Food without borders: your complete guide to Asian ingredients

You've watched all the 'Chinese food in 10 minutes' videos on TikTok – but where on earth do you source the ingredients? Eastlondonlines rustles up a beginner's guide to Asian grocery shopping

Asian cuisine chef cooking; Pic: Pixabay


There are many traditional Asian vegetables you can find in an Asian supermarket, which have been eaten by people on the other end of the world for thousands of years. They are easy to process and cook with very high nutrition.

Chinese leaf: if there is one most common vegetable in China, it must be the Chinese leaf. Traditionally, people in northern China buy hundreds of kilos of these leaves before winter, store them in their yards and eat them throughout the whole season. It is highly nutritional, and has different textures depending on how you cook it. You can slice it and then stir-fry it with salt and soy sauce if you prefer a crisp and saucy taste. You can also boil it with tofu to make a fragrant soup. Koreans also use them to make the famous kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage dish.

Chinese leaf Pic: Henry Zhang

Enoki mushroom: directly translated as golden needle mushroom, it is a type of edible mushroom native to East Asia, particularly Japan, China, and Korea. It has a long, thin stem with a small, white cap that is slightly convex in shape, with a delicate flavour and a crunchy texture, making it a popular ingredient in soups, stir-fries, salads, and hot pot dishes.

They are low in calories and fat and are a good source of protein, dietary fibre, and essential vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, potassium, and selenium. When purchasing enoki mushrooms, look for firm, dry stems and caps free of mould or discolouration.

Enoki mushroom Pic: Henry Zhang

White radish: the traditional Asian vegetable is also known as daikon. It is a root vegetable with white and crisp flesh and a slightly sweet taste. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is often used in salads, soups, stews, and pickles. In Korean cuisine, white radish is a key ingredient in kimchi. In Japanese cuisine, grated white radish is used as a garnish for dishes like sushi and sashimi.

White radish is a low-calorie vegetable rich in nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, and fibre. You can make an authentic and healthy dish simply by slicing it and stir-frying it with some garlic, some soy sauce and salt.

White radish Pic: Henry Zhang


Tofu is one of the superstars of the Asian food family in terms of taste and nutrition. Made from soybeans, it is low in calories and fat but high in protein, iron, and calcium. Tofu comes in different varieties, which vary in texture and can be used for other purposes.

Firm tofu: the most common tofu which has a spongy semi-firm texture. Usually used for stir-frying, you can simply cook it with spring onion, soy sauce and pepper.

Firm Tofu Pic: Henry Zhang

Silken tofu: soft texture with a smooth, creamy consistency. It is often used in desserts, smoothies, and dips because of its smooth texture and ability to blend well with other ingredients. It can also be used as an egg substitute in vegan baking or as a dairy substitute in creamy soups and sauces. It is used a lot in Japanese as well as southern China dishes.

Silken Tofu Pic: Henry Zhang

Frozen tofu: when you freeze tofu, the water inside it expands and creates small pockets inside, making it spongier and more porous, which can help absorb flavours more easily. Frozen tofu has a firmer, chewier texture than fresh tofu, which can be a great option for those looking for a meat alternative.

Frozen Tofu Pic: J B

Instant food

There are many types of instant food on the Asian supermarket shelf, with odd but attractive labelling on the package, which can be very confusing sometimes. So which instant food should you buy?

Snail noodles: one of the most controversial dishes in China. Even for some Chinese people, its pungent smell can be hard to tolerate, but it is a unique flavour. The soup base of the south China dish is made from stone snails, combined with pork tube bones and then boiled with a variety of spices and herbs, which contains a sour, spicy, fresh, crisp, hot flavour and the special smell of sour bamboo shoots.

Snail noodle Pic: Henry Zhang

Frozen dumplings: you might have tried dumplings or bao in Chinatown, but what if you want to eat them at home and not spend lots of money? You can buy bagged frozen dumplings from Asian supermarkets and fry them with some oil in your pan. It comes out as golden and delicious. If you prefer to eat healthier, boil them in hot water until they become translucent. Mixing some vinegar and soy sauce, you can also make a dip for your dumplings.

Frozen dumplings Pic: Henry Zhang


It’s all about a good combination of seasoning to make authentic Asian food. Despite some subtle differences between Asian countries, you generally need light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, cooking wine, pepper and sesame oil to cook Asian dishes.

Soy sauce: there are two types of soy sauce: light soy sauce and dark soy sauce. The former is the primary source of most flavours in Asian dishes, whereas the latter provides the colour that can make a dish look tastier.

Soy sauce Pic: Henry Zhang

Cooking wine: made from rice, star anise, spring onion and ginger. It can help bring out the authentic flavour of the ingredients.

Cooking wine Pic: Henry Zhang

Pepper and sesame oil: they are often used as flavour enhancers in stir-fries, marinades, and dressings. Pepper is used during the stir-frying process, whereas sesame oil is commonly used as a finishing oil, drizzled over cooked vegetables, rice, or noodles to add a rich and aromatic flavour.


From herbal drinks to alcohol, you can easily find alternatives to coffee and British tea in an Asian supermarket.

Herbal drinks: there are many herbal drinks, such as chrysanthemum, wolfberry, and ginseng. These drinks are often consumed as tea and are believed to have medicinal value and health benefits with a special flavour that combines bitterness and sweetness.

Chrysanthemum tea Pic: Taman Renyah

Chinese tea: there are many types of tea in China which can be a good alternative when you are bored of British black tea. Oolong and Pu-erh are the two most popular tea, which you can find easily on the shelf. Oolong tea is partially fermented and oxidised, which gives it a unique flavour and aroma.
Pu-erh has a unique flavour profile that can range from earthy and woody to sweet and fruity, depending on the age and quality of the tea. It is often described as having a smooth and mellow taste with a slight bitterness. They are all said to have various health benefits, such as improving digestion, boosting metabolism, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

Pu-erh tea Pic: Henry Zhang

Soju: a clear, distilled spirit that is traditionally made from rice. It is the most popular alcoholic beverage in South Korea and is also popular in other parts of Asia. Soju has a high alcohol content, typically around 16-20% ABV. In Korean culture, soju is often consumed during social gatherings and is considered a symbol of friendship and hospitality. When drinking soju with others, it is customary to pour drinks for one another and to always use two hands to pour or receive a drink as a sign of respect.

Soju Pic: Henry Zhang

This article is part of our series, Food Without Borders: Taste of East London, check out more stories here. #ELLFoodWithoutBorders

Leave a Reply