I do a lot of Asian cooking at home, so these are a few things I like to have on hand:
- Soy sauce - I actually have a giant 1-gallon container in my refrigerator. Yes, keep soy sauce in the refrigerator. Also, if you are wary of gluten or carbs, there is wheat in soy sauce (who knew?)
- Sesame seeds - I have both regular and black sesame seeds. They taste the same to me, but the black ones add some contrast for presentation. However, there is a difference in taste between regular and toasted sesame seeds. If you buy regular sesame seeds, toast them yourself in a dry pan over medium high heat.
- Sesame oil - It's rarely used as a cooking oil, but rather, as a seasoning in marinades or added to a dish like a condiment just before serving for its fragrance.
- Rice - Short grain rice that is "sticky" when it is steamed.
- Ginger - You can use ginger powder, but there really is a difference if you use grated fresh ginger. Don't be afraid to buy an entire root because you can keep it in the freezer, tightly wrapped.
- Green onions - Always added to everything.
- Garlic - Same as above.
- Tofu - You don't have to eat tofu if you cook Asian food, but why not give it a try? I eat it "raw," which means right out of the container cold, but most people add this lean protein to stir-fries. (However, fresh tofu is not served during Chinese New Year because its white color is bad luck.)
- Rice wine - Rice vinegar is a substitute, which is what I usually have because rice wine (sake) doesn't last long in my house.
As far as utensils, the only specialty Asian "tools" I have are a rice cooker and chopsticks to eat with at the table. I don't even have a wok. The rice cooker isn't absolutely necessary, as rice can be made in a large heavy pot on the stovetop. However, if you eat rice often, the rice cooker is convenient in that it requires little to no attention until the little bell rings "done!"