What Erchen Chang can’t live without

The genius Bao founder has a few pantry essentials

Joe Mackertich
Written by
Joe Mackertich
Editor, Time Out London
Erchen Chang
Photo: Bao

Welcome to Shelf Life, our series in which we ask fun chefs to show us what’s in their larders. Wouldn’t you know it, Bao creative director and founder Erchen Chang is this month’s willing participant. 

During the many lockdowns, I actually have been busier than pre-pandemic. However, what has changed is that there are now a couple of days I work from home every week. What I love is all these amazing suppliers that now deliver to your home, such as Pesky Fish, HG Walter and Natoora. This means you can cook with amazing produce at home, which makes me very happy. It is also such a treat to be able to get restaurant ingredients delivered to your home; two favourites have been Koya udons and Som Saa curry pastes. Here are a few store cupboard staples that I love and get anxious if they are running low.

Erchen Chang
Photo: Erchen Chang

1. Pixian doubanjiang 

I love a fermented chilli broad bean sauce. Doubanjiang is used in a lot of Taiwanese and Chinese cooking. Pixian doubanjiang is made from fermented broad beans, fresh chilli, wheat flour and salt. The Pixian chilli doubanjiang colour is dark red, almost brown, very pasty and has a layer of red oil on the surface. I find when using this to season, it gives a much deeper, richer and more wholesome taste than other lighter-colour chilli doubanjiang out there. 

2. Taiwanese rice vinegar 

Taiwanese rice vinegar from Heng Tai Fung, which we import for our restaurants. I found this vinegar a few years ago, and ever since it has become my store-cupboard staple. It’s rich in acidity, balanced with mellow rice fragrance. It’s sour but not too sharp. Similar to the aged white soy (below), it’s very good to finish a dish or to use simply as a dipping sauce.

3. Chilli oil 

Who doesn’t love a chilli oil? I have gone through many different brands of chilli oil recently from big brands like Laoganma to small independent businesses, made in London.  My current favourite is from PAO Pop N Pickles, Pao is a small independent Taiwanese producer making ferments and sauces. PAO’s chilli oil is very fragrant and vibrant red in colour. It has a 50/50 distribution of chilli bits and chilli oil. Both parts are very tasty. I love her excessive use of sesame seeds.

4. Taiwanese aged white soy  

A permanent resident in my fridge is the aged white soy from Ping Tung, Taiwan. I try to use it sparingly as it’s a rare item we import but sometimes I channel my inner grandma where I use it liberally for anything like braising meats. Otherwise, I use it for finishing and dipping; drizzled over plain rice or dipping a boiled egg. I’ve now expanded my horizons, and have been using the aged soy in dishes other than Chinese food, such as finishing off meat sauces to Bolognese as it packs a lots of unami yet is still light, mellow and slightly sweet.

5. Michu Wine 

Michu wine is a Taiwanese rice wine made with glutinous rice. It has a sweet taste and a rice fragrance. It is a delicate cooking rice wine similar to cooking sake. I love using it in braises and stews and for finishing a stir fry dish. 

6. Chi Shang rice 

Taiwanese Chi Shang is a plump short-grain rice that we use across our restaurants. Chi Shang is a region in Taitung County in Taiwan, nicknamed ‘The Pure Land’, which has the ideal landscape for harvesting rice. It has an amazing fragrance and a slightly sweet aftertaste. Its versatility means I use it for boiled rice, fried rice, congee and sushi.

Café Bao in King’s Cross opens on May 17, serving food from breakfast to dinner, with a counter dedicated to Bao baked goods.

Shelf Life: The Cinnamon Club’s Vivek Singh on the bits and bobs he relies on.

Shelf Life: Simon Rimmer’s lockdown larder laid bare.

Popular on Time Out

    You may also like
    You may also like