As the pandemic and the lockdowns continue to persist, it’s probably not practical to dine at restaurants very often. You might be able to satisfy your cravings by ordering takeout, but cooking food at home is a lot cheaper and a lot easier than you expect if you have all the right ingredients. Here are 6 pantry essentials that would help you whip up some restaurant-quality food.
1. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce serves as the base for almost every Filipino and Chinese dish, with some examples including adobo, sisig, fried rice, and bihon. There are actually 3 variations of soy sauce: light, dark, and all purpose. All purpose soy sauce is the most commonly found in pantries, and it can be used interchangeably with light soy sauce because they only differ in color. Dark soy sauce, on the other hand, is thicker and has a slightly sweeter undertone, so you should never use it for regular dishes unless the recipe specifically calls for it.
2. Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce is most commonly used in vegetable stir-fry dishes like Chop Suy or Tofu Steak. Traditionally, it’s made by simmering oysters until their juices extract and caramelize into a sauce, and it has an extra umami flavor that is a step above the plain saltiness that you get from soy sauce. Despite being made with oysters, it doesn’t exactly impart a fishy flavor, but rather, it enhances the flavor of whatever food it’s being paired with.
3. Sesame oil
Despite being a type of cooking oil, sesame oil is more commonly used as a drizzle. It has a distinct nutty flavor that goes well with almost any dish–especially ones that have a glaze such as orange chicken. It can also be used as a dipping sauce or marinade. There are two types of sesame oil: regular and toasted. The toasted sesame oil is more flavorful, but it also has a lower smoke point, which means it burns more easily, so it should only be used for finishing rather than frying.
There are also many types of vinegar out there, but the most flexible and commonly used one is white vinegar. It’s widely used as a dipping sauce for Filipino dishes and can also be used to pickle vegetables. A variation of vinegar that might come in handy is apple cider vinegar, as it is best for making vinaigrettes or dishes such as sinigang and sweet and sour pork. Another variation you should consider getting is rice wine vinegar, which is less acidic and sweeter compared to white vinegar. It can be used as marinades and can also be incorporated sauces for stir-fried dishes.
5. Chili oil or chili paste
These are essential items if you want to add a spicy kick to your recipes. Even if you’re not a fan of spice, adding just a little bit can enhance the flavor of your dish without making it unbearably spicy. Typically, chili oil is used as a dipping sauce and a drizzle, while chili paste is incorporated into the dish itself, although the two can be used interchangeably.
MSG or Monosodium Glutamate has gained a bad reputation over the years, but it seems like people have been more willing to use it ever since Uncle Roger started waxing poetic about it on YouTube. MSG is a flavor enhancer, and it’s the secret to why the food from Chinese restaurants tastes so good. It’s proven to be safe when consumed in moderation, although there are some people who are sensitive to it, so you better test it out with a little amount first before incorporating it into your dishes.