Essential Chinese Ingredients
Photos by Colin Clark
Text by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo
My cooking classes always begin in New York City’s Chinatown. I have my students meet me there because I believe that a Chinese market is their classroom, and mine. If you live near a bustling metropolitan market like those in Manhattan, San Francisco, or Vancouver, you understand the sensory joys these markets provide, with the smells, sights, and sounds of chattering buyers haggling with sellers; mountains of fresh produce; live blue crabs wriggling in their baskets and fish swimming in tanks; shelves laden with cans and jars and bottles of sauces, wines, vinegars, and pickles from every region of China. If you don’t live near a Chinese market, then with any luck, there’s a Chinese grocery store nearby where you can find authentic ingredients. Short of that, the internet is a great source.
These markets provide me and my students with context, which is all-important. Since Chinese cooking relies on foods in their purest state, you need to touch, smell, test for freshness with a gentle squeeze, and even taste, when possible, the items you’re buying. Chinese markets offer those opportunities, and by leading my students through the market, I help them become familiar with, rather than daunted by, the supposed mysteries of Chinese food. I hope to do the same for you here as I introduce you to some essential ingredients and share recipes for turning many of those foods into delicious dishes at home. So come with me, and let’s explore the market together.
View a simple map for the locations of each shop on the tour.