Let’s be honest here: everyone has tried to make Japanese/Chinese/Asian food in general for their bento. The problem (for some at least) is knowing just what the Hell goes into it. Experienced and inexperienced cooks alike are often perplexed by the qualities of things like oyster sauce and anko. “What the Hell?” my mother once said to me, “How do they got oysters into a sauce?” Similar queries include: “How do they make rice into flour?” “Can’t I just use salt water?” and “Why is that jello brown?”
Well, fear not. Or fear more strongly, I’m not sure. On this page, I will compile a list of Asian ingredients (and some foods) that I’ve been asked the most questions about, and some that I find too interesting or delicious not to include. Wherever possible, I will include: a description of the food, advice in preparing and using it, and where to get it. Let’s get this train wreck a-burnin’, shall we?
God save me, I’ve been asked many times just what the flying feck soy sauce is made of, or is for. While I can understand that there’s some element of mystery around how it’s made, I didn’t think that grown people living in the United States could be more or less unaware of its contents or applications. You learn something new every day, I suppose.
What it is: Soy sauce is, as I thought was obvious, a sauce made from fermented soy beans (and wheat, salt, and yeast, among other things) often used in East Asian cooking. It’s a savory, salty sauce that comes in several varieties that vary in consistency and potency.
The most common varieties in American supermarkets are Chinese soy sauce and Japanese soy sauce. Malaysian, Vietnamese, Filipino, and other varieties are usually absent entirely unless you can find them in an Asian food shop. As such, unless someone can volunteer information on these other varieties, I will only discuss Japanese and Chinese sauces. Okay? Okay.
Chinese soy sauce is usually very dark, with a high soy content and a very salty flavor. Even Chinese soy sauce comes in at least two varieties: Light, which is thin and more mildly flavored; and dark, which is often thickened with molasses, starch, or sugar. Dark also has a sweeter flavor.
Japanese soy sauce, which is my sauce of choice, can be best described as salty brown liquid with a boozey undertaste. The high wheat content in Japanese soy sauce is to blame. We all know what fermented wheat does, or so I assume. Again, two varieties are the most commonly used: they are the most common variety (the name of which escapes me; HELP), and tamari,