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Asian Bites A Feast of Flavors from Turkey to India to Japan - Glossary

DK Publishing's logoDK Publishing 02-07-2014 DKBooks


agar agar

A natural gelling agent used in Asia (sometimes known as kanten, agar agar is derived from seaweed; it comes in blocks, as a powder, or in strands, and can be found in Thai and other Asian markets and health food shops. If unavailable, substitute with gelatine leaves or powdered gelatine (agar agar sets more easily, so you may need to adjust amounts).

asafoetida powder

Ground from a plant that is similar to fennel, asafoetida powder has an extremely pungent garlic-like smell and should be used sparingly. Found mostly in Indian cooking, it is a flavor enhancer. It can be found in Indian markets.

bok choy

Part of the Brassica family, bok choy is also known as Chinese white cabbage and white mustard cabbage. It is used in salad and stir-fries.

Chinese cabbage

Also called napa cabbage, celery cabbage, and Peking cabbage, Chinese cabbage is part of the mustard family. Not to be confused with bok choy, it is used in salads and stir-fries.

choi sum

Another member of the cabbage family, this is also called flowering white cabbage and Chinese flowering cabbage. Choi sum is used in salads and stir-fries, and is available from Asian and Chinese markets, and farmers’ and produce markets.


Also known as mooli, Japanese radish, Chinese radish, or Oriental radish, this long root vegetable has crisp white flesh; the skin is either creamy white or black. Look for daikon with unwrinkled skin. Daikon can be used raw in salads or as a garnish, or cooked in stir-fries. It is available from Japanese, Indian, and Asian markets.


Dashi is a Japanese stock made with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and kombu (dried kelp seaweed).

fish sauce

This pungent liquid made from fermented anchovies or other fish is an essential Southeast Asian ingredient. Its loses its fishiness on cooking, mellowing to add flavor. Recipes for this vary, but can be used interchangeably. Known as nam pla in Thailand and nuoc nam in Vietnam, it is available in supermarkets and Asian markets.


Especially popular in Thai cuisine, galangal is a hot and peppery aromatic rhizome. A little like ginger, it is used as a seasoning throughout Southeast Asia and South India. It is available both fresh and dried from Asian markets.

ketjap manis

Favored in Indonesia, ketjap (or kecap) manis is similar to soy sauce, but is sweetened with palm sugar. It contains seasonings such as star anise and garlic. It can be found at Southeast Asian markets and Chinese supermarkets.


Also known as kochu chang, this is a fiery red paste from Korea made from fermented soy or black beans and red chiles. Sunchang kochujang comes from the region of the same name, where it is a speciality. It is available from Korean and other Asian markets.


Commonly used in Japanese cooking, kombu is kelp seaweed that has been dried in the sun before being folded into sheets. Kombu is used in combination with dried bonito flakes for the Japanese stock dashi, as well as for sushi and other dishes. The sun-dried kelp acts as a flavor enhancer. It was from kelp that the Japanese first extracted monosodium glutamate (MSG). Kombu is available from supermarkets and Japanese and Asian markets, and some health foodo shops.

palm sugar

Made from the sap of date or coconut palms, this is also known as coconut sugar, gur, and jaggery. In India, the term jaggery also refers to sugar refined from raw sugar cane. Look for it in Asian markets.

rock sugar

A type of Chinese sugar, rock sugar is crystallized in large chunks, which then need to be broken up for use in cooking. It is not as sweet as ordinary granulated sugar and can be found at Asian markets and Chinese supermarkets.

sambal oelek

A sambal is a spicy and fiery paste made from primarily from chiles, which is served as a condiment. Sambal oelek is perhaps the most basic type, made with chiles, brown sugar, and salt. It is available in jars from Asian markets.

Shaoxing rice wine

Rice wine is made by fermenting glutinous rice or millet. In China, Shaoxing rice wine, from the province of Zheijang, is considered to be the finest. Make sure that you buy true rice wine from a Chinese supermarket or Asian market; if unavailable, substitute with a good-quality dry sherry.

shichimi togarashi

Also known as Japanese seven-spice, shichimi togarashi is available from Japanese and Asian grocers. It can be sprinkled over udon noodles or on fish or meat before cooking.

shrimp paste

This is made from salted fermented prawns, and recipes vary slightly depending on where it is made. It should be used only sparingly and is available from Asian markets.

sour cherry

The sour cherry (Prunus cerasus) is smaller than its sweet counterpart; there are several varieties, including Aleppo, Montmorency, and Morello. Fresh sour (tart) cherries are usually available from late spring to early summer. The Montmorency is overwhelmingly the most popular US-grown sour variety. Dried sour cherries are a perfect substitute and can be found at supermarkets.


An essential ingredient in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking, tamarind is also found in Middle Eastern and Persian recipes. The fruit of the tamarind are large pods yielding both seeds and a tart pulp. Used as a flavoring in much the same way as lemon juice, the pulp comes in concentrated form in jars, as a paste, in a dried brick, or as a powder. It is available from Indian, Asian, and some Middle Eastern markets.

Thai basil

If Thai basil is not available, substitute a combination of fresh cilantro and mint leaves.

young coconut

Young (green) coconut is available shredded and frozen in its sweet water from Chinese, Thai, other Asian, and Indian markets. It is also available in cans, but the frozen alternative is better.

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