Specialty Ingredients

Listed here are ingredients that are normally packaged and found at a Hmong grocery store or online. We have added links to some items you can buy online in case you are unable to get to a Hmong grocery store.


Bamboo shoots are popular to add to a lot of Hmong dish. They are often sold in cans and come as Shoots Tips, tenders, sliced, or shredded into sticks. The are also sold pickled in jars and bags. Each dish requires may require a specific type of canned bamboo and additional preparation before adding it to the dish. Bamboo tips normally need to be hand sliced before using while tender bamboo can usually be added directly into the dish.

Cellophane Noodles

Hmong grocery stores normally cary many brands of these noodles. They are know by different names: Chinese vermicelli, cellophane noodles, bean thread noodles, crystal noodles or glass noodles. They come in different sizes may have slightly different ingredients. If you ave unable to get to a Hmong grocery store, a good overall cellophane noodle is Dynasty SaiFun Bean Threads Noodles.

Coconut Milk 

Coconut milk comes from the grated meat of a coconut. It has very high oil content which give it a rich and creamy taste.

Be careful to follow recipe instructions when purchasing coconut milk. There are different brands of coconut milk, some are thinner (ideal for Desserts and drinks) while thicker with more additives (used for cooking soups and curries). Some labels will identify if it is ideal for cooking, it will say “cooking formula”. Mixing up the two types can potentially ruin you dish. Normally you will have more variety to choose from if you buy coconut milk from your local Hmong grocery and if your unsure, they should be able to let you know which ones to use for what dish. If you are unable to get to a Hmong grocery store, a good all around milk is Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk. It is used mainly for cooking, but you could also use it in some dessert dish. A lighter coconut milk is AROY-D Coconut Milk, it is normally used to make the dessert drink Nab Vam.

Curry Paste

(red and yellow)
Curry paste is a moist blend of ground or pounded herbs and/or spices and other seasonings. The main ingredients are garlic, shallots, red chillies, galangal, shrimp paste, salt, kaffir lime peel and lemongrass.

Fish Sauce

Fish Sauce Made from anchovie extract and available at the Hmong grocers and some grocery stores. Don’t be alarmed by the smell! Fish sauce is extremely salty and I have never had it spoil. There are many brand to choose from. The most popular is Red Boat Fish Sauce. The brand I use is Squid Brand Fish Sauce .

Galangal Root

Galangal root is a type of rhizome plants related to ginger. It  has culinary and medicinal uses and originated from Indonesia. Fresh cut root has a citrusy, earthy aroma, with hints of pine and soap in the flavor. It is often sold whole, cut, dried and/or powdered. When used dried whole, it adds flavor. This root is only used for flavoring the stock and not intended for consumption. If you are unable to find it at you local grocery store, you can find Dried Galangal here.

Fish balls 

As the name suggests, the ball is made of fish meat that has been finely pulverized. Usually sold vacuum sealed in bags found in the freezer section of Hmong stores. Usually used in Pho.

Fish sauce

Most people have heard of fish sauce. It is fishy smelling, but used correctly it makes a dish taste wonderful. There are many types out there, One of the more popular brand is Red Boat Fish Sauce. The brand I use is Squid Brand Fish Sauce. Pho, papaya salad and chicken curry are just a few of the many applications in which it can be used.


Ginger is a tuber that is consumed whole as a delicacy, medicine, or spice. It is sold fresh whole, fresh dried, or Ground.

MSG (monosodium glutamate)

A food additive, is a sodium salt, a natural compund used in a lof of Asian cuisine to enhance the flavors. Mono-Sodium Glutamate is a salt-sugar compound that enhances the flavor of food. While many people oppose using it, I highly recommend it as long as you have no allergy to it. I recommend buying this at the Hmong grocers because it is much cheaper and available in larger quantities than at a regular grocery store.

Oyster Sauce

The best oyster sauce, such as this Panda brand Oyster Sauce, has oyster extract and not just oyster flavoring. Oyster sauce is salty and adds a creamy taste to stir-fry. Refrigerate after opening if you are not going to use it regularly.

Rice Stick noodles (Bahn Pho)  

There are many brands of Rice stick noodles. All made from rice, these noodles range in thickness and used in popular dish such as pad thai and Pho. These nodes are often sold fresh or dried. Normally fresh noodles are only available at a local Hmong grocery store. Fresh noodles are refrigerated and will not last very long so be sure to use them within a day or two of purchase. Dried noodles are more common and are sold in more places. They store longer but require soaking before they are used. For Pho I recommend Dragonfly Oriental Style noodle.

Soy Sauce

A common sauce among asian dish, you will find several types of soy sauce. We keep a bottle of standard soy sauce such as Kikkoman Soy Sauce and a bottle of Black Soy Sauce in our cupboard. Black soy sauce is slightly sweet and thicker than traditional soy sauce. Some recipe call for a specific type. You may experiment with different flavors and see what you prefer.

Tamarind and tamarind paste

The tamarind fruit consist of a sour pulp that surrounds a seed in a bean pod shaped casing that can be eaten. It is normally too sour to eat by itself and is often sold in a Paste form to be used in recipe to add some sour taste. It is also sold as a Tamarind Candy (sweet and sour) with sugar added and rolled into small balls.