You can cook this entire menu with familiar ingredients from your supermarket, but the authentic Chinese touches are worth seeking out for their interesting tastes and textures. Look for them in Asian markets or order from Uwajimaya (800/889-1928 or www.uwajimaya.com).
Black soy (low zul): Also called soy superior sauce or dark soy sauce. Aged longer than the more common soy sauce, it’s darker, richer, and slightly sweeter. Usually contains a sweetener such as molasses.
Dried cloud ears (wun yee): Also called tree ears, dried vegetable, and black fungus. These grayish black mushrooms look like small, delicate, paper-thin, crinkled leaves. (Larger, coarser fungus are called wood ears.) Rinse the cloud ears in cold water and then soak until soft. Pinch out the hard, knobby center. Dried cloud ears have little flavor but contribute both crunchy and silky textures to soups and stir-fries. Store airtight in a cool, dry place.
Dried lily buds (gum tzum): Also called golden needles, lily flowers, tiger lily buds, and lily stems. The buds consist of flexible strands, honey-colored to dark brown; the lighter-colored ones are the freshest. Soak the buds in water until soft, then pinch off the knob at the stem end. For aesthetic reasons, the strands are often tied into knots. Dried lily buds contribute an earthy flavor and chewy texture. Store airtight in a cool, dry place.
Rock sugar (bing tong): Also called rock candy. Rock sugar is crystallized sugar, clear to amber-colored, that comes in chunks. Use a hammer to break large chunks into smaller pieces. Besides sweetness, rock sugar adds a sheen to soups and braised dishes. Store airtight in a cool, dry place.
Salted fermented black beans (dul see): Also called salted black beans, fermented black beans, preserved beans, or Chinese dried black beans. Fermented with salt and spices, these small black beans add a savory pungency to meat, seafood, and poultry. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.
Shao Xing rice wine (siu hing zul): Also known as just rice wine. It’s made from fermented glutinous rice. Store tightly capped at room temperature.
Thin soy (sang zul): Also known as superior soy, premium soy sauce, light soy sauce, or, more commonly, just soy sauce. Most soy sauce sold in Western markets is thin soy; it is not reduced-sodium soy sauce unless specified.