The 10 basic pantry staples Masterchef winner Diana Chan can't live without.

My appreciation for food was instilled from a really early age. 

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Malaysia with mum and dad who are both amazing cooks. In the Chan household food is always top of the agenda - we are one of those food-obsessed families. 

Growing up, mum and dad would have dinner parties every weekend and I was just constantly surrounded by delicious meals. Even though mum worked full time, she would always come home and cook us a typical Malaysian dinner every night using fresh produce and a selection of staples from the pantry. 

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So, when I moved to Melbourne at 18, I had to teach myself to cook by watching cooking shows and relying on the tips and tricks I had learnt from watching mum and dad prepare meals every day. 


This is when I realised the importance of having core essentials in the pantry, just like mum. 

Pantry staples are the secret to transforming your fresh produce into something amazing, and can also be a complete saviour if you need to make something tasty in a hurry. 

Here's a list of the pantry staples that I can’t live without.

1. Salt.

Salt is my number one flavour enhancer. I never run out of salt and if I run low I start to get anxious. Joking, but it’s true - I season practically every dish with salt. 

2. Olive oil.

I have different kinds of olive oils for different uses. 

I cook with olive oil daily and use it a lot in my salad dressings. 

We go through about 1ltr every 10-14 days if I’m cooking every meal at home. There are also many health benefits to cooking with olive oil and I’m a massive advocate for it.


3. Butter.

I always have butter. I use it in baking, making sauces like a beurre noisette or beurre blanc, gravies or just simply lathered all over my sourdough. There is very little that comes close to being better than bread and butter. 

4. Eggs.

I love having eggs in the morning and whilst I don’t have them every day, I think every household ought to have a tray of eggs ready in their pantry.

They're such a versatile pantry staple; you can whip up a meal in no time at any time of the day, whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even just a snack. 

5. Garlic and shallots. 

I've combined these as one, as I always have garlic and shallots in my pantry. 

I don’t think I’ve cooked a meal without either one of them present in the dish to be honest. I feel like it adds so much flavour and smell to my dishes and they are definitely two ingredients I cannot live without.

6. Mustard.

I always have Maille dijon mustard. I use it in making sauces, in marinades and always rub some on my chicken before roasting. 

Another tip if you haven’t tried it is to add a few drops of truffle oil in it and have it with your steak. 


It makes for the perfect condiment. I also love seeded mustard or hot english mustard with my steak. In fact I think we ought to have them all in the pantry, but Dijon to me is by far the most versatile one of the lot.

Listen: Diana shares her favourite comfort meals on Mamamia's food podcast, What I Eat When. Post continues below.

7. Vegemite. 

I don’t have it every day, but I need to know it's there when I want it. 

I love anything with a salty flavour profile and Vegemite just ticks that box so well. 

8. Soy sauce.

This is a must for me. 

I use soy as the salt element in all my Asian dishes. It's also great for a dipping sauce on the side with some freshly sliced chillies.

9. Freshly ground coffee.

I get my freshly ground coffee from my local coffee shop once every two weeks. I store it in an airtight container. 

My day doesn’t start until I have a cup of black or milky coffee. I guess you could say I'm a coffee addict. I love waking up to the smell of a cup of freshly brewed coffee.


10. Dried herbs.

I think dried herbs are an essential pantry item because they last forever and it's just handy to have them as a substitute to fresh herbs at any time. 

Whether it's thyme, parsley, oregano or rosemary, they provide a great deal of flavour and can elevate any dish.

Diana Chan, an accountant by profession, grew up in Malaysia before moving to Melbourne at the age of 18. Today, the self-taught cook is a MasterChef Australia champion with a unique cooking style that stems from her mother’s fresh, herb-driven approach and her father’s love of seafood. You can follow her on Instagram  here or check out her new Malaysian prawn fritter recipe here.

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