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Oriental Sauces

Chinese Soy Sauce

This is one of Asia's most important contributions to the global pantry. It is used all over the world, not merely as a condiment, but as an ingredient in a host of home made and manufactured foods. Making soy sauce is a lengthy process. The soya beans are cleaned, soaked until soft, then steamed before being mixed with yeast culture and wheat flour and fermented for upto two years before being filtered and bottled. There are basically three types of soy sauce available in the market, which differ in aroma and flavour.

Light soy sauce

This sauce comes from the initial extraction and has a delicate but quite salty flavour. It is light brown with a lovely beany fragrance.

Dark soy sauce

This type of soy sauce is left to mature for longer time and has caramel added to it. The final result is slightly sweeter and darker with a powerful aroma.

Regular soy sauce

This is simply a blend of light and dark soy sauce and has many uses. It enhances the flavour of many dishes - usually other sauces, soups and stews.

Japanese Soy Sauce

There are several different types of Japanese soy sauce, all of them rather different in character from Chinese soy sauces, so it is best to use these when cooking Japanese dishes. Japanese soy sauces are mainly used for seasoning tofu, grilled dishes, cold fish salads and the classic sashimi.

Usukuchi soy sauce

This is light in colour and tastes less salty than Chinese light soy sauce.


Dark with a strong flavour, this soy sauce is brewed without wheat. Used as a dip especially with sushi.

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This is a full flavoured sauce that is aged for upto two years. Used as a dip especially with sushi.


It is a very popular sauce, which is a brand name for the equivalent of Chinese regular sauce. It is ideal as a dipping sauce to be used at the table rather than for cooking.

Teriyaki sauce

This is a soy based product that is made with wine, sugar and spices. Used for marinades, basting or seasoning grilled or barbecued dishes.

Nam pla

Made using salted fermented fish, this is an essential seasoning in Thai cuisine. It is used both in cooking and as a condiment. Although it smells fishy, the smell is not particularly noticeable when added to dishes, adding an authentic salty taste to numerous dishes. The colour of fish sauce can vary considerably. As a general rule, lighter coloured sauces are considered to be of a better quality than darker versions. Used in fish, meat poultry and noodle dishes, and as a dipping sauce blended with chillies, garlic, sugar and lemon juice.

Shrimp paste

Also known as blachan, terasi, kapi and ngapi, shrimp paste is used extensively all over South-east Asia. It is made from tiny shrimps that have been salted, dried, pounded and then left to ferment in hot humid conditions until the aroma is very pungent. Like nam pla, shrimp pastes smell revolting, but this vanishes during cooking. The paste is sold in various forms - compressed and dried in a block, or packed into cans or jars. Used in the same way as Thailand's nam pla and just as essential.

Oyster sauce

A Cantonese specialty, it is a highly versatile flavouring and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. The thick brown soya based sauce is flavoured with oyster juice, salt and caramel, then thickened with cornflour. The flavour is delicate with surprisingly no hint of fish. Oyster sauce can be used in a variety of cooked dishes, adding depth of flavour, as well as colour. Especially good with chicken and bean curd and with some noodle dishes that need perking up.

Hoisin sauce

Another Cantonese specialty, its Chinese name literally mean "sea flavour". It is made from fermented soya beans, sugar, vinegar, salt, chilli, garlic and sesame oil. It is a fairly versatile sauce and makes a valuable contribution to the kitchen. Mainly intended to be used to enhance flavours in marinades, it can also be used at the table as a dipping sauce. It is also a very good accompaniment to all kinds of roast meat.

Plum sauce

A type of sweet and sour sauce made from plum juice with sugar, salt, vinegar and a thickening agent. There are a variety of plum sauces, all having slightly different aromas and flavours. Plum sauce is most commonly used for seasoning Peking Duck or served as a dip with spring rolls or dim sum.