The weird and wonderful tastes of your local Asian grocery store.

Entering an Asian grocery store can be a nerve wracking experience. The shelves pack the walls, and more often than not block the windows, casting a gloom not aided by the fluorescent lighting that paints everything grey. Packaged food with garish text and faintly alarming text do not beguile the buyer – ‘Fast express mouse tail noodle!’ says one, and the freezer section looks even more distressing. But fear not, gentle reader, for here is 6D’s complete survival guide to Asian / Afro-Caribbean / Indian / African grocery shopping. Prepare to have your taste buds blown.

This month – Chinese condiments

It’s tough to pick somewhere so let’s start from the middle – the middle Kingdom that is – or China. Featuring cuisine that is as variable as Muslim influenced cumin-lamb kebabs to fish head noodles cooked in ginger and milk, Chinese cuisine refuses to be pigeonholed. But the main condiments or sauces are a good a starting point as any.

Oyster sauce

Read the label, not all contain actual oysters but rather oyster flavouring. Used in stir-fries, oyster sauce is rich, salty and is full of umami flavours. Add a pinch of sugar and chopped chillies to round out the taste.

Tania Nathan is a Chinese-Sri Lankan Malaysian who loves her food and is often to be found rummaging through a freezer somewhere in Hakaniemi. Come say hi!

Fermented chilli bean paste

A rich, funky sauce that looks a lot better than it tastes, this condiment works if you wake it up by sautéing with garlic and onion in oil before adding your proteins. Spicy. Not for the faint hearted. Or neighbours with allergies.

Mushroom soy sauce

A richer, thicker sauce than your average soy sauce. Use when making fried noodles for that extra kick.

Black vinegar/Chinkiang vinegar

Rich, malty and smoky, black vinegar is excellent for toning down the fattiness in pork dishes and to add a sour kick. Black vinegar is a must as a dipping sauce for dumplings and in hot and sour soup. And don’t forget to use it in marinades. It’s magic.

Stay tuned: next month, we look into the world of spices.