Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

I've been craving sour flavors recently for some reason (and no I'm not pregnant ^_^;), which means that I've been making nanban foods quite a bit. The word _nanban_ uses the kanji characters for 'south' and 'savage', meaning savages who come from the south. It was originally used to refer to the Portuguese, the first non-Asian foreigners to land on Japanese soil. Later it came to refer all foreigners except for long-time neighbors China and Korea - or in other words, the Europeans. I guess to the Japanese of the 16th century or so, those white people looked like otherworldly savages! In any case, it seems that the Portuguese had some kind of dish that had sour flavors (I haven't been able to pin down what that dish might have been - if anyone has a clue let me know), and so the term 'nanban' came to be used for any dish had a combination of sweet/sour/salty and often spicy-hot flavors.

Nanban sauce or vinegar is most commonly used for nanban dishes. For instance Chicken nanban is a dish that originated at a popular restaurant in Miyazaki prefecture in the southern island of Kyuushuu back in the 1950s, and is basically battered deep fried chicken that's been doused in this sauce and served with a ton of of tartare sauce. It was popular in Kyuushuu for decades, but only became well known nationwide in the last decade or so when it became a popular item on _famiresu_ (family restaurant) menus, as well as in convenience store bentos. _Wakasaki no nanban zuke_ is another popular dish, consisting of small, whole ice fish (which are a bit like little sardines) that are deep fried and doused in nanban sauce with lots of shredded vegetables. Nanban sauce can also be used on noodles, or with either cooked or raw vegetables. It makes an unusual salad dressing.

I'll have specific recipes that use nanban sauce later on, but I wanted to write down the basic recipes so I can point to them instead of repeating them over and over. There are almost as many nanban sauce recipes as there are households and restaurants that make nanban dishes, but here I have three variations. Just pick the one that looks the most appealing to you. Any one of them can be kept for at least week or two in the refrigerator.

Update: Check out my panfried chicken nanban on JustBento.

Recipe no. 1: Classic nanban sauce

By Makiko Itoh

nanban-sauce.jpg

Published: March 04, 2011

A version of a versatile Japanese vinegar based sauce that can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce, dressing and more. This is a classic version using mirin.

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 5 min

Total time: 10 min

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) rice vinegar, (plain rice vinegar, not sugar vinegar, which has salt in it already)
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) mirin, (a sweet fortified alcoholic cooking ingredient)
  • /14 cup (60ml) dark soy sauce, (this is the regular dark brown soy sauce that is widely available)
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 piece about 4 inches (10cm) long dried konbu seaweed, (a basic ingredient in Japanese cooking, used for its umami)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, (optional)
  • 2-3 small red Thai red chili peppers or similar, cut into rounds, (remove seeds if you don’t want it to be too spicy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions:

Combine all the ingredients in a small pan,

Heat and stir until the sugar is melted; heating it also takes the edge off the vinega and makes it milder.

Cool and put in a screwtop jar.

Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep more or less indefinitely. If you want to keep it in your pantry instead, just strain it off and pack into clean, sterile jars.

Recipe no. 2: Alcohol-free Nanban Sauce

By Makiko Itoh

Published: March 04, 2011

An alcohol-free (no mirin) version of a versatile Japanese vinegar based sauce that can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce, dressing and more (Since classic nanban sauce is not cooked for a long time, it still has some alcohol in it, which may be a concern if you're going to use it as a dipping sauce or dressing.) The honey in this adds an interesting dimension. See Recipe no. 1 for ingredient descriptions.

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 5 min

Total time: 5 min

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) runny honey
  • 1 piece about 4 inches/10 cm long dried konbu seaweed.
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2-3 small red Thai chili peppers, (Use another hot red chili pepper if you can't find Thai peppers. Remove the seeds if you want it milder.)
  • /21 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients in a small pan,

Heat and stir until the sugar is melted; heating it also takes the edge off the vinega and makes it milder.

Cool and put in a screwtop jar.

Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep more or less indefinitely. If you want to keep it in your pantry instead, just strain it off and pack into clean, sterile jars.

Recipe no. 3: Nanban sauce with leeks

By Makiko Itoh

Published: March 04, 2011

Another version of the versatile Japanese vinegar based sauce that can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce, dressing and more. This is a bit more elaborate than the other two, but really good. It also has less sugar, since the leeks are quite sweet anyway. (See description of ingredients under Recipe no. 1 above.)

Prep time: 5 min

Cook time: 10 min

Total time: 15 min

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 white part of a leek, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) mirin
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 piece about 4 inches / 10 cm long dried konbu seaweed
  • 1 cup dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

Directions:

Heat a frying pan over medium heat, and add the oil.

Sauté the chopped leek until soft and lightly browned

Combine all the ingredients in a small pan, Heat and stir until the sugar is melted.

Cool and put in a screwtop jar.

Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep more or less indefinitely. If you want to keep it in your pantry instead, just strain it off and pack into clean, sterile jars.

Notes

If you have kids or people who don't like spicy food, omit the chili peppers. If you like extra heat, add more.

Try out this non-recipe: Heat up some leftover fried chicken until hot in the oven. Even KFC will do. Douse the hot chicken in some nanban sauce, and let cool again. This is really nice for bentos and picnics.

(Technical note: I am trying out some search-engine friendly recipe tagging, which accounts for the repeated use of extraneous information like Author: Makiko Itoh for each recipe. Please bear with me as I iron out the glitches.)

(Another note: I mistakenly deleted the original post, together with all of your comments! At least I did have a backup copy of the original article. My apologies to everyone who left a comment...;_;)

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Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

I love Chicken Nanban! Always look forward to it being prepare in the school cafeteria. Maybe I'll attempt to make it someday (or some variation...don't have a deep fryer).

Question for you, and if this is too off-topic, please feel free to disregard. What's the difference between dark and light soy sauce? I have the うすい kind that I usually use for cooking. Would I be better served using dark?

Blue Shoe | 9 March, 2011 - 03:04

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

The usage of dark vs. light soy sauce is mainly regional. Usukuchi or light soy sauce is mainly used in the Kansai area (Kyoto/Osaka) and to the west, while Tokyo and much of the rest of the country uses koikuchi or dark soy sauce. Usukuchi is lighter in color, but is actually higher in salt content. Since the dark type is more commonly available outside of Japan, and my family is from the Kanto (Tokyo-area) region, I tend to stick to using dark soy sauce. (And I do need to do a soy-sauce roundup, much like my miso and rice roundups ^_^;)

maki | 9 March, 2011 - 22:39

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

Also, try my panfried version of chicken nanban on JustBento ^_^

maki | 9 March, 2011 - 23:03

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

Great post! Perhaps nanban sauce comes from escabeche, a Spanish and Portuguese dish of fish that are first fried, then marinated in vinegar--not so different from wakasaki no nanban-zuke.

catherineap | 9 March, 2011 - 20:07

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

Several people in the deleted-by-accident comments said it might be escabeche too. It's very likely!

maki | 9 March, 2011 - 22:40

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

It's interesting to learn Japanese use seaweed as an ingredient for the sauce. However, I love Japanese food!

Lena | 10 March, 2011 - 06:00

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

Might the Portuguese dish be vinha d'alhos? Originally "carne de vinha d'alhos", but here in Hawaii, it is just as likely to be chicken. A similar Filipino dish is adobo.

Soos | 21 March, 2011 - 06:10

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

Thanks, , for these recipes for NANBAN sauce! I've always hesitated to take the time to prepare this, to take out the several bottles of ingredients, take the caps off, put them back on, make room in the refrigerator, and remember not to forget what I've done;-) But today it's been one big pleasure. So easy, really! So happy! ! !

nyginko | 12 April, 2011 - 20:31

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

There are so many delicous japanese sauces but so little recipes in the internet. Thank you so much for these Nanban recipes. I do personally prefer the first classic one. Will try your non-recipe ^^ as well as soon I got some chicken left over.

WaCa | 3 May, 2011 - 18:09

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

I can't find konbu at all. Is there anything I can use instead?

Hannah1719 | 22 May, 2011 - 09:50

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

I live in a rural area and do not have access to some exotic ingredients such as konbu. (I also have problems finding fresh peppers other than jalapenos.) How critical is the konbu to the taste?

The Rev | 14 October, 2011 - 05:19

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

Konbu adds a lot of natural umami, but you can use a pinch of MSG, Accent (which is basically MSG) or even some instant stock (granules or cube) to add that boost of umami.

maki | 14 October, 2011 - 22:38

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

During a visit in S. California recently, I tried to buy commercial nanban sauce in a Japanese store. No luck! The clerk said that most people make their own! Thanks for the recipes!!!

Sylvia S. B. S | 28 October, 2011 - 19:23

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

The Portuguese influence of vinegar could be linked to a Goan curry, Vindaloo. In the 16th century the Portuguese introduced Goans to a dish called "Carne de Vinha d' Alhos" usually pork marinaded in wine for which the locals substituted vinegar. I'm no expert on Portuguese food, but the spicy vindaloo lives on in UK curry houses.

E.God | 30 September, 2012 - 22:36

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

Hi Maki--Thank you so much for your recipes! You economical japanese cooking has got us through some hard times. We had an idea to marinate chicken in nanban before giving it the karaage treatment. This is because we're out of soy sauce/sake and we're moving house soon so the nanban has got to go. Houw would would marinating chicken in nanban before deep frying turn out?

Matthew | 27 November, 2012 - 23:53

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

It may produce interesting results. Marinate the chicken, but then wipe off any surface moisture well before coating with flour or cornstarch etc. You should get juicy on the outside, crisp on the inside chicken. Let me know how it turns out!

maki | 27 November, 2012 - 23:57

Re: Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

I look forward to trying this one! I hope it tastes just as good without the seaweed. I have a digestive intolerance to seaweed.

GlitterGao | 4 April, 2013 - 19:38

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