Long dried leaves of the bamboo plant used to make zong zi (Chinese glutinous rice dumplings). It is often sold in packages, along with strings for tying up the dumplings.
Known as the black truffle of the West, buah keluak is an Indonesian nut that has a rich chocolate-y flavor. It is toxic and has to be soaked in water for multiple days to expel the toxins and render it edible. It is used by the Peranakan community in Singapore.
Umami-rich, preserved turnip or radish (cai poh) is used very much like an aromatic and fried with garlic and shallots at the start of cooking. It can also be used as a topping such as in hawker dishes such as chwee kueh. Comes either sweet or salty, and either in strips or diced in Singapore.
Candlenuts, known as buah keras, are small oily nuts that are used as a base or thickener. They are often ground with other aromatics and spices to form a paste, and can be easy substituted with macadamia.
Chinese black vinegar
This black vinegar has its own unique, complex aroma, somewhat similar to a balsamic. It is used in sauces, dips, stir-fries and braises and is difficult to substitute for.
Cincalok is a traditional fermented food made of krill. It is often served as a condiment or added to braises or used in an omelet.
Dried rice vermicelli, also known as dried beehoon, has to be soaked in water till soft before using. It can also be deep-fried and used as a garnish.
Dried black fungus
Dried black fungus, also known as dried wood ear mushroom, is often used to add texture rather than flavor to a dish. It is commonly sold as whole pieces or as dried slivers.
Dried blue pea flower
Blue pea flower is commonly used in Peranakan cuisine as food coloring, notably in kueh-making. Though the fresh flowers can be used, it is much easier to find dried blue pea flower.
Dried chillies are a common ingredient in the making of spice pastes. To use, snip them into pieces before soaking in hot water to soften. Squeeze to remove excess water before using.
Dried fish maw
Fish maw is the swim bladders of fish and is a premium ingredient used in Chinese cuisine. It is a good source of collagen and has a spongy texture when cooked. To prepare them for cooking, rinse and soak until soft.
Dried lily bud
Dried lily buds are the unopened flowers of the day lily plant. They impart their strong, earthy flavor to many dishes in Chinese cooking, and must be rehydrated in hot water before using.
Dried lotus leaves
Dried lotus leaves are used as a food wrapper for classic Chinese dishes such as sticky rice or beggar’s chicken.
An expensive Chinese ingredient also known as conpoy, dried scallops are used whole in soup, or shredded and used in a starch-thickened sauce to drape over Chinese greens.
Dried shiitake mushrooms
Just like Italian porcini, these add a profound umami-richness to dishes. After soaking, they have a plump, juicy texture. The soaking liquid can be used in place of water for added flavor.
Dried cuttlefish is available in two forms – whole, which is frequently used in soups, or shredded, which is easily used in stir-fries.
Also known as hae bee, these add an intense oceanic savouriness to dishes, when stir-fried with oil. They can also be used after blending to form a fine floss, such as in laksa.
Dried tofu products
Dried tofu products are widely used in Chinese cookery, especially in vegetarian Buddhist cuisine. These come in the form of dried tofu skin, dried tofu sticks and dried sweet bean curd sticks.
A spreadable, cheese-like product sold as cubes packed in jars with brine. It has a strong flavor, similar to a Roquefort, and is a common accompaniment for plain porridge. Comes in white and red versions – the red is more robust and alcoholic, and is better suited for stews and braises.
Fermented rice wine lees
Considered a nourishing ingredient, this is a typical confinement food ingredient, in tandem with lots of ginger and sesame oil.
Five spice powder
A Chinese spice mixture that is robust and highly aromatic.
Fish sauce is used to season some Chinese dishes such as Hokkien mee.
Flours (tapioca, cornflour, rice flour, potato starch)
Tapioca flour imparts a chewy, QQ texture. Cornflour and potato starch is used to thicken sauces and also in the process of velveting, to lend a silky mouthfeel to wok-cooked meat and fish. Rice flour is used to make Indian dishes like dosai and appam. These gluten-free flours are also commonly used in Singapore as a coating for deep-fried foods.
Fried shallots are an essential garnish for many Singaporean dishes, though some cooks insist that homemade fried shallots are far superior.
A variety of short-grain rice that turns sticky and chewy when cooked. Requires a long period of soaking before use.
The sweetener of choice in Singapore, this is the sugar from a coconut tree. It has a slightly smoky, deep molasses flavor.
Commonly known as fatt choy, this is a popular Chinese New Year ingredient, commonly used in tandem with dried oysters.
Ikan bilis, or dried anchovies, is used in Singaporean Chinese and Malay cuisine. It is often found in soups or mixed with sambals or peanuts.
An Indonesian sweet soy sauce, kecap manis is often used as a dip or to add color and sweetness to a dish.
A thickened seasoning sauce with a slightly sweet and salty taste.
Preserved vegetables (Szechuan vegetables, suan cai, mei cai)
Szechuan vegetables are the colloquial name of mustard plant stem preserved in a chilli paste. It is generally washed before use and has a spicy, sour and salty flavor. Cut into strips, it can be stir-fried with meat or added to soups. Suan cai, specifically the ones from Chao Shan that are made from gai choy, are often added to fish before it is being steamed, Teochew-style. Mei cai is noticeably darker in colour, almost blackish. Unlike the other two, you can see salt or sugar granules on the vegetables, depending if you get the sweet or salty version.
Used in Teochew dishes, salted plums are similar to umeboshi, but are larger and brown in color.
Sago are tiny pearls made of tapioca flour. When boiled, they turn translucent and have a slightly chewy texture.
This is never used as a cooking oil as its aroma is intense. Add to dishes in small quantities for fragrance.
This rice wine is often used in marinades and cooking to impart fragrance.
Shrimp products (belacan, hae ko, har jeong)
Belacan is a Malay variety of shrimp paste. It is similar to kapi in Thai cuisine or bagoong in the Philippines. It is commonly sold in small blocks and is used in rempah. Hae ko (shrimp paste in Hokkien) is a dark brown shrimp paste that is used to make rojak. Har jeong (shrimp paste in Cantonese) is pink in colour and is used as a marinade for chicken.
Soy sauce (light soy sauce and dark soy sauce)
A key seasoning in the Chinese kitchen. Light soy sauce is used mostly to add flavor and saltiness to food while dark soy sauce to add color.
Tamarind (pulp and peel)
Tamarind pulp is soft and brown with hard black seeds. The pulp is rich and full of flavor. Tamarind peel, known as ‘asam gelugor’ or ‘asam keping’, resembles a slice of dried apple. It is used mainly in fish curries. It has a different acidity and flavor to tamarind pulp but can be used interchangeably.
Taucheo, or fermented yellow bean, is a paste used to boost flavor in Chinese dishes. It has a sweet and salty flavor and is available in whole beans, partially mashed and fully mashed.
Tang hoon, or mung bean thread vermicelli or glass noodles, are extremely thin noodles that turn translucent when rehydrated.
Tee poh, or dried sole fish or dried flat fish, is made by sun-drying and preserving the bones of flat fish such as sole. It provides a smoky, umami-rich flavor to dishes, and is often deep-fried before using to release its fragrance.
Indian ingredients & spices
A powdered gum that is so pungent that a pinch is enough. Adds an aroma that is similar to onion and garlic when cooked.
An Indian variety of long-grain rice that is prized for its fragrance and for its grains staying separate when cooked.
Powder made from ground chillies, used in dishes to lend colour and spice.
Coconut (serunding, kerisik, coconut cream, grated, coconut milk)
A quintessential ingredient in Singaporean cuisine. Coconut features in various forms such as serunding, kerisik, coconut cream, coconut milk and fresh grated coconut. Kerisik is made from fried, grated coconut which is ground to a smooth and oily paste.It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as rendang. Serunding is grated coconut fried until crispy and golden brown and seasoned with spices. It is commonly used as a garnish. Fresh grated coconut is used in desserts or to make fresh coconut milk by mixing with water.
Curry powder and spices
Curry powder is a ready-made blend of Indian spices. Though in the Western world, a generic curry powder is used for all curries, it is much more common for Singaporeans to go to the wet market’s spice stall to customize a curry powder blend. A spice blend for chicken would be different for one that is used for fish or meat.
Dal refers to a range of split peas and pulses. Of these, channa dal, mung dal, tur dal and urad dal are the most common.
An Indian blend of powdered spices.
Ghee is a variation of clarified butter with the milk solids being caramelized in the fat before being strained.
Tofu & Fresh noodles
Known as taughey, beansprouts are sold by cents in wet markets. A common addition to beehoon dishes for their refreshing crispness.
Egg noodles (mee pok, mee kia)
The egg noodles in Singapore can be divided into two categories – mee pok and mee kia. Mee pok is flat and thick, while mee kia is a thin noodle.
Hokkien noodles are bright yellow, thick noodles with a strong alkaline flavor.
Rice noodles (mee sua, bee hoon, thick bee hoon/ cu mi fen, kway teow, hor fun)
There are a variety of rice noodles in the Singaporean kitchen. Mee sua is the thinnest of them all, followed by bee hoon and thick bee hoon. Flat rice noodles include kway teow and hor fun.
Tofu products (silken tofu, tau kwa, tau pok)
Silken tofu is pure white and, as its name suggests, has a delicate smooth texture. Tau kwa or pressed tofu, is beige and has a firm texture suitable for frying. Tau pok, or deep-fried tofu puffs, has a deep brown color and resembles a porous puff.
Though both white and yolk of the salted egg is edible, the yolk is prized in both Chinese cooking and desserts.
A preserved egg with a translucent, black and jelly-like white and a gooey greenish-black yolk.
Resembles the jackfruit in appearance, but has a unique flavor akin to that of durian and mango.
The king of fruits in Singapore, durian has a custardy and strong pungent flesh.
Jambu is a bell-shaped fruit with waxy skin that ranges from pink to red. It has a refreshingly crisp texture and an astringent mouthfeel.
Jackfruit is a large fruit with succulent, sunshine-yellow lobes beneath a tough outer skin. It tastes heavily tropical and candy-like.
Used in salads and assam laksa in Singapore, but mainly as the star ingredient in pineapple tarts
Soursop is a large green and heavy fruit with highly perfumed, custard-like flesh.
The shoots of the bamboo plant must be peeled, sliced and cooked in water before using. Canned bamboo shoots, though inferior to the fresh shoots, are a good substitute.
The fruit of the banana tree, commonly used in salads
Banana leaves are often used as a wrapper for steamed or grilled dishes, and are often passed over a flame to soften before use to prevent them from cracking when wrapping. They are also used in place of plates, particularly in Indian cuisine.
This fruit used to be bountiful in Singapore, but is disappearing from the wet markets, only to be found grown as a house plant. It has an intense sour flavor and its crisp texture becomes tender when cooked.
A gourd that has an intense bitter flavor and touted to be extremely healthful.
Borlotti beans / zhen zhu dou
A legume that is used extensively in the Western world, borlotti beans are commonly used in Cantonese soups. The cooked beans have a firm yet creamy, meltingly smooth texture. They taste slightly sweet, with mild earthy notes reminiscent of chestnuts.
A citrus unique to Southeast Asia, the fragrance of calamansi is key to many Singaporean dishes and is hard to substitute.
Cassava / tapioca
A long tuberous starchy root with brown fibrous skin that resembles rough bark. Its white flesh turns translucent when cooked, and takes on a gummy chewiness.
A cultivar of lettuce grown mainly for its thick stems. It has slightly bitter edible leaves, and a stem that boasts a jade interior. The stem is crisp in texture and is often eaten as a pickle (‘preserved cai xin’) in Singapore.
A member of the gourd family, the most common variety in Singapore has smooth green skin and a firm, crisp flesh. It is often enjoyed as a stir-fry with vermicelli and dried shrimp.
Red and green chillies are essential in Singaporean cooking. Chilli padi, or bird’s eye chilli, is a spicier variety compared to the regular long chillies, and is used to add a spicy kick.
Also known as qin cai, this herb has a flavor very similar to coriander and its flavor marries well with Chinese herbs.
The garnish of choice in the Chinese kitchen, but is also used in other cuisines.
Curry leaves are used as a herb to flavor curries or in stir-fry dishes.
An extremely aromatic ginger, used in Peranakan and Malay cooking
A must-have in the Southeast Asian kitchen. Young ginger is fragrant, while old ginger is fibrous and spicier. The latter is used more in Singapore. The combination of ginger and garlic is so important in Indian cooking that some wet market stalls sell fresh ginger and garlic puree by the bag.
Ginger flower, also known as torch ginger or rojak flower, is a pale pink edible flower which is often eaten fresh. It has a bright, piquant and floral taste, similar to laksa leaves.
Green dragon vegetable
Green dragon vegetable is a cultivated variety of Chinese chives, presently grown exclusively in Cameron Highlands. It resembles tall straight stalks of grass and has a delicate crispness even after stir-frying.
The green mango is the unripe fruit of the mango tree, which is highly acidic and crunchy in texture. This is a common ingredient in Indian cuisine, notably in the form of ‘amchur’, a powder of dried green mango.
Jicama, or bang guang, is a large bulbous tuber with brown skin and white flesh. It is similar to water chestnuts in colour, texture and flavor.
Kang kong is a variety of Chinese spinach, flavored for its crunchy thin stems.
Kaffir lime leaves
Aromatic leaves of the kaffir lime plant. They can be slipped into curries or sliced into thin strips and used as a garnish
Kai lan + big stem kalian
Known as Chinese broccoli, kai lan is popular choice of leafy greens in the Chinese kitchen. Kai lan stems are also sold in Singapore’s wet markets – these are huge swollen stems of the kai lan plant.
The laksa leaf is a green herb that is an essential ingredient in laksa. It withstands cooking well and will impart a subtle flavor to dishes. It can also be chopped and used as a garnish.
An aromatic plant whose stalks are used in spice pastes when pulverized or in curries when bruised.
Long beans are a staple vegetable used in stir-fries and omelettes
Lotus roots are the large stems of the lotus plant. It is often sold caked in mud at wet markets. When eaten raw, it is crisp with a naturally sweet flavor. When cooked, it has a tender yet sturdy texture, with a stringy sap.
Malabar spinach has bright purple stems and green spinach-like leaves. The leaves and stems have a succulent and mucilaginous quality like a lady’s finger.
Moringa is commonly sold in Singapore in the form of their pods (named ‘drumsticks’) and leaves. Touted by the Indian community as a miracle plant, moringa is used widely in Indian cuisine.
Mountain yam is a long and tubular member of the yam family. It is pleasingly crisp when raw and resembles the potato in texture when cooked. Its medical benefits are widely reported and is thus used widely in Cantonese herbal soups, often in its dried form.
Touted the vanilla of the East, pandan is used extensively in Singapore’s desserts such as kueh and pandan cake. It also lends itself well to savory applications such as in chicken rice or pandan chicken.
Fresh peanuts are sold in Singapore markets, roots, stems and all. They have to be soaked in water and washed to completely remove dirt. It is commonly boiled with soup and is believed to help in height development, particularly beneficial for teens.
Petai, or smelly bean, is a uniquely Southeast Asian vegetable. It is prized for its strong, pungent flavor and is said to cause flatulence.
Roselle is commonly known as luo shen hua or ‘ribena flower’ in Singapore. The most common preparation in Singapore is steeping it in boiling water to produce a ‘tea’ that is said to be extremely healthful.
Sand ginger is very small, covered in dark brown skin and has a sandy-white interior. It is commonly sold in dried form, either in slices or powder. It is commonly used in Javanese, Balinese and Chinese cuisines.
Unlike Western shallots, Asian shallots are considerably smaller and rounder. They are a common ingredient in rempahs, and are often used deep-fried as a garnish.
Snake gourd belongs to the cucumber and squash family. It is a big part of Sri Lankan and Indian cooking, where it features prominently in curries.
An important aromatic in the Chinese kitchen.
Used in all cuisines in Singapore, the sweet potato is versatile enough to be incorporated into savoury dishes or desserts.
A root that is as versatile as the potato, and has a particular affinity for five spice powder. Taro is an especially important ingredient to the Teochews, who feature the root in their savoury and sweet dishes.
A relative of bok choy, tatsoi is a common ingredient during Chinese New Year as its Chinese name fu gui cai is literally translated as ‘prosperity vegetable’.
Turmeric (root and leaves)
Turmeric root is a key ingredient in making rempah. It is also often used as food colouring as its potent yellow pigments stain everything they touch. The leaves, like pandan or banana leaves, aren’t normally eaten and are used to impart subtle flavour.
Water chestnuts are the mahogany-coloured, round corms of a water plant. They taste sweet and have a crunchy, juicy texture.
Wing beans are fruit pods that have four frilly-edged ‘wings’, earning it its names ‘wing bean’ and ‘four-angled bean’. Wing beans are an important ingredient to the Peranakans, who use the blanched legumes in kerabu, a form of Malay salad.
Winter melon is a common gourd used in making Cantonese soups. In its dried and candied, the Peranakans favour the use of winter melon to impart sweetness to their food, most prominently in Nonya zhang and rempah udang.
Young or unripe jackfruit is edible only when cooked and is a popular vegetarian meat substitute, commonly used in Indian, Malay and Peranakan cuisine.
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