A few Secret Ingredients

I love to eat.

If time permits (I have a bottomless pit on certain days), I could be eating every other minute. There are too many evil foodie friends that brings me to secret hideouts, visiting chefs yet unknown that could make miracles with various ingredients.

My eyes brighten every time my taste buds are simulated. Sweet, bitter, salty…… many of these tastes fall within various categories with many different layers in between that hits you at different stages.

What am I talking about ? By the way, I hate the word “umami”. What is Umami ? I hate it when I ask friends to describe whats the taste that makes them all sexcited and they simply put it “Umami”. What the hell is Umami ? This article gives an interesting look at it.

And then I understood, its difficult to find words….

Digging deeper, me found that there is a list of secret ingredients that gives the food the extra oomph. Ingredients that we could not associate with or believe that its part of  the dish. Ingredients that could be simple or complicated. Its not really a secret but the lack of knowledge……..am going to share with you a few that I know.

Dried Tangerine Peel

Used in Chinese medicine, it is said to relive sore throats, indigestion and even mild flu…..

But it is also sold as a sweet, so I never thought much about this thing until the day Gastronaut told me to try his red bean soup. The thing hits you like a subtle wave and then the citrusty dryness…it lingers on and on……

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“Like it ? Most places uses the normal 3 year old tangerine peel. But I am using one that has been aged for 25 years”

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Apparently, the older this thing, the more valuable it is…..for something that is 50 years and above, it could cost up to USD20 per gram.

Yes, you read it right. Stop collecting your gold bars. Collect Tangerine peels instead. Better still, eat your oranges, keep the peels under the bed. 50 years later, you will be a millionaire. And not just any Tangerine peel, it has to be the 大红柑 from the 新会(Xin Hui District) in Guangdong province.

Can you tell difference between the 2 plates of tangerine peels ? On first look, I can’t. The plate of the left is the real deal, that on the right is 1-3 years old. It smells spritely, fresh and simulating. The 25 year old has a musky and mellow smell.

Uses : Various soup base chinese desserts, preferably the sweet kind like red bean soup, osmanthus soup/jellies or even in Hashima Soup.

Oyster Sauce

Ever wondered why that soy chicken or that plate of stir fried vegetables taste so savoury ? Something not plain old soy sauce or fish sauce can achieve ? Its oyster sauce. Okok, I know. Everyone knows oyster sauce and has been using them for ages…… The secret here lies in this particular type of oyster sauce.

The thing about Gastronaut…… this man goes on impromptu trips to various part of China, all in the name of eating. He might even end up in the home of a total stranger, happily chatting, drinking and eating away for all I know. I guess this is how he found the holy grail of oyster sauce.

Read up on the internet and it says most oyster sauce are just sugars with very little oyster, but not Gastronaut’s oyster sauce. They are sourced by himself  from cottage industries in China and they contain more than 75% oysters in content! Now these ones are addictive, been adding them to my noodles……

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See the consistency in the video ? First taste gave me a jolt ! Its that amazing !

Uses : In any soy based dishes and best with stir fried vegetables.

There you go, told you some secret ingredients in Chinese cooking and what are the best to get. You can get them from G-Spot, which is basically Gastronaut….email him 🙂 Sure, you can go to Hong Kong or China and buy it yourself but unless you know the quality, you may end up paying dearly for the wrong thing.

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That packet on the left cost only USD0.70 !!!

Aged Balsamic Vinegar

The thing with this is that it should be used sparingly. Not the over the top furious dunking of bread into a sea of the vinegar and olive oil. It should treated like a princess, as a splash, or a dash here and there……..

I was told aged balsamic vinegar was not really known outside of Italy till the 1970s.  Most of the time, they are considered family heirlooms and handed down from generations to generations.

Again !! remind me to start keeping these things for the next 25 years. I could become really rich.

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True aged balsamic vinegar are only produced in 2 regions in Modena and Reggio Emilia using Trebbiano, Lamrusco or Ancellota grapes. Every production process is well documented. The bottles are shaped definitely in a standard vial with colour caps to indicate their age. Hell, there is even a top twelve best list. How are these going to stop pirates from passing theirs as the real thing? Does it even work ?

This paragraph from this writer best describes whats its like to taste true aged balsamic vinegar. I must say, it sounded like an orgasm.

“The first time I tasted real aged balsamic vinegar, I felt awe. I was asked to extend my hand to form a well between my thumb and wrist. Into this crevice my host poured several heavy drops of a dark, shiny syrup as thick as molasses from a small, heavy flask. What began as a simple contrast between sweet and sour deepened into penetrating layers of flavor that mingled the aromas of wood and cooked fruit, harmoniously balanced on a taut line of acidity. From there it moved into a more evocative dimension that sent me on a goose-chase for descriptors—cedar chest, dried fruit, stewed cherries, tobacco, but also something more mysterious and hard to describe, for aged balsamic vinegar tastes of time itself.”

See the viscosity !!!

Am Speechless…. I need to get his bottle of vinegar.

Uses : Splash and Dash on everything

Umami 5

What the hell is Umami ?  Overheard a famed food reviewer using it not once but like umpteen times the other day. Yes, it’s a fashionable word……but it tells me nothing. There is such a product that promises you the wonder of this 5th or 6th taste though.

Enter the Laura Santtini’s Taste no 5 Umami Paste.

You can use it everywhere. On your sandwiches, making a dip, roasting a slab of beef, with salad, frying eggs, pasta……short of it being a facial wash, it can practically do everything.

A taste of the paste and you know its complicated stuff…. The composition list is like the who’s who of the ingredients world…..you will see anchovies, tomatoes, porcini mushrooms, parmigiano cheese etc. Sounds like me cooking when dumping everything into a pot of soup……it’s a mess !!!

But then I realized where is its appeal. It tastes a little weird in the beginning but it grew on me fast within the next few dishes. Too busy to whip up a savoury dinner ? Add a little of Taste 5 to the cheese pasta and suddenly, its transformed. Not as good as a restaurant’s but its definitely better than what I can do on my own. All in the convenience of a tube.

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Bring your date out of a outdoor camping trip (People still do this??)  and while up a delicious bowl of soup and savoury spaghetti. She will be impressed.

Uses: Best with Pasta, Stews and Eggs !

Fennel Pollen

Last but not least…..is this magic powder. In Saveur magazine, Peggy Knickerbocker wrote that “If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it” Here is the article.

Essentially, its Fennel but in is pollen form, which means effectively, its effect is increased by 10 times…so even say 100. It even tastes smooth. Its could be the new gold…..

Dust your pork with it, use it to give the that loin a good massage, mixed it with Cumin, add a little Kosher salt and pepper. Viola !! Your food taste amazingly close to those from the Iron Chefs !!! The key word here is dust. not dip, not rub, not slap. Its fairy power, you have to have some poise when using it. You gotta do the flick-it-as-you-sprinkle move.

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Uses : Pork or Beef Rub, Pasta Sauces, Fruits, Salads. Ice Creams Heck, everything else.


  • Fish Sauce
  • Fermented black beans

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  • Pork Fats
  • Parmesan Rind
  • Japanese Mayonnaise
  • Olive Taggiasche

More to write and so little time….. Shall just stick to photography and less words……

How ?

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Written by urbanarchiver

Curious about things around me, interested in photography, likes to eat, read comics, cut out newspaper articles, me travel a lot, like to crack lousy jokes, likes to be alone, trying to run a mile in 20 mins, hate chill peppers, crazy for fashion, not enough money, has a Leica, like contradictions.

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