I love stepping into the pantry and finding it filled with spices because that's when I know my food's going to to pretty spectacular. There is an endless list of spices that Chinese and Vietnamese kitchens have, and each one plays its own important role in defining a dish.
Here on this Dry Spices page, you'll find the spices that we use regularly in our kitchen.
Rock Sugar (冰糖)
A common type of sugar found in many Chinese households is rock sugar, the milder cousin of granulated sugar. Rock sugar (pronounced 'bing tong' in Cantonese) is something we like to add to our stocks and is often used in braising recipes for that beautiful shiny glaze.
Its shape is quite irregular, reminiscent of large crystals rather than fine grains. You can find them easily at Asian grocery stores in packaged in bags or cardboard boxes. If the rock sugar is too large when taken out of its bag, they can be easily broken up using wooden rolling pins or metal utensils.
Chicken Bouillon Powder (鸡精)
This is the magic to all of our savoury Chinese and Vietnamese recipes. Most households will have your standard salt and sugar sitting by the stove, but ours also showcases this concentrated flavour enhancer which we use daily. Admittedly, it does contain MSG (much to my surprise after researching about it), but our recipes always use chicken powder sparingly.
Chicken powder can be found in almost any supermarket these days. I grew up using the Lee Kum Kee brand, but there are many other options as well.
Star Anise (八角)
This licorice-tasting spice gives me such strong Autumn vibes. I reminisce of orange leaves piled on the cold ground as I stew my dinner with star anise. It's the perfect spice to calm any Winter storm and sweetly warm up your soul.
You can find star anise in the spice section of your local Asian grocery store. They either come in packets of just star anise or in mixed bags with other spices.
Cassia Bark (Chinese Cinnamon)
Chinese cinnamon is a common accomplice to star anise. It, too, is the perfect Winter warmer, for its spice adds a kick to any stew.
You may think of the cinnamon we all know and love when eating oats or French toast, but Chinese cinnamon has a much sharper flavour profile.
Chinese cinnamon is easily obtainable at the Asian supermarket with all the other spice packets.
Turmeric Powder (黄姜粉)
I love a good colour to my curry and turmeric powder is just the right spice to do that. Not only does the termeric herb have many health benefits, the powder is commonly used for flavour and that warm yellow glow.
Turmeric powder is widely available in supermarkets and Asian grocery stores.