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Vital Authentic Southeast Asian Cooking Seasonings

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November 17, 2017 / Asian / By
Adrian Cruce

 

Southeast Asian cooking is filled with rich flavors. Most of the dishes are based on 3 things: herbs, seasonings and spices. Soy sauce, fish sauce and shrimp paste give you a saltiness dimension. Lime juice is going to add tanginess as paste can be seen as an alternative. If you want to learn about Southeast Asian cooking, the most important seasonings are listed below. Use them for much better taste.

Shrimp Paste

Shrimp paste is known by different names in different countries:

  • Terasi – Indonesia
  • Bagoong – Philippines
  • Belacan – Malaysia
  • Kapi – Laos and Cambodia
  • Mam Ruoc – Vietnam

No matter how you call it, shrimp paste is great in this cuisine. It is made by shrimp fermentation with some salt. You use it as a condiment or directly for cooking, offering a pungent smell with heady and salty added flavor. You can buy this paste dry or wet, with color variations ranging from dark red and pink to brown. Shrimp paste texture can be anywhere between chunky and smooth. Saltiness levels also vary. Choose a paste that is good based on your own personal tastes.

Vinegar

In Southeast Asian cuisine we traditionally see vinegar made with palm sap, sugar cane juice or rice. Different palm varieties can be used during vinegar production for extra flavors and tastes. This includes nipa palm, sugar palm and coconut. If you want something more special, you can always opt for non-traditional vinegar sources like cashew. Similarly to sauce, price, color and flavor are going to greatly vary based on production manner and main ingredient used. Generally speaking, the best vinegar is the one produced with the use of slow aging that could take years or months. Cheaper vinegar will not be aged for so long so flavors added will not be so intense.

Fish Sauce

There are no Southeast Asian restaurants that do not use some sort of fish sauce as condiment or seasoning. You add it to this pot as you cook the dishes or you serve it as a saucer or condiment jar on a dining table. The sauce is a product of fermentation. You produce it by salting fish in a really heavy way. Then the fish mixture is stored for a period of 9 to 12 months, usually in earthenware jars. Salt macerates fish and you end up with a liquid that is pure sauce. Many fish sauces can be bought. Some are cheap and some are expensive. Prices are based on flavor, aroma, color and flavor.

Tamarind Paste

If you do not know, tamarind is the name given to the fruit and the actual tree of Tamarindus Indica. For the paste both the tree’s leaves and fruits can be used. Tamarind fruit has a minimum of 2 sections and is pod-like. Every section has pulp with seed. Young fruits are normally too sour so you cannot eat them. Mature fruit is often used to make juice, candy, ice cream and jam. Usually, we see tamarind paste added to Southeast Asian stews, sauces and soups to add flavor.

Citrus Juice

The most common juices are lime and calamondin. Citrus fruits or their juices are very important in most culinary traditions for hundreds of years now. As an example, in Western cuisines we usually see lemons used. Calamondin and lime are common in Southeast Asia. Citrus juice is normally aromatic. We tend to see it added as dish seasoning but it can be a really tasty dipping sauce. We even see it added as ingredient in various cold and hot dishes.

Soy Sauce

As most people know, soy sauce is very common in Japanese and Chinese cuisines. We see it as dipping sauce for rice rolls, sashimi and dumplings. However, it is also often seen as marinade, condiment or seasoning in the entirety of Southeast Asian cooking. You may want to know that soy sauce was initially produced in the country of China between the third and the fifth centuries. It is made out of soybeans, with the traditional making process consisting of different processes including cooking, culturing and soaking. Choose the one that is the best based on the flavor you want to add.

Final Thoughts

Southeast Asian cuisine is basically nothing without seasonings. You want to always consider those mentioned above but remember that there are countless options available. Even just those highlighted can come in different tastes so buying 2 different brands and adding to your dishes would create dishes with different tastes.


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