Japanese Cooking 101: List of required ingredients and equipment

Food package from Japan (2)

The response to the Japanese Cooking 101 announcement has been very encouraging! I'm glad that so many of you want to learn about making Japanese food from scratch.

As promised, here is the list of required ingredients that I would like you to have ready for the course. Unfortunately most Japanese ingredients are rather expensive, but on the plus side this will form the nucleus of an authentic Japanese pantry after the course is finished, since we'll only be using a small amount of each.

The fresh ingredients needed will be announced before each lesson, but for this course I will be sticking to things that should be easily obtainable in most of the world, at any tme of the year, so you shouldn't have any problems there.

I've put together a section on my Amazon.com aStore that lists these ingredients. You don't have to buy them from Amazon of course, but you may find it useful to take a look anyway for a visual of the ingredients.

Basic pantry ingredients

1. A bag of Japanese style medium grain rice

This is available at Japanese grocery stores. Make sure you get "japonica" rice, not "sweet" rice or "mochi" rice. Rice listed as "sushi rice" is ok. For this course, please don't substitute other kinds of rice or it will defeat the purpose. (And we'll be using white rice rather than brown rice since that's the baseline.) These days Japanese style rice is grown in the U.S. (mainly in California, but also in places like Arkansas) as well as in Europe (Italy and Spain), and various parts of Asia. I've not bought any Asian-grown Japanese rice myself, but all the U.S. or Europe grown Japanese rice brands I've tried have been fine. Japanese-grown rice is quite expensive although it's really top quality.

In the U.S. two well known and well priced brands are Nishiki and Kokuho Rose. Of these to I personally prefer Nishiki. If you can afford it, Tamanishiki and Tamaki rices are better quality. I've listed different pack sizes of all three rices on the aStore page. The most frugal option is to get a 2.2 lb / 1 kg bag of Nishiki rice.

In the U.K. and Europe, rice types like Yumenishiki and Yutaka are grown in Spain and Italy. I've tried both, and slightly prefer Yumenishiki, which is now our everyday white rice. Japan Centre (who ship all over Europe) carries both, as well as several Japan-grown rices and Nishiki and Tamanishiki from the U.S.

2. A pack of microwaveable Japanese rice, such as Katokichi

Most Japanese grocery stores stock this in the rice section. They are small packs of rice that can just be heated up in the microwave for 2 minutes. One brand is Katokichi, but there are others. Again please refer to the aStore page for a visual. (By the way, I could only find a big pack of these on Amazon, but you don't need all of that for the course. They usually sell for around $1.50 or so each in stores. If you end up with extras though, they are really handy when you are too busy or lazy to cook your own rice.)

The reason why I'm requiring this is that I want to make sure that you know what Japanese rice should look and taste like when it's properly cooked. I don't really trust the quality of rice at every "Japanese" restaurant around - I've had some pretty awful rice at some - and believe it or not these microwaveable rice packs are pretty good quality.

3. Dried konbu seaweed (also known as dashi kelp)

Essentials for making dashi, which is the foundation for most savory Japanese dishes.

4. Katsuobushi (bonito flakes)

Another essential for making proper dashi stock. Don't bother with the tiny little 6-packs - that's meant to be used as a sprinkle on top of food. Get a bag filled with large, puffy flakes if at all possible. Again I refer you to the aStore page for a visual.

Alternative to 3 and 4: Dashi granules

If you cannot get either katsuobushi or konbu seaweed, dashi granules like Hon-dashi (an Ajinomoto brand) is better than nothing. Keep in mind that dashi granules have added salt, MSG and other things, so you will have to adjust your recipe accordingly.

5. Wakame seaweed

Used in soups and salads. You can usually just get the dried version, but if you're lucky enough to get the fresh, salted kind, let me know and I can tell you how to handle it.

6. Japanese brand soy sauce

The reason why I specify a Japanese brand is that soy sauce formulas differ a little from country to country. Two well known Japanese brands of soy sauce are Kikkoman and Yamasa. I prefer Yamasa but either is fine. A non-Japanese company that makes Japanese-style soy sauce is ok too.

7. Regular sake (preferred) or cooking sake

Sake is used in many Japanese dishes. I much prefer to use a regular sake, but if you can't get it using ryouri-shu or cooking sake is acceptable. Keep in mind that cooking sake has salt (and sometimes other things) added to it so you must adjust the salt in your dish accordingly.

Note: The question of substitutions for sake in cooking is addressed here.

8. Hon-mirin (aka real mirin, preferred) or Aji-mirin or mirin flavored seasoning

Hon-mirin is an alcoholic beverage that is used exclusively in cooking. Aji-mirin or mirin flavored seasoning is what it says - not real mirin, but fairly close, and containing less than 1% alcohol. Get hon-mirin if you can, but aji-mirin is acceptable.

Note: The question of substitutions for mirin in cooking is addressed here.

9. Rice vinegar

The standard vinegar used in Japanese cooking. Mild and slightly sweet.

10. White miso (shiro miso) or awase-miso (blended red and white miso)

Used for miso soup and a lot more. White miso is milder and less salty usually than red miso; blended miso is a great all-purpose miso. See Japanese Miso Primer for more about miso.

By the way, if you're in the UK or Europe Japan Centre carries a Japanese Cooking Essentials kit that contains everything you need for the course except for wakame seaweed, which you can just get separately. It has some other ingredients too which are handy for Japanese cooking. (Note: Japan Centre is an advertiser on Just Hungry, but I'm also a happy longtime customer.)


Besides these ingredients, there are a few pieces of equipment that I'd like you to have on hand:

1. A fine-mesh sieve or colander

By fine-mesh, I mean a steel wire mesh rather than the kind of colander that is made of a sheet of metal with holes punched through it. This is used for rinsing rice efficiently. Again, I've listed an example on the aStore page for reference.

2. A bowl large enough to fit the sieve over

Used for washing rice.

3. A large (10 inch / 25 cm or larger) frying pan with a tight fitting lid or a heavy-bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid, or a rice cooker

Any of these can be used for cooking rice. Please have at least one of them ready.

4. Another large frying pan

For frying something!

5. A couple of saucepans or pots

For boiling, making soup, and so on.

6. A soup ladle

The big kind you use for cooking, not a fancy little soup-tureen one.

7. A sharp kitchen knife

A regular chef's knife or santoku knife is fine; no need for a special Japanese one. You should also have a cutting board.

8. A pair of bamboo or wooden cooking chopsticks

This is not mandatory, but it's very handy to have around for all kinds of Asian cooking.

9. A rice paddle

Again, not mandatory, but handy to have.

10. A selection of small bowls and a smallish plate

For presenting your final complete Japanese meal. You certainly do not have to go out and get specialized Japanese dinnerware for this (unless you want to) - just use what you have.

So there you have it. If you have any questions let me know in the comments.


Yay! I already have everything on the list except a packet of pre-cooked rice. A trip to H-Mart or Matsuwa is on the calendar this weeken. Every time I think I want to leave Chicago I remember why I love living here - and the abundance of Asian markets is near the top of the list!

Thank you for posting now! This gives me a chance to check the multi-cultural grocery (where I do 90% of my shopping now) before trekking off to the Asian market. There are only a couple things that I don't already have on hand so I am really happy.

Looks like I'll be more of an observer in this course than a participant--which is about what I expected. :( I have a very strong dislike for fish or anything fishy flavored, which makes a lot of Japanese food not appealing to me. I've tried bonito and just can't make myself like it. Same with nori and other seaweed type products. I'll probably look at the techniques and see if I can find other recipes that use those same techniques.

The Japan Centre do sell non-MSG dashi and Dashi-bags (like teabags) - both are great for folk on a low Sodium diet and work as a great stock for risottos, etc.

I often see Japanese people using a pot called a "yukihira" for making miso soup. Do you know anything about this style of pot? Other than looking kinda cool, it's just a metal pot with a wooden handle attached. I'm curious if they offer any benefit.

The kind of yukihira nabe you see the most these days is a lightweight aluminum pot with a pouring lip on one or two sides, and little dents all over. It usually has one wooden handle, which can be replaced if it gets damaged. They're popular because they heat up very fast, and are light, and quite easy to clean. They were originally used by professional cooks (although the pro models usually come with no attached handle) because of that heat conductivity.

The big disadvantages of yukihira nabe for me are 1. not dishwasher safe (because of the wooden handle 2. aluminum (I'm not a big fan of aluminum coming into direct contact with acidic food; I am a fan of aluminum-core cookware) and 3. the bottoms are usually a bit rounded, which means they wobble a tiny bit. They only work well on gas ranges, barely work on electric ranges, and don't work on IH at all of course. It's one of the few Japanese cookware things that I don't miss much. My mother does use two of them almost every day though; one of them has a missing handle but she just grabs it with a kitchen towel.

I have everything except the pre-cooked rice. I'll see if I can find some.

Yay! I have most of these things already, too! Looking forward to squeezing out the time to play along!

Very exciting! And shopping list is much shorter than the one I made after marking all the recipes in Just Bento Cookbook! This will be a great introduction, thank you.

Very exciting! And shopping list is much shorter than the one I made after marking all the recipes in Just Bento Cookbook! This will be a great introduction, thank you.

Off to the store! I've never seen katokichi before. May have to stock up on that for lazy days. :)

Looking forward to this class. Gonna stock up this weekend!

Have access to many types of fresh seaweed/sea vegetables in our local stores.

Appreciate any hints on how *best* to use it.

See my reply to a similar question below.

I hope you'll be able to do a more advanced course after this beginners one is completed.

now that you have joined the ranks of the many diabetic what do you do about Rice, most of the rice is high in Carb sugar and I have been using basmata rice as it seems to be the lowest GI but is not like japannese rice.

David, I just eat less of it. I have found that I get along fine that way. I also eat a lot of okayu (rice porridge) these days, which gives me the feeling of more rice with a lot less. It's all a matter of moderation.

Could you share how to deal with fresh wakame? I picked some up at the local スーパー、where it was located near the sashimi. A couple tentative nibbles tell me that you can't eat it straight out of the package, though all I can get from the package is that I need to keep it cold.

There also seems to be a bushy-looking black-brown seaweed that is also being sold fresh. I haven't looked closely at the label, so I'm not sure what kind it is. I guess I should learn how to cook the wakame before starting on something I don't know.

Thank you for your help.

Fresh seaweed usually comes preserved in salt, so you just need to cut off pur pull out as much as you need, rinse it very very well to get rid of the salt, cut up and use. For miso soup you can just throw it in the dashi; for salads and so on it's best to blanch them in boiling water then rinse to cool.

Oh I am so excited! I subscribe to both your sites and have been making bentos for a long time but have always wanted to learn washoku! It has always seemed so daunting because I don't know what some of the ingredients are or how to use them. I am really looking forward to this, and it seems I have most of it on hand except for miso, konbu, and hondashi. Luckily I have a little Japanese shop in our area that I think has this.

I do have a question though--how long does miso keep in the refrigerator after it has been opened?

Thanks again Maki-san! Glad you are feeling better!

In my experience, as long as you keep it well covered miso keeps for at least a year in the fridge, although it is best to use it up before that if possible.

Hehehe, this is where I laugh at all of you. Going to Tsukiji to get a Katsuobushi block (no, I can't spell) tomorrow along with kombu, wakame if they sell it there, and a bunch of the dried furikake they sell. There are a few dried things they sell that I have no idea what they are, but they taste great XD.

Moving away from Tokyo (thank the gods) so I can actually afford the fresh stuff. It just so happens a thing or two is cheaper at Tsukiji than anywhere else I have seen.

My motivation for this course is so I can cook more 'normally'... going to have to haunt JustBento more so I have the most kick butt bento in the class (as teachers should).

Your Tokyo map, btw, was great. I hit almost every place you mentioned though the prices at the magewappa-ya-san were too rich for my blood. I went down to Kappabashi and found some in the 2senen range. Also, got an amazing hochou while I was there. Next time I have money, I will get a knife in Tsukiji.

Hooray! I already have everything except the microwavable rice and the mirin. I'm hoping to find both at an H-Mart here in northern Virginia.

I have all the ingredients already and looking forward to it! We are lucky enough to have a great Japanese store here in Austin, Texas. And my daugher-in-law in Tokyo sends me care packages.

I, too, have fresh(ish -- salt packed) wakame.

Heretofore I've been keeping it in the fridge & rinsing before use ... is there something else I'm supposed to be doing??


Ruth, you've been doing it right basically. See my reply to a similar answer above.

As we are finishing up the JustBento 101 class, the comment that we should ideally make fresh rice comes to mind. Would the Katokichi rice packs be good for our bento pantry, or is it better to freeze rice and take it out as needed?

I am guessing there is a cost difference, but if the microwaveable kind TASTES and/or keeps better, then it might be a great alternative.

The microwaveable rice packs are really convenient and pretty good, but they're not cheap. One pack contains about 2 bowls of rice (around 1 1/3 US cups or so). At around $1.50 to $2 per pack that's way more expensive than making your own, freezing it in portions and re-heating it. That being said, the packs are really convenient when you're just too busy or tired or something. Large Japanese groceries carry brown rice and mixed-rice packs available too, not just white.

I live in the Bay Area and the one thing so far I know about on the list before shopping is that there are a million types of Sake. What kind is best for cooking? I prefer Nigiri (I think? The unfiltered stuff) to drink but something tells me that's not the best for cooking. I also greatly dislike draft sake.

The Sho Chiki Bai plant is just down the road so I can get pretty much anything they make easily. Is there anything they do you could recommend?

Thank you so much for these classes. I am not participating directly but will use it for reference when I can do the assignments. I read your blog and watch Cooking with Dog and other than informing my restaurant choices I've not been able to implement the knowledge from them so far. I look forward to miso soup. I can't ever get enough of it and my one attempt was a disaster. :D

Thank you again!

Nice, I got all the ingredients except for the pre-cooked rice, (I'll check my Japanese grocery tomorrow) and the sake, um, cause I drank the last of mine last week. oops, lol!

This is so cool, thanks for doing this! Ready, set, cook!

Hello Maki-san, I have a question. I was wondering if there is a certain brand of sake that you recommend? Thank you ^^

Yay. Now I need to go find an Asian market!

Maki-san, I love that you have the microwavable rice on here. I'm sure some fanatical rice purist would object, but of course you are always so sensible! You have no clue how many times I've been so tired after work that it's going to be either those microwavable rice containers or McDonald's. While they are more expensive than making rice from my 20# bag of Nishiki, they are still cheaper than fast food and much healthier for dinner when it's a soothing ochazuke rather than french fries. And I'm here to vouch that it's actually really good rice! I wish I had the freezer space for freeze-ahead homemade rice.

While I'm going to be using the microwave rice as a teaching tool (so that people can see what rice is supposed to be like when properly cooked), they are very convenient. Look for brown rice, haiga-mai (sprouted brown rice) and mixed-grain rice (white rice base with various grains in it like barley etc mixed in for flavor and nutrition) varieties too.

HI Maki, here in Dunedin, NZ, I haven't been able to find any dried seaweed labelled as konbu or dashi kelp, but there is plenty in Chinese packaging that's just called dried seaweed or dried kelp - would that be suitable to use? I already have katsuobushi and would prefer not to use dashi granules if I can help it!

Also, the only microwaveable rice I could find is a Korean brand, CJ Foods. Is that likely to be similar quality to the Japanese packs? I'm happy that at least my favourite Asian grocer stocks Kokuho Rose rice, but I have to wait a few days for them to unpack their latest shipment and find it - otherwise I'd be buying generic "sushi rice" from the supermarket.

I'm really looking forward to learning how to cook Japanese food properly - thank you so much :)

There are so many kinds of seaweed that it's impossible for me to say whether the ones you see in the store are suitable I'm afraid. And I'm not familiar with the CJ Foods brand so I can't say whether their rice is close to Japanese rice or not. Sorry :(

Thanks anyway :)
I guess I'll get the dashi granules, but might try the Korean rice anyway just to see what it's like and how it compares to the Kokuho Rose.

I've switched over to the six-pack bonito flakes out of frustration. I love using the fluffier flakes in larger bags, but within two weeks the oils have putrefied and become overly fishy. Refrigeration doesn't seem to slow the process, though I've yet to try freezing.

Any tips on extending the shelf life of opened bags of katsuobushi, Maki?

You need to seal it tightly. I usually transfer mine to a ziplock type bag. It also sounds like you might have gotten some old katsuobushi, because it shouldn't go bad that fast. Did you check the best-by date?

Hello. Most of these things I have in my kitchen already since I live in Japan - but I have never bought ryouri-shu or regular sake before. I have often used mirin, but I guess it isn't a proper substitute for sake if ryouri-shu is available. This is why I so need this course!

Is there a brand or type of ryouri-shu you recommend?

I am so excited! I got all my stuff; what are our next steps? How does this work?

I'll be posting a list of fresh ingredients and things used for the first lesson tomorrow, and the first lesson will be posted next week! Stay tuned ^_^

I have a problem. Dashi! I'm allergic to MSG and while Konbu is easy to find (actually I have some in my kitchen already), Bonito is not sold in my country at all. Do I really have to order some home from another country to follow your course *sigh* I normally use a Thai liquid fish stock (anchovis, salt, sugar) and kombu, when recipes ask for dashi.

Thanks for your great sites. I love your cooking mojo.

When you say you are allergic to MSG, are you allergic to any food that is high in glutamates such as cheese or tomato sauce or chicken soup? If so, you may have trouble even with the glutamates in kombu seaweed. But if you don't have trouble with those, then just using kombu seaweed in your dashi and leaving out the bonito should be ok. If you are ok with Thai fish sauce - which is very high in glutamates as well as salt (and is fermented) then you should be fine with that. (But don't use Thai fish sauce in Japanese cooking - the flavor profile is very different.)

Hi Maki, how does one write "hon" mirin in japanese? I've been trying to figure this out from googling, but have no luck or any way of verifying. My search so far allows me to deduce that the character 本 preceeding the mirin (みりん) means it's hon mirin, is this correct?

A follow-up question from that, from an article I read from the New York Times, it says the difference between hon-mirin and aji-mirin is the addition of glucose / corn syrup in the latter. However, when I was looking at the ingredient list of Takara's hon mirin (本みりん), it has glucose syrup as one of the ingredient. So, I'm totally confused. Or is there already an article here about this regarding the difference between the two?. Your insight here would be much appreciated.

You have the kanji right - it is 本みりん. "Hon" means "real".

Takara is a mass market brand so even if it's Hon-Mirin they may add some glucose. However, it would still be Hon Mirin if it is primarily real mirin; aji-mirin or mirin-chomiryou (mirin flavored seasoning) is well, mirin flavored seasoning. You can also look at the alcohol content; mirin season has less than 1% alcohol while hon-mirin has more than that (since mirin is an alcoholic liquid after all).

I am coming to this thread a bit late, but I wonder: what can/should I use in place of the sake and mirin? I do not use any alcohol, even in dishes that will be cooked for quite awhile, and definitely not in short-cook or marinated-only foods.


Umm don't know what I'm looking for when it comes to the konbu seaweed. Is any dried seaweed ok?

Uh, no. It does really have to be kombu seaweed, not any old seaweed. The packet should be labeled as such (kombu or konbu). If the store doesn't have it, just go for dashi granules.

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