoon.
Step 7: Add the desired amount of sauce to the wontons and gently toss them to coat evenly. Garnish with some sesame seeds and serve.
#8. GARLIC SAUCE
Chinese garlic sauce is a rich and hearty sauce that has the perfect balance of spicy, salty, and sweet flavors. They are mostly used in stir-fries as frying it together with fragrant oil adds aroma to dishes and can instantly make a dish tasty.
Its main ingredients are soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, a meat-based broth and sometimes oyster sauce, combined with spices such as fresh garlic, ginger, pepper, chili, and sesame oil. To enjoy this sauce, here’s a recipe we adapted from Connoisseurus Veg that you can try out.
Tofu Stir-Fry with Garlic Sauce
Step 1: In a large skillet, coat the bottom with oil and heat it over medium heat.
Step 2: Add the tofu cubes without overlapping. Cook for about 10 minutes while flipping occasionally, until browned on multiple sides. Remove and set aside.
Step 3: Raise the heat to a high. Then, add the white parts of the scallions and carrots to the skillet. Stir-fry for 1 minute.
Step 4: Add the broccoli florets and mushrooms to the skillet. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes until vegetables deepen in colour and become tender-crisp.
Step 5: Return the tofu to the skillet and add the Man Kee Garlic Sauce. Add water if desired or necessary. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens and coats the tofu and vegetables.
Step 6: Remove from the heat and add the green parts of the scallions. Serve hot.
#9. CHU HOU PASTE
Chu hou paste, or more commonly known as chu hou sauce, is an important condiment in Cantonese cuisine, used mostly in braised dishes, or stews. It is a fermented soybean sauce created with premium soybeans, garlic, ginger and sesame seeds, and sometimes with other ingredients such as salted plums, salted lemons and fermented bean curd. Some people also find it similar to Hoisin sauce.
Give the chu hou paste a try with this recipe from Omnivore’s Cookbook.
Instant Pot Braised Beef
Ingredients You’ll Need:
Step 1: Add the beef and 6 cups of water to a medium-sized pot. Add the ginger, cinnamon stick and 2 star anise pods into the pot. Heat over medium-high heat until boiling. Turn down to medium heat. Skin away any brown foam until the broth runs clear. This will take around 10 minutes.
Step 2: Transfer the blanched beef to a colander and reserve ¾ cup of the blanching broth. Then, run the tap water over the beef to rinse off any residue.
Step 3: Turn on your pressure cooker or instant pot to the sauté function. Let it heat up until it’s hot.
Step 4: Add the oil, ginger, garlic, star anise, and cinnamon stick. Sauté for 2 minutes until the ginger and garlic begin to brown.
Step 5: Add the Shaoxing wine (or cooking sherry). Scrape off any brown bits from the bottom of the pot with a spatula.
Step 6: Add all the ‘Braising’ ingredients to the pot and stir to mix well. Then, add the blanched beef and stir before arranging them into an even layer.
Step 7: Cover the pressure cooker or instant pot set to high pressure. Cook for 40 to 60 minutes.
Step 8: Once the pot is done cooking, let it release the pressure naturally. Then, open and stir the beef with the broth.
Step 9: Serve over hot steamed rice.
#10. XO SAUCE
XO sauce, created in the 1980s in Hong Kong, is a staple in Cantonese cuisine. It is roughly chopped dry seafood, including dried scallops, fish, and shrimp, cooked with chili peppers, onions, garlic, and Jinhua ham.
The XO sauce is sometimes mistaken for containing the expensive cognac XO, but it is actually not part of the sauce recipe. Although, XO sauce is an expensive and premium sauce made with numerous costly ingredients, blended with lots of spices into a chunky jam-like consistency. It is full of flavour due to the dried seafood, offering a bit of a kick alongside the rich umami, smoky, sweet and salty taste.
This premium sauce can be used in any dish; on stir-fries, grilled meats, noodles, fried rice, steamed fish and more. Give the XO sauce a try with this turnip cake recipe from The Missing Lokness.
Pan-Fried Turnip Cake with XO Sauce
Step 1: Remove the roots and leaves from the bean sprouts. Rinse under water and drain. Set aside.
Step 2: In a large non-stick skillet, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and heat over medium heat. Cook the turnip cake cubes in batches and pan-fry until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to a large plate.
Step 3: In the same skillet, add the bean sprouts and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a sieve and drain.
Step 4: In a wok or large skillet, add 1 tablespoon of oil and heat over high heat. Add garlic and XO sauce, then stir from a minute.
Step 5: Add the turnip cake, mix well and cook for 1 minute. Then, add the bean sprouts and green onion. Stir for 3 more minutes and season to taste with salt or XO sauce.
Step 6: Transfer to a serving plate and serve immediately.
You have just gone through 10 different sauces, oils, and pastes frequently used in Chinese cuisines. On top of these 10, there are plenty more other Asian sauces available in Singapore, each adding a different flavor to the dish you’re making. Experiment with different sauces and whip up delicious new dishes for your friends and family every week!
Begin by purchasing a selection of condiments from AmigoSG. AmigoSG is a sauce supplier in Singapore bringing flavors from Hong Kong straight here to us so that we may dish out wonderful food to share with our friends and family.