Pantry Staples for the Exotic Kitchen
The spice must flow.

I don’t know about you folks, but when it comes to food, I crave variety. The story of how I came to love so many world cuisines is a story for another time, but I love cooking exotic dishes at home to save money and calories. I often take a dish I truly love (Chicken Tikka Masala for example) and adapt it for my home kitchen, lightening it and occasionally simplifying it. You can find list after list of normal everyday pantry staples on the old interwebs, so I won’t address those here, but I’m going to list some of the less standard pantry ingredients I keep on hand all the time to throw together healthy, home-cooked dishes that are packed with flavor.

These exotic basics should help you get a head start on cuisines like Indian, Thai, Mexican, and a variety of others. A lot of these items can be found in your standard grocery store, but to save money and get fresher ingredients, take some time to check out your local ethnic stores. I’m lucky enough to live in an area that’s quite diverse, so I have a choice of a generic Asian market, a Korean market, an Indian market and various Hispanic markets to choose from. If you don’t have these options, there are a number of websites that sell the more exotic spices, as well as your standards for far less than you would pay for McCormick (I avoid McCormick like the plague because of the prices, especially since Badia is so much less for the same items). I’ve personally used The Spice House and My Spice Sage for mail order spices with great success.
You know what they say about beans, don’t you?
Good for the heart.

In the Cabinet

  • Soy Sauce (Both dark and reduced sodium)
  • Shao Xing Rice Wine
  • Fish sauce
  • Rice Vinegar (Seasoned and Unseasoned)
  • Balsamic Vinegar (I have 2 or 3 varieties at any given time)
  • Sesame Oil
  • Peanut Butter
  • Red Lentils
  • Dried Beans (Black, Kidney, Pinto, Split Peas, Chickpeas)
  • Canned Beans (White/Cannelini, Black, Kidney, Pinto)
  • Canned Tomatoes (Diced, Puree, Paste)
  • Fat Free Evaporated Milk
  • Canned Tuna
  • Farro
  • Wheat berries
  • Millet
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Barley
  • Red Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Jasmine Rice
  • Basmati Rice
  • Craisins
  • Dried Apricots
  • Dates
  • Prunes
  • Peanuts, dry roasted
Fresh ginger also makes great tea if you have a tummy ache.

In the Fridge

  • Fresh Ginger
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • Lemongrass
  • Thai Red Curry Paste
  • Chili Garlic Paste
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Plain Greek Yogurt
Only one of my spice locations!

In the Spice Rack

  • Bouillon (Chicken & Beef)
  • Powdered Sumac
  • Bay Leaves
  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom (Green & Black)
  • Star Anise
  • Chinese Five Spice
  • Crushed Red Peppers
  • Garlic Powder
  • Chili Powder
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Curry Powder
  • Cloves
  • Allspice
  • Dried Chiles
  • Powdered Ginger
  • Cloves
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Jerk Seasoning
  • Sesame Seeds

In the Liquor Cabinet

  • Marsala
  • Madeira
  • Sherry

Add these items slowly to your standard pantry items and you’ll be cooking chicken vindaloo and pad thai in your home kitchen in no time!


4 thoughts on “Pantry Staples for the Exotic Kitchen”

  1. Great blog. I also love to cook and eat ethnic food. My favorite and least understood ingredient is fish sauce. Smells bad. Tastes strange. But, man, it automatically makes everything taste better. Another ingredient I use all the time is chili garlic sauce. While I like Siracha (which is the trendy flavor these days), chili garlic sauce has a little less heat and a little more tang. Similarly, I always use the cheapest hot sauce I can find. The cheap stuff has more vinegar and fewer peppers than the expensive stuff; I think that gives it a more full flavor. I miss your spice blogs on Sparkpeople!


  2. I personally skip the seasoned rice vinegar, since It takes about 5 seconds to season it yourself. It’s basically just salt and sugar. (Lessons learned from homemade sushi. Lol). So, I just buy the unseasoned- I don’t need the extra bottle or the extra money out of my pocket for something I have all the things I need to make on the fly on hand.

    I also would add turmeric to the list, but I know why you don’t have it there. 🙂 I love the stuff, though.

    Going to have to scroll through this list again when I’m properly awake. Lol.


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