Chinese Language Learning – The grocery list for a fairly comprehensive Chinese spice rack / Pantry (giving flexibility for tons of authentic Chinese dishes)

Although I’m not Chinese, I lived in China for a large chunk of my life. I’ve been back in the west for many years.

But then COVID hit, [and I used the time to explore the joys of cooking by trying my hand at making a wide range of dishes I’ve always liked](, both Western and Chinese (I’m even making my own [拉面 noodles from scratch](

One thing that makes for much easier and faster Chinese cooking is having a well-stocked Chinese spice-rack/pantry on the ready (I keep everything in a shoe box in the pantry). Having non-perishable ingredients on hand cuts down on countless runs to the store to find that one or two extra spices required.

I came across the following cooking article which offers a nice explanation for many spices (along with recipes), and it’s bang on for a wide range of Chinese food recipes you’ll find on the internet.

Dry Chinese Spices and Condiments

In the shopping list below, I also added a good number of other “must have” ingredients from the top of my head that were not mentioned in the ingredient article.

All these ingredients are available in your local Chinese / East or Southest Asian supermarket. Most are also available in well-stocked ethnic/international sections of larger Western supermarkets.

You can print this off and make it part of your next grocery list. Once you have these ingredients, you’re all set to go for a very long time (none are expensive). Also, don’t forget to pick up a good, heavy mortar and pestle while you’re at it (for crushing peppercorns, anise, peanuts, etc).

This list also makes for a great food-vocab builder.

We learn languages through (1) use, and through (2) maintaining an active interest in a given culture – which can include foods. Hopefully this helps enhance both of these aspects for you. Have fun with it and enjoy! 😊


– Salt – 盐 – Yán

– Sugar – 糖 – Táng

– Rock Sugar – 冰糖 – Bīng táng

– Brown Rock Sugar – 冰片糖 – Bīngpiàn táng

– Caster (granulated) Sugar – 砂糖 – Shātáng

– MSG – 味精 – Wèijīng

It’s a natural-based chemical flavour enhancer (“Natural based” doesn’t mean it’s still not highly processed through a chemical process). Personally I don’t add this (some people react to it. I swear I feel “off” if I’ve had too much of it in a given amount of time). I just let all the other ingredients carry the flavour on their own.

– White Pepper – 白胡椒 – Bái hújiāo

– Red Sichuan Peppercorns – 红花椒 – Hóng huājiāo

In English I’ve colloquially called it “numbing spice” (麻椒), because in addition to the spicy-hot nature, it seems to numb (麻/使麻木)your mouth’s nerves – which can make it seem deceptively more mild than it is (ie: easy to over-do going in, but not so great when going down or coming out).

Note, packaging at my local supermarket lists them as ”Sichuan black pepper” in English.

– Sichuan Green Peppercorn – 青花椒 – Qīng huājiāo

It’s basically a lighter version of 红花椒 (above), but does have a slightly different taste

– Sichuan Peppercorn Powder – 花椒粉 – Huājiāo fěn

– Dried Red Chili Powder – 干红辣椒 – Gān hóng làjiāo

– Chili Powder from Sichuan Province – 辣椒芬 – Làjiāo fēn

– Star Anise – 八角 – Bājiǎo

– Five Spice Powder – 五香粉 – Wǔxiāng fěn

– Dried Tangerine and Mandarin Orange Peels – 果皮 – Guǒpí

(You may also find this at your local bulk store as orange zest).

– Bay leaves – 香叶 – Xiāng yè

– Curry Powder (for many regional/diaspora dishes) – 咖喱粉 – Gālí fěn

– Tumeric Powder (for many regional/diaspora dishes) – 黄姜粉 – Huángjiāng fěn

– Cumin – 孜然 – Zī rán

– Coriander Seed – 芫荽子 – Yánsuī zi

– Fennel Seed – 茴香籽 – Huíxiāng zǐ

– Chinese Cinnamon – 桂皮 – Guìpí

– Cloves – 丁香 – Dīngxiāng

– Black Cardamom – 草果 – Cǎo guǒ

– Amomum White Cardamom – 白寇 – Bái kòu

– Dried Sand Ginger – 沙薑 / 山奈 – Shā jiāng / shān nài

– Ginger Powder – 姜粉 – Jiāng fěn

– Galangal Root Powder – 高良姜 – Gāoliáng jiāng

– Chinese Licorice Root – 甘草 – Gāncǎo

– Sesame Seeds (both white and black) – 芝麻 – Zhīma

– Chinese salt baked chicken powder – 盐焗鸡粉 – Yán jú jī fěn

– Steamed meat rice powder – 蒸肉粉 – Zhēng ròufěn

– Chinese spice braising powder – 滷料包 / 滷菜香料 / 炖肉料 – Lǔ liào bāo / lǔcài xiāngliào/ dùn ròu liào


There are other ingredients which you’ll often need but which aren’t in the above link, and which should be on hand in your pantry:

– Light Soy Sauce – 生抽 – Shēng chōu

– Dark Soy Sauce – 老抽 – Lǎo chōu

– Chinese Dark Rice (wine) vinegar / also known as Black vinegar – 黑醋 / 老醋 – Hēi cù / lǎo cù

– Shaoxing cooking (rice) wine – 厨用酒 – Chú yòng jiǔ

(Traditionally this is about 17% alcohol and found in Asian liquor stores, but supermarket versions are alcohol-free, so just go for that).

– White (rice) vinegar – 米醋 – Mǐcù

– Peanut Oil – 花生油 – Huāshēng yóu

– Seasme Oil – 麻油 – Má yóu

– Chili Oil – (辣)椒油 – (Là) jiāo yóu

– Oyster Sauce – 蚝油 – Háo yóu

– Hoisin Sauce – 海鲜酱 – Hǎixiān jiàng

– Chinese Spicy Fermented Bean Paste – 豆瓣酱 – Dòubàn jiàng

– Chinese Dried mushrooms – 香菇 – Xiānggū

They come in plastic packages and are preferred for so many dishes because they have a concentrated taste (versus fresh mushrooms)

– Black bean garlic sauce – 豆豉酱 -Douchi Jiang

– Corn flour / corn starch (pretty much one in the same) – 玉米淀粉 – Yùmǐ diànfěn

– (Shelled) peanuts – (去壳)花生 – (Qù ké) huāshēng

I put them in the middle of a folded paper towel and run a rolling pin over them to finely crush them before using them in recipes.

– Jar of crushed garlic – 碎大蒜 – Suì dàsuàn

– Jar of crushed ginger – 碎姜 – Suì jiāng


The fun thing is once you’ve googled and tried a few dishes, you’ll get a sense of how spices and flavourings taste individually and in combination, thus allowing you to modify dishes and do your own take on Chinese and Chinese-style dishes. An all-around great experience, culturally and linguistically! 🙂👍

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