Making the Most of Asian Flavors

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Asian flavors, once confined to ethnic restaurants, have gone mainstream in a big way. Learn how the delicious flavors and condiments of the East can boost customer interest. It’s as easy as adding a spoonful of sambal oelek or a splash of sesame oil. 

Sweet Chili Sauce

Easy to like thanks to the sweetness that balances out the heat of peppers, this Thai-style condiment is versatile in the kitchen as a basis for dipping sauces, vinaigrette, marinade, or finishing sauce for grilled fish, or the primary flavor notes in chicken wings.


Most commonly made from fermented soybeans, miso has a pleasantly salty taste and buttery texture that has made it very popular with ahead-of-the-curve kitchens. Use miso to flavor soups, sauces, dressings, and marinades; to rub on vegetables and proteins as a seasoning 


This classic, slightly sweet sauce—a blend of soy, sake or mirin, ginger, and honey or sugar, usually used in stir-fries or on steak and other proteins—is also wonderful mixed into burgers or Asian-style meatballs, used as glaze for vegetables, mixed into dressings, or used as a condiment for wrap sandwiches.


This traditional Japanese dipping sauce is made by simmering mirin, rice vinegar, katsuobushi (dried bonito) flakes, and seaweed (konbu) together, then adding yuzu or another citrus juice such as lemon. Use wherever a touch of umami and citrus is desirable—much as you would Worcestershire—in dressings, marinades, dips, and meat mixtures such as burgers.

Sambal Oelek

Akin to the ketchup of Southeast Asian, this spicy table condiment—usually splashed with shallots, garlic, citrus, chile, and tomato—is becoming more popular to add a touch of heat to Asian-style soups, stir-fries, noodle and rice dishes, roasted and grilled proteins, and dipping sauces and marinades.

Sesame Oil

One of the easiest Asian products to integrate into all kinds of menu items, this fragrant, healthy oil is widely used for cooking in India, and as a flavoring in China, Japan, and Korea. Toasted sesame oil has a more distinctive flavor, but either can be used in marinades, sauces, soups, noodle dishes, dressings, and drizzles for a wide variety of foods.

Shichimi Togarashi

Popular as a table condiment in Japan, this spicy powdered assortment of dried chili peppers, orange peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger, and seaweed can be used instead of pepper to add flavor and a little texture to wings, soups, vegetables, salads, noodle dishes, and anywhere else where a little extra zing is required.


This ubiquitous Thai hot sauce (sometimes referred to as rooster sauce because of the logo of the most popular brand) is made from sun-ripened chilies which are ground into a smooth paste along with garlic and packaged in a convenient squeeze bottle. Excellent in soups, sauces, pastas, pizzas, hot dogs, hamburgers, stir-fries and deviled eggs, and more.


Often likened to horseradish and a fixture on sushi and sashimi, this Japanese condiment adds fiery flavor to dressings and mayonnaise-like sauces, mashed potatoes, Asian-style noodle and rice bowls, and in butter or infused oils used for proteins, and more. Ready-made products like wasabi peas can be used as bar snacks or a garnish for salads.


Indispensable in Korean food, this savory and pungent fermented condiment is made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt.