On this page we’ve got a fast guide to Chinese dried and preserved ingredients, including cooking with dried seafood, Chinese sausage, pork belly, salted eggs, and preserved vegetables. We never did meet a Chinese person who didn’t like something dried or preserved, so read on through this vitally important category!
If you’re looking for more information on other Chinese Ingredients, go to our main Chinese Ingredients Glossary page to review the different categories and easily find what you’re looking for.
Chinese Dried Black Mushrooms
These dried mushrooms have an intense meaty flavor that enhances the flavor of soups, stir-fries, and braised dishes. The many different varieties range in color from light to dark brown and in pattern from smoother to a more flowery pattern. Shiitake mushrooms, as the name implies, is a Japanese variety that have a meatier and thicker texture with a flowery pattern. Nowadays, I think names are used interchangeably, and only a fine connoisseur of mushrooms could probably tell or care about the fine differences within the black mushrooms category. In Chinese cooking, dried mushrooms are favored over fresh, as the drying process really enhances their flavor, similar to dried vs. fresh herbs. These mushrooms are used in a range of dishes and usually are an “accompanying” ingredient (there’s an equivalent phrase in Chinese, but we won’t bore you with semantics). The mushrooms really add body and meatiness to vegetarian and vegan dishes like Braised Tofu with Vegetables.
To prepare these, just rehydrate them in warm water for at least 15 minutes, even if you plan on using them in a stew, soup, or stock. Soaking the mushrooms helps remove any dried and crusted bits of dirt that clung to the mushrooms during harvesting and drying. You may also want to remove the stems, as the drying process can render them a bit too woodsy for a stir fry or stew (but definitely leave them on if you’re just making a stock or soup!). Here are simple steps showing how to re-hydrate Chinese dried mushrooms:
1. Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl with enough warm water to submerge them. We almost always use a small plate on top of the bowl to keep the mushrooms submersed in the liquid. If you are in a rush or forgot to soak your mushrooms in advance, using hot water will definitely speeds things up.
2. Soak the mushrooms in the warm water for about 30 to 45 minutes, until softened. More soaking time may be needed depending upon the size of the mushrooms and how long they have been dried. They should be completely soft to the touch. You also don’t want to over-soak the mushrooms, or they can become mushy. If you are soaking them overnight, you can actually remove most of the water and just let them sit, covered, to re-hydrate slowly without getting too waterlogged.
3. When you’re ready to use them, squeeze the excess water out of the mushrooms, and then follow the directions in your recipe!
4. But wait, don’t dump that liquid down the drain quite yet. The liquid from soaking the dried mushrooms can be used to enhance the flavor of soup or braising liquid. It also makes a great vegetarian/vegan friendly substitute broth if you don’t mind the strong flavor. Be sure to strain the liquid using a fine mesh strainer or a coffee filter if you want to add it to a very clear broth.
5. The stems are great for soups so don’t throw them away. I like leaving the stems on for the extra fiber, but if you do this, at least trim the bottom of the stem, as that portion is usually driest and carries the most dirt.
During our time in Beijing, we discovered the great seasonal practice of drying mushrooms at home. Since they are plentiful and reasonably priced in the many wet markets of Beijing, it was a snap to buy a bunch, lay them out on the counter for a few days, and watch them dry. A quick transfer to a zip-loc and we had perfectly executed Chinese dried mushrooms! If you live in a dry climate, drying mushrooms is a must try! These days, you can find the fresh varieties for sale in the US Chinese and Asian markets – See our Asian Vegetables page for more information and pictures.
As for where you can buy these, many types and brands are available at Asian stores, and the quality and price vary greatly. Many varieties of the Chinese black mushrooms are mostly a solid dark brown color and don’t have the flowery pattern of the Fa Gu or “flower mushrooms” like the Japanese Shiitake varieties. Another difference between the Chinese black mushroom variety and the Shiitakes is that the shiitake or “fa gu” are usually meatier and thicker than the black mushroom and they seem to be more fragrant and expensive. It’s not unusual to pay twenty dollars (USD) for a 12 ounce packet of good quality mushrooms. If you like Chinese black mushrooms or shiitakes AND pasta, then you must try Soy Sauce Butter Pasta with Shrimp and Shiitakes or Shiitake Mushroom Tortellini w/ Soy Cream Sauce.
This is a dark and firm kind of mushroom with a very interesting consistency that’s quite different from your run-of-the-mill mushroom. They have a slightly crunchy texture when cold and soft (they often turn up in cold dishes) and a luxurious texture when cooked in stews and soups. That sounds weird at worst and unclear at best, but let’s just say that this is one of our absolute favorites of the edible fungi. Plus, they’re healthy! You can’t go wrong.
They are virtually always sold dry (if you’ve ever seen them fresh, let us know!), and, consequently, they also need to be soaked in cold water before cooking. Often used in braised dishes and stir-fry dishes, they pair well with mushrooms or lily flowers. Braised Chicken and Mushrooms and Tilapia and Mixed Vegetable Stir-fry are also delicious options for the humble wood ear.
We have seen this brand below sold in China supermarkets and specialty stores.
One note about these black fungus mushrooms is that there is a subtle difference between black wood ears and black cloud ears. Wood ears are usually thicker, larger and more crunchy in texture where cloud ears are smaller, thinner and softer in texture. It can be hard to tell the difference sometimes but if you purchase what looks like black wood ear fungus and they are smaller and more delicate, then you may just have purchased black cloud ear mushrooms. Both are good but some recipes do call for cloud ears rather than wood ears.
White Cloud Ears
Named for its unusual shape, cloud ears are quite similar to wood ears, though they are more delicate in texture and lighter in color. Like tofu, it has very little flavor; instead it tends to absorb the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. It’s used in soups and stir-fries and has a crunchy yet silky texture. They’re usually sold dry, so soak them in water to soften before use. Chinese people also love to use these cloud ears for sweet syrupy desserts that you’ll sometimes see at authentic Chinese restaurants specializing in Cantonese food, or perhaps at a Chinese wedding banquet.
Dried Lily Flowers
This Chinese specialty ingredient is also referred to as “lily buds,” “golden needles,” or “jin zhen”. Lily buds have a slight fruity, floral scent and are used in a variety of traditional Chinese dishes. The most common pairing of ingredients are with black or wood ear fungus and dried black mushrooms in dishes such hot and sour soup. These lily flower buds must be washed and re-hydrated, and, before using them, the hard stem tip (the base of the lily flower) should be cut off. I suggest that you soak these twice, squeezing them dry after soaking for the first 5 minutes and changing the water once since lily flowers can have a slightly sour, strong taste if only soaked once.
Any reasonable well-stocked Chinese grocery store stocks this item but they can also be purchased online (although at premium prices).
Dried Goji Berries
Goji berries have gained super food status in recent years, but we’ve been using them for years and years to augment healthy chicken soups. Previously, unless you lived near an Asian grocery, you’d be hard pressed to find these. While we prefer them in soups, we’ve also found that they’re quite nice in a cup of black or jasmine tea, or simply eaten as a healthful snack.
If you are eating goji berries straight, it’s better to use an organic or natural brand as the variety you find in the Asian store usually are of lower quality, since the company knows they are destined for cooking and soups.
Dried Red Dates
Often used in sweet dessert items, red dates are common around holiday times in China. They’re usually used for cooking in dried form and can be found at most Chinese grocery stores. They’re also very healthy–think of them as China’s answer to the acai berry craze. In fact, we’ve seen plenty of morning-long infomercials dedicated to selling enormous dates with supposed godly health benefits! For anyone who’s seen these commercials, don’t take them too seriously…Dates are especially popular in northern China and are found in savory as well as sweet desserts. Kaitlin likes them when they’re stuffed with sweet sticky rice and stewed in a simple syrup.
Dried Lotus Seeds
Lotus seeds or lotus nuts are the seeds of same plants that produce the lotus root. Grown in water, flowers bloom on the surface and form seeds. Lotus seeds are used for soups, tonics, and desserts but that is about the extent of our current knowledge. I do know it is used in Lo Han Jai or Buddhist Delight in an old family recipe. We hope to publish more recipes using this ingredient.
We buy these Chinese imported dried white lotus seeds at our local Chinese grocery store.
Black Moss (Fat Choy)
Fat choy is a dried black moss that is found in the Gobi Desert, not seaweed, as many recipes and articles on the internet suggest. The dried black moss does look like seaweed, but it is indeed moss that grows on land. I first thought that this dried black moss was from the sea, but my father set the record straight for me. I know little else about it. Below is a package that retails for about $12.00. We used about half of the packet in the Dried Oyster and Black Moss (Ho See Fat Choy) dish for Chinese New Year. Follow that Ho See Fat Choy recipe link and you can see what it looks like soaked and after it is cooked in the dish.
I do know it was a slightly crunchy texture and in addition to this dish, it is also used in the Buddhist Delight or Lo Han Jai, although our recipe did not call for it. One other fun fact is that the literal translation of fat choy is hair vegetable and you know why when you see it – hair vegetable, yep, for real.
Every culture has their own dried meats and the Chinese are no different. Each region has their own curing methods and favored cuts, but most Chinese cured meats found in the US are from southern China. Usually eaten during the fall and winter months, you can find them vacuum packed in the refrigerated section. In China and in some busy Asian markets in larger US Chinatowns, you can see cured meats hanging behind the butcher counter, similar to hanging jamón in Spain or prosciutto in Italy.
The most common favorite is probably the Chinese sausage, but we like a good pork belly, and occasionally dried duck. Chicken has also made its way into the cured meats section, and they are all really good cut into small pieces and thrown into a pot of rice! The meats cook alongside the rice and flavor the rice. For an easy weeknight meal, just add a leafy green vegetable.
Chinese sausage (Pork)
These thin, reddish, dried sausages look kind of like long, miniature salamis. Look for them hanging from cotton twine in the Chinese grocery or vacuum-packed in the refrigerated section. The southern variety of Chinese sausage is commonly known by its Cantonese name “Lap Cheong” or “Lap Chong” (腊肠).
However you pronounce it, this stuff is just really good and makes for a great flavoring whether it’s the star of the dish in Hong Kong Clay Pot Rice or an accompaniment in the popular Roasted Chicken with Sticky Rice.
Chinese Liver Sausage
If you like liver, you have to try a good Chinese liver sausage. Chinese liver sausages are traditionally made with duck liver, and they have a rich taste due to the high fat content of the duck liver. The best way to eat these sausages are in a clay pot rice dish or steamed and sliced as an appetizer. I have only seen a Chinese sausage plate appetizer offered in restaurants in China, so if you have the opportunity to order one you must order it!
Cured Pork Belly
You will want to try cured pork belly if you plan to make a Hong Kong Style Clay Pot Rice. We are checking with other elders in the family on a recipe for how to cure it at home since our family used to cure a batch every winter. It was always a real treat and is relatively simple (if you know what to do), so we’re hoping to document it on the blog so home cured pork belly does not become a lost art! Update: Our own recipe for Chinese Cured Pork belly is a success so please check it out! Whether you’re using homemade or store-bought, try our Cured Pork Belly Stir-fry with Leeks recipe.
Jinhua ham (金华火腿)
Jinhua ham or Jīn huá hu tui, is a type of Chinese dry-cured ham named after the city of Jinhua, Zhejiang province in eastern China. This cured ham is used in many Chinese cuisines, including braised and steamed dishes, soups, stocks and also sauces like Kaitlin’s How to make XO sauce recipe.
Jinhua hams are found everywhere in China and are readily available in large cities as you see pictured below in Shanghai specialty food shops. During our travels, we have been lucky enough to find local hams in places like HuangShan and Hongcun in Anhui province. You can see our post, On Location in Hongcun, where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed where you see pictures of drying ham and some dishes served up in a local country kitchen.
We have not been able to find any good sources in the US for Jinhua hams but there are good available alternatives. Jinhua ham is very similar to dry cured hams all over the world including Iberian and Parma hams that you can find commonly at your local deli counter. You can even substitute using more common country hams that are readily available in the US but be sure to use the dry cured variety that you see pictured below and not those commonly used for luncheon meats.
Dried seafood products are a very common Asian food, and there is a wide array within the different Asian cultures. We’ll be covering the most common of dried Chinese seafood and the types we use in our recipes. As you can see from the picture of the refrigerated section of our local Asian store, it’s dried shrimp, squid, fish, scallops, anchovies, and oysters galore!
Dried shrimp is the most common dried seafood and is used extensively in Chinese cooking. It adds great umami flavor and is sometimes even the star flavor of the dish. We use it in our Sticky Rice with Chinese Sausage recipe. Turnip cake – Lo Bak Go, and Cheung Fun Homemade Rice noodles just to name a few. But if you don’t enjoy shrimp, just omit them.
In case you can’t find any locally, we did see some vendors on Amazon.
Dried oysters can be found in well-stocked Chinese and Asian grocery stores. They are expensive and come in different grades, depending upon their size, origin, and if they are fresh dried, or if they have been cooked (blanched) before drying. Dried oysters are popular in Hong Kong and the Guangdong province and actually not even known to many people in Northern parts of China and even as far South as Shanghai.
I learned from my father that blanching the oysters before drying is fairly common and part of the process for making oyster sauce. It turns out that his great grandfather used to produce dried oysters and oyster sauce in Southern China, and he used to tell me about the process. Truthfully, all I remember was that the two types of oysters you can buy are the cooked dried oysters (below), which are a little bit more chewy when cooked, and the fresh raw dried oysters (above) which retain a bit more color and more expensive. We are using the fresh raw dried oysters in our recipe today but you can also use the more common cooked dried oysters.
Dried scallops have many uses. One of the more popular dishes that use these is braised dry scallops. Like dried shrimp, they are often used simply for their umami flavor, and our elders use it quite often to add some extra flavor to soups and stews by adding just one or two crushed pieces.
Dried scallops on Amazon.
Dried anchovies are a specialty item that we’ve used to make shrimp or anchovy sambal, a Malaysian dish. We don’t use these that often, but we’re experimenting with some recipes, so stay tuned!
Salted fish is a common ingredient in Southern China and Hong Kong cooking. People serve congee with salted fish steamed with ginger, scallion and some wine or pan fried until crisp and aromatic. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but it seems to me that younger generations don’t have quite the taste for it as it’s become less ubiquitous than it once was. Nevertheless, we love salted fish.
There are many different types of salted fish, but our favorite is the fermented salted fish which is made with a soft white fish such as croakers. The fish is salted and dried; during the drying process, it ferments and takes on a flavor similar to shrimp belcehan. A favorite recipe using this fermented, salted fish is Cantonese Chicken & Salted Fish Fried Rice. There’s also Steamed Pork with Salted Fish (咸鱼蒸肉饼), a family favorite that we’ve been eating in Chinatown’s best Cantonese restaurants for years.
Salted Croaker fish are usually sold by the pound; in our local Chinese grocery store, the whole fish sells for $16.95 a pound. Some stores stock the fish by the meat counter, others in the refrigerated section.
So–the ultimate question–how do you know you have the right kind of salted fish? This is a question that has plagued us for some years now, so we’ve built up quite the little arsenal of knowledge on salted fish.
First, a good quality fermented fish will be costly, so if the fish is selling for less than $10, and you’re not in Hong Kong, then it’s probably not the right kind or you’d be better off spending your money on something else.
Second, employ the nose test. Give the fish a good sniff, because, generally, the whole fish is not vacuum packed and you’ll be able to detect a strong, fermented, salted fishy aroma. It should smell a little like shrimp belecan, but if you’re not familiar with either of these aromas, then move on to the pinch test.
Third, the pinch test. Pick up the fish and give it a good pinch on various parts of the body. The meat should give when pinched. It should be a bit soft and maybe a little mushy but not disintegrating from pinching. If it’s rock hard, move on.
Last but definitely not least, just ask a store clerk – better to find one who speaks English (and maybe is a bit older than some whippersnapper restocking the shelves). You can ask which fish used in salted fish fried rice. If the guy speaks or understand Cantonese, and you’re brave, you can also ask him if this is “muy heung hom yee”.
We recently found this vacuum packed threadfish, pictured below, and when I asked the store clerk, he said it was different from Cantonese fermented salt-cured fish but is a very good copycat from Vietnam; so I took a chance and bought some. It was a good gamble because it tastes pretty authentic! The moral of the story? You may have to engage in some trial and error!
These dried fish are also croakers, but they are small and do not pass any of the tests mentioned above, except, maybe, for the nose test. They are rock hard and much less expensive than the types of fermented fish mentioned above. If anyone out there knows what to do with these to make them taste good, leave us a comment and help us out! :)
Sui Mi Ya Cai (碎米芽菜)
This preserved vegetable is a special Sichuan ingredient used in our Dan Dan Noodles and Sichuan Dry Fried Green Beans. When we first had these two dishes, we wondered what those bits of preserved vegetables were and promptly asked the chefs in the kitchen, who were kind enough to share their knowledge. Honestly, we do not know what kind if vegetables these are pre-preservation, but we guess it may be made from Xue Cai (雪菜). All you really have to know is that it’s delicious, and that they come in these little packets at Chinese grocery stores.
Preserved Mustard Stems (Zha Cai)
Zhai Cai is made from the stalks of mustard plants which are then salted and pickled in a hot pepper paste. It’s salty spicy, and crunchy, making it a perfect addition to stir-fries, soups, or just a bowl of rice porridge at the end of a long day. Noodle Soup with Pork and Pickled Greens can be made with different kinds of pickled greens, but zha cai is the most authentic.
Preserved Salted Radish
Salted radish is a unique ingredient that is very tasty when incorporated in the right dish. It is commonly used in Thailand for Pad Thai like in our Shrimp Pad Thai recipe but salted radish is also used in many Chinese dishes.
Preserved Mustard Greens
Preserved Mustard greens don’t sound even remotely appetizing, but they have a unique and rich, salty flavor that really pairs well with meats. These greens are the star in a favorite dish of many Chinese people, Mei Cai Kou Rou (Steamed Pork Belly w/ Preserved Mustard Greens) (aka mui choy kow yook in Cantonese). It’s so popular, that a fast food chain in China serves it as one of their main dishes! It’s Kaitlin’s favorite for when we’re hoofing around Beijing. The dish is actually a classic Hakka recipe, but you can find the mustard greens everywhere in China and in the majority of well-stocked Chinese grocery stores.
To prepare these dried vegetables for any dish, you need to soak them for 4-6 hours in a large basin and washed several times until the water is completely free of particles. These tend to be quite sandy as the greens are harvested and dried right away. Washing them in a colander under running water won’t be enough. Get the largest bowl or basin you have, and soak them for 4-6 hours; every half hour to hour, shake and stir vigorously to shake loose and sand, drain them in a colander, and then refill the bowl with fresh cold water. You should repeat these steps at least 6 times. If the greens start to feel too mushy, skip the soaking and simple rinse them repeatedly. It does seem like a lot of work, but it’s really only a half hour’s worth of active prep.
Salted Duck Eggs
Salted duck eggs are a very traditional food that is generally eaten with soups and congee during the fall and winter months. Duck eggs are used over chicken eggs due to their high fat content, although we have made our own salted eggs at home using free range chicken eggs which also have a richer yolk. There are plenty of other applications for salted duck eggs, but they show up most often in moon cakes and savory zongzi. Our Cantonese-style Zongzi recipe calls for these; we like to buy the vacuum-packed version at our local Asian grocery store.
No, they’re not really a thousand years old. To some, they may look it though. These are preserved duck eggs, which have a dark brown appearance and a grayish yolk. We watched a Fear Factor episode in which one woman was literally crying while trying to choke one of those babies down. Puh-lease. We say just give us a couple a soy sauce packets–no problem! Seriously, though, they’re really quite good when prepared properly.
We frequently add chopped thousand year old eggs to our Spicy Cold Tofu (Liangban Dofu), a really simple and tasty dish that may just convert some skeptics out there. In case you’re training yourself to blend in at the dinner table with your Chinese significant other, eating one or two of these will give you major brownie points with the in-laws!
These leaves are made for one purpose–to make Zongzi for the Duanwu Festival, aka the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar (i.e. late May to mid June). You can read more about it in our post about Zongzi (Cantonese Style).
Dried Lotus Leaves
Dried lotus leaves are the large round leaves used for recipes like Tawainese Chicken and Dim Sum Sticky Rice Lotus Leaf Wraps w/ Chicken (Lo Mai Gai). They add a wonderful fragrance to dishes and keep foods moist during the cooking process.
Shrimp Flavored Chips
These Shrimp flavored chips always show up on Chinese New year and are a real treat for the kids. It’s a traditional snack of the Chinese during the Lunar New Year and other special banquets and occasions. They are fun to make at home and are a delight for the kids to see as they expand when they are fried in oil.
Kao Fu – Spongy Gluten
Kao fu (烤麸) is a spongy gluten that come dried but when rehydrated actually has the texture of a sponge. Like tofu, Kao Fu takes on the flavor of the sauce that it is cooked in and is a great vegetarian or vegan meat substitute. A famous Shanghai dish is Hong Shao Kao Fu – Braised Gluten with Mushrooms that is loved by all Shanghainese people.
Olive Vegetable – Gan Lan Cai (橄榄菜)
Chinese Olive Vegetable is a condiment made with a combination of minced green olives and Chinese mustard greens. This unique ingredient originated in Chao Zhou (潮州) and the cuisine from this region is called Teochew or Chiu-chow cuisine.
You can find olive vegetables at your local Asian grocery store or click on the links above to purchase them from Amazon vendors
The vegetable used to make this tasty ingredient is not a preserved vegetable like Chinese preserved mustard greens, but is stir-fried with boiled green olives with plenty of oil and a few choice spices until everything is wilted. Olive pits are sometimes found in this ingredient so be sure to pick them out before use. Try this tasty ingredient with an incredibly tasty Stir-Fried Green Beans with Pork and Chinese Olive Vegetable