Teoswa Pantry Staples
Beyond the basic Chinese pantry, Teoswa cooking relies on some other core elements, including many preserved ingredients that pack a concentrated punch of umami. By no means are the following ingredients restricted to usage in Teoswa dishes, but they are important building blocks of flavor that, when used in combination, have come to differentiate Teoswa cuisine. (For a full overview of Chinese pantry staples and other common Teoswa non-pantry ingredients, order a copy of the cookbook!)
Soybean sauce/taucheo/tauco (豆酱): The Chinese city of Puning, which flanks Swatow to the southwest, produces a famous version of fermented soybean sauce that adds umami to stir fried and steamed dishes. While authentic Puning-produced jars of the sauce are hard to come by in the US, the Thai brand Healthy Boy offers a version that is well-rounded and not overly sweet (an issue that plagues some other options on the shelves). You may also find the Indonesian-Chinese variant, tauco. (Note: taucheo is not the popular Sichuanese bean sauce doubanjiang, which is spicy and made with broad beans.)
Salted plum (酸梅子): Though called a plum, 梅子 are more closely related to apricots. Plucked before they’re ripe, then preserved in brine, they’re used as a tart counterpoint to steamed fish and pork ribs, or as the foundation of a refreshing fizzy drink. If you can’t find jarred Chinese salted plums in the sauce aisle (I use Koon Chun brand), look for the Japanese version, umezuke (you might find this in a refrigerated case).
Chinese olives (橄榄): Canarium album, a tropical and subtropical fruit savored by the Teoswa people, is unrelated to the far more common Mediterranean olive. When it’s in season, people chew on fresh, raw Chinese olives to stimulate appetite, ease nausea, and stay alert. It’s also dried and sweetened into a popular snack. In the US, I’ve yet to find the fresh fruit anywhere, but have come across jars of brined Chinese olives, much like preserved Mediterranean Olea europaea. Chopped up, Chinese olives pair wonderfully with pork in a stir fry.
Olive vegetable (橄榄菜): Olive vegetable is really mustard greens cooked down with Chinese olives into a murky, savory relish. Though it doesn’t look like much, it’s an umami powerhouse. It frequently accompanies muay (Teoswa porridge) and is very 下饭 — that is, it helps the rice go down— so no surprise, it makes a killer fried rice. You may also find it listed as preserved olive vegetable / olive with mustard greens / cabbage with olive / etc.
Satay/shacha sauce (沙茶醬): Not the peanut butter-based dip we enjoy with our Southeast Asian meat skewers, Teoswa satay is darker, oilier, and funkier thanks to dried seafood, chilis, and shallots. One origin story suggests overseas Teoswa returning home brought the Indonesian satay sauce with them, and the sauce was then adapted to suit local tastes. The most popular brand of satay sauce in stores is Bull Head (of Taiwan), which labels its silver cans “BBQ Sauce.” As this misnomer might suggest, satay sauce is often served alongside meats, especially beef. Some Teoswa and Vietnamese restaurants concoct their own proprietary blends that you might be able to purchase. In grocery stores, I’ve checked the ingredients on some jars labeled “Teochew sate” to discover that they are, instead, just chili oil made with chilies, garlic, oil, and salt. So when in doubt, make sure you see some form of seafood in the ingredients list when purchasing satay sauce for recipes here.
Chili oil (辣椒油): With nearly infinite varieties, feel free to seek out your perfect match. Your local store may stock garlicky “Chiu Chow Chili Oil,” which pairs well with many dishes in this book and is quite spicy. Some jars labeled as Teochew Sate may actually be garlic-infused chili oil, not the seafood-infused satay sauce I reference in my recipes. Another option is the widely available (and milder) chili oil made by the Laoganma (Old Godmother) brand.
Chili Garlic Sauce
Vinegar-based chili garlic sauce (蒜蓉辣椒酱): An essential condiment to have at the table, especially for noodle dishes. Sambal oelek is a fine substitute, but why pass up a chance to add more garlic to your food? Huy Fong Foods was founded by a Teochew-Vietnamese refugee in California, David Tran. Perhaps you’ve heard of his company’s blockbuster sauce, Sriracha? They also make a chunkier garlic-infused hot sauce that is widely available.
Fish sauce (鱼露): In the US, fish sauce is most commonly associated with Vietnamese and Thai cuisines, but it is frequently used in Teoswa as well, unlike in most other regions of China. My aunts will often use fish sauce in lieu of salt while stir frying, saying it provides a more interesting multidimensional flavor than salt. (And they prefer sweeter Thai brands over the local varieties produced in Teoswa.) I have a soft spot for Red Boat, which makes a balanced sauce with no additives. Its availability is spotty at Asian supermarkets, but you can easily order it online or usually find it at Whole Foods.
Preserved Mustard Greens
Preserved mustard greens (酸菜): Sweet, salty, sour, and crunchy, preserved mustard greens balance the richness of fatty pork and buttery pompano. Many varieties of preserved mustard greens exist. For recipes in this book, use the version that is mostly thick stems (few leaves), usually presented in brine in a plastic vaccum-sealed package. It may be in the refrigerated section. Some brands are much saltier than others, so make sure to taste test a piece before using. It should be a bit saltier than you’d want to eat on its own, but if it tastes like a salt lick, let it soak in water while you prepare your other ingredients.
Preserved radish (菜脯): A great source of umami, preserved radish gets folded into omelettes, sprinkled over porridge, and added to simmering savory stocks. It may come whole, sliced intro strips, or minced. Depending on where you are, you may have access to both the “sweet” and “salty” varieties. The sweet version is more versatile, but if you can only find the salty version, no problem— just give it a quick rinse to eliminate excess salt before using.
Mung beans (绿豆): Finding peeled whole mung beans (the traditional choice for Teoswa mung bean popiah) is rather difficult in American stores, but peeled split mung beans are widely available and cook up more quickly. These legumes are also frequently incorporated into sweets and desserts. A long soak isn’t required prior to cooking, but make sure to rinse thoroughly.
White pepper (白胡椒): White pepper is used more frequently than black pepper in Teoswa dishes. A shaker of ground white pepper is common to find at the table, as a dash or two will liven up a bowl of muay or soup. Palmfuls of whole white peppercorns contribute a unique flavor to bak kut teh, that beloved Southeast Asian Teochew pork rib soup. Compared to black pepper, white pepper is a bit funkier and sharper, although toasting the peppercorns ahead of time helps to tame some of its intensity. Whole Foods will usually stock small (but pricey) packets of whole white peppercorns; for the amounts required in bak kut teh, check your local Asian supermarket, or order online.
Five Spice Powder
Five spice powder (五香粉: Yup, this powder contains five different spices...but which five? I like a version that incorporates fennel, star anise, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Other common blends may swap in Sichuan peppercorn, coriander, cardamom, or a whole range of other spices. You can easily find at least one version in supermarkets, or you can tailor your own blend to your tastes. This seasoning is crucial for making mung bean popiah and duck noodle soup.
Sweet potato starch/corn starch/tapioca starch: Sweet potato starch (蕃薯粉 or 地瓜粉) is the traditional binding agent for chewy oyster omelettes and potato kueh. It may be a little hard to track down, so order online or substitute with tapioca starch (菱粉) or cornstarch, which achieve similar textures.