Pantry Essentials

Hi there!

If you are new to Vietnamese cooking, the unfamiliar ingredients can be overwhelming sometimes. I've developed a guide to the most essential items, and explain how to use each of them. Most items can be found at Asian Grocery Store or online. They are divided into the categories below. You can jump to each category by choosing their names. Hopefully this will serve as a useful reference for your cooking adventures!

- Jeannie -


Seasoning & Sauces

The prepping process is very important in Vietnamese cooking, and the secret is marinating your meats and vegetables well before cooking them. Beside salt, here are some dry seasoning and sauces you should try.


  • All Natural Mushroom Seasoning (Vegan Non MSG Alternative) - Bột Nêm Nấm

    Mushroom Seasoning is made from mushroom of course. It's vegan and suitable for all kinds of cooking like soup, stir-fry, marinating, and more. It's my main seasoning and can be used with salt or by itself. It gives a slighty sweet and salty flavor to your foods. It can also be used instead of fishsauce if you don't like the taste and flavor of fishsauce

Fish Sauce - Nước Mắm

Fish sauce is made from fermented fish and salt. It is used for marinating, seasoning and as dipping sauces. I rarely use fish sauce straight from the bottle as dipping sauce, though some people do like it. I prefer to dilute and add more spices to it.

  • Three Crabs Fish Sauce

    This fish sauce is quite concentrated. It's good in most Vietnamese cooking and can be used as a base for dipping sauce

  • Squid Brand Fish Sauce

    This fish sauce has a lighter flavor so it's a good option if it's your first time trying fish sauce. It's good in dipping sauce and soup. However, because it's not as concentreated, you need to use more of it.

Soy Sauce - Nước Tương

Soy Sauce is typically made from fermented soybeans, roasted grain, and brine (salt and water solution). It's used in all kinds of cooking and as a dipping sauce. You can use soysauce as a dipping sauce straight out of the bottle or mixed with vinegar and red pepper for a stronger flavor. There are many kinds of soysauces and each country has its own way of using them. Here are a few of my favorites.

Oyster Sauce - Dầu Hào

  • Lee Kum Kee Panda Oyster Sauce

    Oyster sauce is made from oyster extracts, sugar, salt, water, and cornstarch for thickening. It has a dark brown color and intense sweet and salty delicious taste. It can be used in cooking especially in stir-fry, and good on plain rice too.

Hoisin Sauce - Tương Đen

  • Lee Kum Kee Hoisin Sauce

    Hoisin Sauce is simply called black sauce in Vietnamese. It's typicaly made from soybeans and addtional spices. I usually use it as a base for dipping sauces. When mixed with Siracha, it's a perfect dipping sauce for fried foods. Add lime juice to that mixture, it becomes a great sauce for dipping meats for Pho Noodle Soup.

Chili-based Sauce - Tương Ớt

  • Siracha

    Probably one of the most famous hot sauces, Siracha contains chili pepper, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt in a smooth consistency. It's the all-purpose hot sauce that tastes good in stir-fry, as dipping sauces for Pho and fried foods, or even on top of pizza. Add Hoisin sauce if Siracha by itself is too spicy for you.

  • Huey Fong Chili Garlic Sauce

    This sauce is thick and still has chili pieces and chili flakes. It is great for marinating meats and as condiments for noodle soups. I also like to add this sauce to my dipping fish sauce when I don't have fresh chili on hand.

  • Huey Fong Sambal Oelek Chili Paste

    This sauce is just straight up chilli paste, which gives you more control on what other spices to add to your dishes. I use it for marinating, in noodle soups, and in dipping sauces.

  • Korean Gochujang

    Gochujang contains red chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybean powder, barley malt powder, and salt. I was introduced to it from my Korean roomate in high school ( I went to a boarding school). It's more like a thick paste, and has a sweet, savory and spicy flavor. It's great for pretty much everything: marinating, seasoning, soups, dipping sauces, etc

  • Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

    Made from red chili peper, rice vineger, sugar and sometimes garlic and fish sauce, this is a great dipping sauce for fried foods like fried eggrolls and wontons.

  • Bonus item: Chinsu Hot Sauce

    This is my most favorite hot sauce ever but sadly it's only available in Vietnam. I put in here as a bonus item anyway in case you visit Vietnam or know someone there. It is sweet, savory, spicy with a hint of garlic. It's the best dipping sauce for fried foods. I hope it will come to the American market soon.

Fermented Paste - Mắm

Meats and seafoods are often fermented for preserving purpose. There are many kinds of fermented pastes and sauces in Vietnam. Some are also sun-dried instead of making into a fine paste.

  • Lee Kum Kee Shrimp Paste - Mắm Tôm

    Shrimp Paste is made from shrimps and salt, grounded and fermneted into a fine paste. It's the essential ingredient for Bún Bò Huế noddle soup and many more dishes. Though the smell and flavor are intense in the jar, once cooked and mixed with other ingredients, you can barely tell that it's there. So don't be afraid to use it.

Other Sauces

  • Korean Bulgogi Marinade

    I stock up on this sauce as a quick and easy marinade for all cuts of beef. It's made of soy sauce, honey, and pear. I find it slightly too sweet though, so I usually add a dash more salt and some fresh garlic to it.

  • Korean Hot and Spicy Chicken & Pork Marinade

    Similar to the Bulgogi sauce, but made especially for chicken and pork. It's ideal for marinating pork bellies for Korean BBQ.