The Oriental Saucy Affair – By Anuradha Gupta

Have you ever wondered while ordering your meal in an oriental restaurant that how Tofu in Hunan sauce is going to taste different from Tofu in Hoisin sauce? Do you often seek help from the servers in the restaurants to explain you better how a dish would taste? Well Oriental food is extremely diverse and rich in terms of flavours ranging from piquant, salty to sharply pungent. I am compiling a list of some classic sauces found in the most menus of the oriental restaurants! Having an idea about the taste profile of these sauces will definitely help you in experimenting next time you decide to have a Chinese, Thai or Indonesian meal in a restaurant or while cooking at home.  

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is a dark, reddish-brown, thick sauce and is often referred to as Chinese barbecue sauce, not because it has a similar flavor, but because it is used for a variety of purposes, similar to American barbecue sauce. Hoisin sauce itself contains no seafood but it is used in a variety of seafood dishes. It has a balanced mix of salty, sweet, and tangy, with a hint of spicy heat. It is is made with soybean paste, garlic, chilies, vinegar, and sugar. A starchy ingredient, such as sweet potato, wheat, or rice, is also used to create the glossy, thick consistency of the sauce. 

Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce is a thick, brown sauce with a sweet, salty, and earthy flavor. It is a popular ingredient in Vietnamese, Thai, and Cantonese cuisine. This thick, flavorful sauce is full of umami, which gives any recipe it’s added to extra oomph. Traditionally, oyster sauce is made by slowly simmering oysters in water until the juices caramelize into a thick, brown, intensely flavorful sauce however these days it is usually made with a base of sugar and salt and thickened with corn starch. So you might be ordering Stir fry vegetables in oyster sauce thinking it is a vegetarian dish but it is always a good idea to ask the chef which version of oyster sauce is being used!
Miso Sauce
Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans or other grains like rice or barley. Each miso variety will vary depending on the grains that have been fermented, the type of bacterial or fungal culture used for fermentation, and the length of time the mixture is allowed to culture. 
White Miso: This miso is made from soybeans that have been fermented with a large percentage of rice. The actual resulting color can range from white to light beige, and the miso has a definite sweet taste. It’s best used in condiments like mayo or salad dressings, or in light sauces.
Yellow Miso: Yellow miso is usually made from soybeans that have been fermented with barley and sometimes a small percentage of rice. It can be yellow to light brown in color. This miso has a mild, earthy flavor and is better for general use in not only condiments, but soup, marinades, and glazes.
Red Miso: This is also typically made from soybeans fermented with barley or other grains, though with a higher percentage of soybeans and/or a longer fermentation period. It can range in color from red to dark brown. The deep umami flavor of red miso can overwhelm mild dishes, but is perfect for hearty soups, braises, and glazes.
Black Miso: Some sources say this paste is made entirely from soybeans, others say that it’s made from soybeans fermented with hearty dark grains like buckwheat. Regardless, this sounds like the strongest flavored miso around. The depth of color with any particular miso can also tell you something about it’s flavor. Generally speaking, the darker the color, the longer it’s been fermented and the stronger it will taste. 
Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is a thin, salty liquid that is used in place of salt as a seasoning in many Asian recipes. It smells pungent and tastes very salty, although cooking greatly reduces its ‘fishiness’ and simply adds a richness and a layer of flavour to cooked dishes. The longer the fish are fermented, the less fishy tasting the resulting sauce. Cheap, quickly fermented fish sauces will have a fairly strong fish flavor while ones that have been aged for a year or more develop an almost nutty flavor similar to parmesan cheese. (Both fish sauce and parmesan are high in glutamates, giving them a similar umami flavor.) Fish sauce is used almost like salt or soy sauce in many dishes. It is used to season stir-fries, curries, and noodle dishes. It adds depth to marinades, and makes a great dipping sauce when mixed with garlic, chili peppers, lime juice, and sugar. Although it smells incredibly strong, fish sauce blends well with other flavors in these dishes, enhancing and bringing them together without overwhelming them.
Black Bean Sauce
This is a sauce made from fermented, salt-preserved soya beans and has a subtle, deeply savoury taste. The soya beans used in blackbean sauce may be black or yellow; the sauce’s colour is a result of the beans becoming dark due to the enzymes released when they are dried at high temperatures during the fermentation process. Not a good idea to try it if you don’t like sharp and pungent flavours.
Hunan Sauce and Szechuan Sauce
Both are made using lots deal of chillies, onions and garlic. Hunan however, is generally hotter in flavor than the szechuan sauce which is a result of good mix of sweet and spicy. While hunan is oiler and hotter than the szechuan sauce. Szechuan has a tingling, numbing spiciness, instead of straight heat.
Plum Sauce
Plum sauce is a viscous, light brown sweet and sour condiment. It is used as dip for deep-fried dishes, such as spring rolls, egg rolls, noodles, and deep-fried chicken balls as well as for roast duck. It is made from sweet plums or other fruit such as peach, pineapple or apricot, along with sugar, vinegar, salt, ginger and chili peppers. This sauce is full of flavor. It’s tangy, salty, spicy! Duck sauce, a.k.a. plum sauce, is actually an American invention and found in literally every American-Chinese restaurant. 
XO Sauce
XO sauce is a spicy seafood sauce that originated from Hong Kong. XO sauce is made of roughly chopped dried seafoods, including scallops, dried fish and shrimp, and subsequently cooked with chili peppers, onions, and garlic.
Written by Anuradha Gupta