Eight Essential Asian Sauces that every pantry should have. You can make a huge variety of Asian dishes and spice up your normal cooking with these common eight sauces!

8 Essential Asian Sauces for Your Pantry

A few months ago a good friend sent me a message that said (approximately):


I can totally see how that can happen. The above photo is just one of the two sauce aisles at the very large Asian Grocery I go to (Pacific Ocean Marketplace). I’m talking literally hundreds of sauce variations. Delicious? Sure. But also frightening if you’re just getting started in the kitchen.

Even if you just go to a normal grocery store you’ll be faced with decisions. There will be at least a small section dedicated to Asian inspired sauces. I would guess even the barest of groceries would have 15-20 sauces to choose from.

It can be daunting.

So here is my list. It’s possible there is room for debate on some of these, but I think I could hold my own in that debate.

In other words, these are the eight sauces that you will almost always find in my fridge. And they should be in yours!

Essential Asian Sauces - soy sauce

This is a no brainer. Even my Dad who only orders one thing at Chinese restaurants (sweet and sour pork) knows what soy sauce is. It’s universal and needed.

You can use it during cooking or as a seasoning. There are so many kinds of soy sauce that it could be its own post (which I’m not entirely sure I’d be qualified to write). The point is that you need a bottle of the stuff. Find one you like and keep it handy.

If you are somehow at a loss with what to cook with soy sauce, check out the Soy Sauce recipes!

Essential Asian Sauces - Fish sauce

Some people think they don’t like fish sauce (just like some people think they don’t like anchovies). The truth is that they probably love it in things that they don’t know it’s in.

Fish sauce is such a universal seasoning in Thai food specifically that you’d be hard pressed to find a good sauce that doesn’t have it. I’ve only used in a dozen or so posts over the years, but still manage to go through a bottle every month or two.

Essential Asian Sauces - Chili Garlic

Chili garlic sauce was my Asian gateway sauce. I got addicted to the stuff early on and put it on everything from burgers to scrambled eggs. It’s readily available and is Sriracha’s older cousin.

These days, I use it as a condiment mainly, dotting it on noodle bowls, but I recently used it in the sauce for these spicy sticky wings. I did not share them.

Essential Asian Sauces -  Gochujang

This paste (not a sauce technically but so what?) was a recent find for me, but I keep a big jar of it in my fridge now and dip into it regularly. It’s the base paste for most kimchi recipes and is spicy, but also slightly sweet and sour.

You can use it to whip up a quick dipping sauce just by mixing it with a little citrus, fish sauce, and sesame oil.

You’ll also want it if you ever make something like traditional bibimbap, but more importantly I’ve just been marinating grilled meats in it with a little oil and lime juice. It’s perfect.

Essential Asian Sauces - Hoisin

Essentially a BBQ sauce, but with a slightly different flavor profile. I pretty much use it like BBQ sauce though and marinate with it and use it for glazing and topping.

Most recently, I used it for these meltingly tender grilled chicken thighs, but it’s also the start in one of my favorite lunches: Hoisin chicken soba.

Essential Asian Sauces -  Black Bean sauce

I checked through the archives and somehow I’ve only used black bean sauce once on Macheesmo (and it was for a Halloween recipe!)

It’s another great fermented sauce that’s spiked with garlic and sugar. So it’s sweet, but also savory. I’ll often add a spoonful of it to a quick weeknight stir-fry. It’s one of my favorite cheater sauces that most Americans don’t know about and don’t use much.

Essential Asian Sauces - Sriracha

The new darling of Asian sauces. The most common brand these days is the rooster brand but there are actually options for Sriracha. They are all pretty similar honestly.

I love Sriracha and use it on burgers, burritos, and in place of hot sauce and ketchup. No need to buy the sriracha mayo… just mix it with normal mayo in a 4-1 ratio and it’s perfect.

One of my favorite archived Sriracha recipes is my Sriracha bloody mary recipe!

Essential Asian Sauces - Curry paste

Another paste that I’m calling a sauce because it always becomes a sauce. Even if you don’t use it to make a traditional curry, you can use it to liven up marinades, sauces, and salad dressings. Find a brand you like (I like Mae Ploy) and keep it handy.

Curry pastes have a wide range of spiciness so be sure to start small while adding them to recipes to make sure you don’t blow your tongue off with spice.

While I used curry powder, you could make a cheater version of my homemade chicken tikka masala with a good curry paste!

Runners Up?

I had a lot of other sauces in the running to make this sauce like plum sauce, miso paste, and a few others.

What’s on your list for Asian sauces? What are your favorites?!Eight Essential Asian Sauces that every pantry should have. You can make a huge variety of Asian dishes and spice up your normal cooking with these common eight sauces!

19 comments on “8 Essential Asian Sauces for Your Pantry

  1. I can totally relate to your friend–my hubby has said basically the same thing every time he’s in charge of cooking. The black bean sauce sounds like something I need to pick up, slightly sweet yet savory is pretty much my favorite flavor, especially if it includes garlic–I’m a garlic fiend. ;-)

  2. Great list! I have many of these sauces in my refrigerator. I grew up with many of these, my grandma had her favorite brands and they kind of rubbed off on me. There are some of theses that I would use even when I would cook dishes that weren’t particularly Asian inspired, but because I liked the taste.

    1. Honestly I don’t use it as much as hoisin so I left it off. If it would’ve been a dozen list, it would’ve made it. :)

  3. You MUST have oyster sauce. In my opinion you can skip Scricha if you have chili garlic paste for heat. Regular soy can become light if you add water. You also need rice vinegar and sesame oil

  4. You read my mind. I was just looking at my fridge door packed with asian condiments, and thought. … I must be missing something. Black bean sauce! I will add it to my collection. We recently tried bulgoki marinade, its really tasty too, sweet and salty. I always look forward to your posts, thank you!

  5. Excellent list! (Gochujang, hoison and curry paste are my secret BBQ ingredients) I describe gochujang to my friends as Sriracha with umami but less vinegar. Skip the rooster brand chili garlic sauce and buy the darker jar that’s not translated to English – the flavor depth is amazing

    1. Thanks for the idea! I saw that and skipped right over it because it wasn’t what I was familiar with. I’ll pick up a jar though the next time I’m there! Thanks for the tip!

  6. This is great! One of my children is allergic to soy, and I have always considered trying to substitute fish sauce when cooking. I was thinking of thinning it out with sesame oil. Any other suggestions? My kids are very young, and I haven’t tried any Asian cooking with them yet.

    1. Hey Dan! Fish sauce is a pretty strong flavor profile for kids. Especially ones not used to Asian food. That said, I think you are definitely on the right path with it. I would start maybe by introducing them to it with a mix of water, lime juice, sesame oil, and fish sauce. Whisk that all together and it’s a pretty savory dressing. You could even add a pinch of sugar or honey to it to mellow it out a bit. Once they get used to the flavor you can up the fish sauce part of it (because that’s really where the flavor is) and hopefully they love it by then. Good luck and I’d love to hear how it goes. Shoot me an email if you try it out.

      1. Also, I’ve been a long time reader and I’m excited to see your blog ‘evolve’ some as you begin to cook with your kid in kind. My family eats better because we found your site- my wife does all homemade sandwich bread. Keep up the great work!

  7. I make all of my Asian-inspired sauces from scratch, and whenever a recipe for teriyaki sauce or soy ramen broth etc. calls for sugar, I substitute mirin, which is a cooking rice wine. It adds the sweetness without the sugar, and enhances the overall flavor profile. I also always keep miso paste and packets of dashi in my cabinet, though I suppose that’s cheating ;)

      1. Oh, haha, definitely not soy sauce from scratch, but the soy-based ramen broth! I haven’t quite found a way to fit making a true fish-based or pork-based broth into my schedule, but a combination of mirin + soy sauce + a packet of dashi makes for a broth that takes <15 minutes.

    1. I always keep a store bought Peanut Sauce in my pantry. Of course, it goes without saying that I alway have to “doctor” it with additional Peanut Butter, Honey, Palm Sugar, Coconut Milk or Sriracha depending upon the brand. Unfortunately, i’ve never found a commercial brand that’s exactly as I like it but a few come close. Lee Kum Kee (available in Asian Markets) is the closest. Another I didn’t see mentioned is Sesame Oil or Ginger Paste but again then we’re moving into the top 12 or top 20! But fantastic list to make a cuisine that seems daunting to become more “home-cook” friendly! PS With regards to the comment about a child being allergic to Soy Sauce… I’m also sensitive to Soy but it’s the fermented product called Soy (or Soya) Sauce that bothers me. Instead, I use Tamari which is unfermented but taste exactly the same. Its technically Vegan Soy
      and works for me.

  8. I currently have all of these except for the black bean sauce. Other essentials for me are oyster sauce, sweet chili sauce, and ponzu. I often sub ponzu for soy sauce because I like the citrus note it adds. Ponzu also tends to have significantly less sodium than soy sauce.

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