Just Hungry reference handbooks

Welcome to the Just Hungry reference section! Here is where we store various kinds of information in "handbooks" that we refer back to again and again.

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Back to Japanese Basics: The essential staples of a Japanese pantry

IMG: Japanese groceries

My mother, who lives in Yokohama, occasionally sends me a box of Japanese food goodies. Since she is in her own way as much of a foodie as I am, she diligently scours the land for great sources of locally produced, artisanal and/or organically produced foods. Many of these foods are known under the umbrella term sanchi chokusou(産地直送), direct from where it was produced. If you think French people are hung up on terroir, you should read some Japanese food magazine ads for sanchi chokusou products. Here's a photo of a recent box that arrived by seamail. (If you go to the flickr page, there are notes that describe what each item is.)

I'm always writing about Japanese food from the perspective of a person living outside of Japan, where it's naturally more difficult to get a hold of various ingredients. Japanese food prices outside of Japan are more often than not priced in the range of luxury gourmet items. I feel that most books written about Japanese cooking for a non-Japanese audience don't address the issue of the difficulty or expense of getting the right ingredients outside of Japan or an area with a big Japanese population. While I can rely on my mother to supplement my pantry, I've had to pare down what I do purchase and keep there while still being able to reproduce those "flavors of home".

The must-have ingredients

These are things I always have in stock. If your interest in Japanese cooking is limited, or you're on a tight budget, concentrate on this list first.

And a few essential fresh ingredients:

Good to have ingredients

These are ingredients that are staples of a Japanese kitchen, but aren't as essential as the ones above.

Not essential at all

There are lots of these of course, but here are a few that are often mentioned as 'essential' Japanese ingredients, but I have little use for.

For more about Japanese flavors, see the SaShiSuSeSo article from the archives. And if you are serious about Japanese cooking, don't miss the Japanese essence in a bottle.

See also

Filed under:  basics japanese ingredients

Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

Since I posted my article about essential and not-so essential Japanese ingredients, a number of people have asked about the equipment I use for preparing Japanese food. It's taken me a while to get to it, but here it is finally. (You can consider this as a kind of gift guide for anyone who's into Japanese cooking too..'tis the season and all that after all!)

The list of special equipment that I do have besides the things you might find in any European-style or American-style kitchen is not that long, but there are some items that I find are well worth having. Keep in mind that, as usual, I'm speaking from the perspective of someone who doesn't live in Japan. If I lived in Japan chances are I'd have a lot more Japanese cooking-only items, such as a square pan for making atsuyaki tamago (the thick, square slightly sweet omelette often served in sushi restaurants). I also use some substitutes for things that I can use for Japanese cooking methods as well as other cuisines, as you'll see.

My must-have items

  • A good rice cooker. If you make rice, any kind of rice, more than once a week, you will never regret getting a rice cooker. [Update: a detailed look at rice cookers.
  • A wooden rice container, or hangiri. It's tempting to use the "keep warm" feature of your rice cooker, but if you want the best tasting rice don't! Once rice is cooked, you need to fluff it up with a rice paddle, then ideally transfer it to a container that breathes - like a wooden hangiri or ohitsu. Mine is narrower and taller than the one pictured, which is meant for sushi rice, but it serves the same purpose. (Also I haven't been able to find an online source for the tall narrow kind of ohitsu so far...if you know of one please let me know.) If you are making sushi rice you must take the rice out and put it in a hangiri (see my Japanese rice primer).
  • For mixing and scooping rice, you'll need a good rice paddle. Chances are you will get a free one with your rice cooker, otherwise a slightly curved one is handy. (The curved one is really handy for scooping up non-sticky grains, such as basmati rice).
  • A carbon-steel wok. I know that a wok is Chinese in origin, but every Japanese household uses a wok extensively - for stir-frying tasks and for deep-frying too. There are oil-draining racks designed to fit around the perimeter of a wok. If you have an electric or induction range like I do, you must get a wok with a heavy, flat bottom - that stays flat.
  • Several flat bamboo or water-resistant wicker baskets/sieves, or zaru. I haven't seen these offered online (so far) but you can often find them at Asian gift and food stores, and even in some department stores. Woven bamboo ones are the best since they are water-resistant and clean easily. These are used for serving things like cold noodles (soba, or buckwheat, cold udon, thin so-men, and so on). I also have some small ones which I use sometimes to make round-shaped tofu. There is a big difference between serving noodles in a plain old colander vs. on a nice bamboo zaru.
  • A bamboo sushi rolling mat. If you make sushi rolls this is an essential tool. You can also use it for making other rolls (like flavored spinach wrapped in nori).
  • Saibashi - long, uncoated wooden chopsticks, connected together with a piece of string. I have several pairs of these which I find essential for picking things up and turning them, stirring things around, and so on, If you're not used to handling chopsticks you may find a pair of tongs to be easier to manipulate.

    Great substitutes

The following items are ones that are not Japanese, and which might not be used much in Japan, but I've found to be very good for Japanese cooking.

  • A cast-iron stovetop grill pan. In Japan I might use an yakiami for grilling fish and shiitake mushrooms, but here I find a cast iron grill pan to do the job just as well. It also works great on an electric range (for an yakiami you need a gas flame).

  • Enamelled cast-iron pans. There are a lot of Japanese dishes that involve gentle stewing, such as nikujaga (stewed meat and potatoes). There are also nabemono which are big pots of meat or fish and vegetables all cooked together. For these kinds of dishes, in Japan I might use an earthenware pot called a donabe, but here I find the heavy, enamelled cast-iron pots made by Le Creuset to be very useful, since they cook things very evenly. Since they are so pretty to look at I can use them for serving in-pot too. Finally, if you don't want to invest in a rice cooker, a cast-iron pot is the ideal container for cooking rice on the stove top.
  • A sturdy metal strainer is useful for straining the bonito flakes out of your dashi stock and other tasks (the Japanese housewife might do this by adeptly picking it out with her saibashi, see above).
  • A good, heavy frying pan or two. I use three frying pans: a stainless steel one and two non-stick ones.

As you can see the list is not that long. The only other things you need are a couple of good knives. Knives are a whole topic unto themselves, so I'll leave that for another day.

Serving Japanese food

Besides the cooking equipment I have a variety of Japanese bowls and serving dishes I've accumulated over the years. If you're starting out on this road you can get a lot of very nice things from eBay these days. Jlist also carries many traditional and fun authentically-Japanese serving items. If you want to present a minimalist kind of plating though, just serve your Japanese food on plain white plates, and use plain white bowls for rice and soup. Don't forget to use chopsticks though!

Filed under:  basics equipment japanese

100 Japanese foods to try

IMG: Rice with umeboshi

This is a list I originally created in 2006. I haven't really revisited it since then, but I have cleaned up some unnecessary cruft (i.e., you no longer have to click on something to see the descriptions). I may come up with another list sometime....

What 100 Japanese foods would I recommend people try at least once?

I tried to keep away from foods that are only available in certain regions, or even certain restaurants or homes (e.g. my aunt's homemade udon) and stuck to foods that are widely available in Japan. I've also tried to include foods from all categories and all price ranges, from wildly expensive matsutake mushrooms to cheap and sometimes not so good for you snacks. I also did not limit the list to 'genuine Japanese' foods (純和風), but include Western-style yohshoku dishes and a sprinkling of chuuka (imported Chinese) foods that are so ingrained in Japanese food culture that most people barely think of them as Chinese any more. And of course, I have eaten all of the foods listed at least once - in most cases many, many times. I like them all!

The list is not numbered in order of preference. It's just how I happened to list them.

What, no sushi?!

Nigiri-zushi and the most common types of sushi are not on the list, because I am assuming that if you are reading this, you've already had sushi. (Though... are you sure you've had great sushi at a top notch sushi-ya? See Judging a good sushi restaurant.)

A List of 100 Japanese Foods To Try At Least Once

  1. Properly washed and cooked, top quality new harvest white rice (shinmai 新米)
    I cannot emphasize enough the importance of rice in Japanese cuisine. The ultimate rice for most Japanese people comes from famed rice growing areas such as Niigata prefecture or Akita prefecture; famous varieties include _koshihikari_ and _sasanishiki_. And the best tasting rice is held to be new harvest rice or _shinmai_ 新米. The older rice gets, the less desirable it is. This differs from some other rice cultures where aged rice (e.g. basmati rice) is held in high regard. See also How to cook Japanese rice.
  2. Freshly made tofu, as hiyayakko or yudofu
    Tofu used to be sold by mobile street vendors, who would go around neighborhoods in the evening (just before dinnertime) tooting a loud horn. Housewives would rush to the vendor cart, bowls in hand, to buy fresh tofu. Nowadays mobile _tofu-ya_ have virtually disappeared in Japan, but small independent tofu stores do still exist. Most people just buy tofu from a supermarket or _combini_ though. See how to make your own tofu; how to make hiyayakko and agedashi dofu (another great way to enjoy tofu). Yudofu (湯豆腐)is a piping hot version of hiyayakko.
  3. Properly made misoshiru and osumashi
    Misoshiru 味噌汁 is miso soup, an osumashi おすまし is clear soup, both fundamental parts of a traditional Japanese meal. Some people have a bowl of miso soup or clear soup at every meal. The difference between a miso soup made with proper dashi stock and good miso and an ersatz 'instant' one is like night and day. See Miso and miso soup basics and A week of miso soup.
  4. Properly made homemade nukazuke
    Nukazuke 糠漬け are vegetables pickled in a fermente rice-bran (nuka 糠)bed or nukadoko (糠床). The vegetables are only left in the pickling bed for a few days. The care and feeding of a good nukadoko is a complex, much discussed matter, similar to the cult surrounding sourdough. The housewife or restaurant that has a top notch nukadoko is much respected. Unfortunately, nuka pickling at home seems to be a slowing dying art.
  5. Very fresh sanma (saury), sizzling hot from the grill, eaten with a drizzle of soy sauce and a mound of grated daikon radish
    Simply grilled fresh fish is a keystone of Japanese meals. Smaller fish such as sanma or the higher-class aji (horse mackerel) are grilled whole with their skins on, heads intact and innards left in, including sperm sacs or eggs. All parts of the fish are considered edible, and the innards are considered to be delicacies. Blue/oily fish or hikarimono (ひかりもの) are at their best in the colder months when they have more fat. Sanma used to be considered to be poor peoples' food since it was so cheap.
  6. Homemade umeboshi
    Umeboshi (梅干し)- salted, dried then pickled ume (梅), a fruit that is a relative of the plum and the apricot. Very salty-sour, and acquired taste. Used in small quantities, it's a great flavor enhancer and appetite stimulant. Homemade is usually the best, and despite the effort it requires a lot of people still make their own umeboshi every year (including my mother). An acquired taste. See New rice and pickled plum and Oba-chan's pickled plums.
  7. Freshly made, piping hot crispy tempura. I prefer vegetable tempura like shiso leaves, eggplant and sweet potato.
    Tempura 天ぷら is considered to be a quintessential Japanese foo these days, but it's actually an early imported food, introduced by Portuguese and/or Spanish missionaries in the 16th century. (See Wikipedia.) Good tempura must have crispy, light-as-air, greaseless batter coating. The usual dipping sauce is a mixture of dashi stock, soy sauce and grated daikon radish called tentsuyu (天つゆ), not, as you might think from the way tempura-like fried foods are served in pan-Asian restaurants, sweet and sour sauce! (yeah yeah, I still haven't posted a tempura recipe here! Someday I'll fix that...)
  8. A whole grilled wild Japanese matsutake
    Matsutake (松茸)is a very fragrant, highly saught after, and __expensive as all heck__ mushroom. In Japan it grows near matsu (松)trees, which are supposed to greatly enhance their aroma. Matsutake are as highly regarded in Japan as truffles are in Europe. Japanese matsutake prices can reach four figures (in U.S. dollars) per kilo; imported matsutake are held in much lower regard, and are often sprinkled with 'matsutake essence' while cooking. The best way to eat a matsutake is to simply grill it over a hot charcoal fire, and sprinkle with a tiny amount of soy sauce and so on.
  9. Freshly made sobagaki with sobayu
    Soba (蕎麦)or buckwheat is best known in the noodle format. But the best way to enjoy soba in my opinion is as sobagaki (そばがき), a chewy-soft dumpling of sorts made out of fresh buckwheat flour, boiled in water. The cooking water is called sobayu (そば湯)and is sipped along with the sobagaki. This is a warm dish by the way.
  10. Mentaiko from Fukuoka, or tarako
    Mentaiko (明太子)and tarako (たらこ)are both marinated/salted pollack roe, even though the name tarako means "child of cod". Mentaiko is a spicy version, which originated in Korea and crossed the sea to the southern island of Kyuushuu. Fukuoka, the largest city in Kyuushuu, is famous for its mentaiko. Both tarako and mentaiko can be eaten as-is with plain rice, or used as a paste or sauce - see tarako and ponzu pasta. Tarako is often used griled until firm as an onigiri filling. (Mentaiko onigiri is not that common, probably because it's pretty expensive!) Tarako or mentaiko mixed with a bit of butter and spread on hot toast is delicous. An acquired taste.
  11. Onigiri with the three classic fillings: umeboshi, okaka, shiozake
    Okaka (おかか)is bonito flakes mixed with soy sauce; shiozake (塩鮭)is salted salmon. See Onigiri FAQ.
  12. Assorted fresh-as-possible sashimi
    Sure sushi is great, but the ultimate indulgence at a sushi-ya for me is a selection of fresh sashimi; it's beautiful to behold and a treat for the tastebuds. Be adventurous and try everything form raw (live) shellfish to raw squid to slices cut from a still live fish! (This is called ikezukuri (活け造り or 生け作り)Yes I know, it's cruel, but it's very Japanese.)
  13. Saba oshizushi
    鯖押し寿司 is sushi you won't often encounter in sushi restaurants, though some Japanese restaurants do have it on their menus. It is a speciality of Okayama prefecture, but is popular all over Japan. Very fresh mackerel or saba (鯖)is fileted, salted and marinated, then pressed firmly onto a block of sushi rice; the whole is then left to rest for a few more hours. It's a style of sushi that is much older than the nigiri-zushi you are probably familiar with.
  14. Mugicha
    麦茶. See Mugicha article.
  15. Kakifurai
    牡蠣フライ - breaded and deep fried whole oysters, a yohshoku dish. You may not think this is that Japanese...but that crispy, slightly bitter, creamy-seafoo flavor, eaten with Bulldog sauce, is very Japanese to me, an is something I really miss! (Oysters in Switzerland are Way Way Too Expensive.)
  16. Morinaga High-Chew candy, grape flavor
    I know I'm biased, but I think Japanese confectionery companies make the best tasting candies. I didn't say chocolates or candy bars - I mean candies, or sweeties if you are of British inclination. Morinaga's High Chew line of soft chewable candies are among the best and most popular, and of these the grape flavor is my
  17. Karasumi
    からすみ is salted and dried mullet roe. It has a very dense, sticky yet waxy texture (sort of like a salty-fishy an not sweet fudge), and is very salty. It's one of the 3 great delicacies, or chinmi (珍味)of Japan; the others are salted sea urchin (shiuni) and sea cucumber innards (konowata), both of which are sort of stomach-turning for me, but karasumi is an oddly addictive substance. You traditionally eat tiny slices of it to accompany your sake. Very much and acquire taste.
  18. A pot of oden, preferably with homemade components especially ganmodoki, boiled eggs and daikon radish
    おでん - see oden article and recipe.
  19. Ika no shiokara
    いかの塩辛 is cuttlefish squid that is salted and fermented in its own innards. It has a slimy sort of texture, and a very intense sea-flavor. Great on hot rice. An acquired taste. Easily obtainable in jars at larger Japanese grocery stores; if you can get very fresh squid with the innards you can make your own at home. This recipe on Chowhound should work well, but use a non-reactive, glass or ceramic container; this is powerful stuff that will at the very least stain and odorize a plastic container forever, and may even eat through thin plastic (I've had this happen...)
  20. Calpis
    カルピス is a sweet fermented milk beverage. It's most commmonly sold as a concentrate, which is mixed with cold water or plain at a 1:5 or so ratio. It's also used straight as a syrup over shaved ice (kakigouri かき氷), and as a mixer in some cocktails. Because of its fermented flavor, cloying mouthfeel and (for English speakers) rather unfortunate name which sounds like 'cow piss', it hasn't seen a whole lot of success in the West, though as "Calpico" in already diluted or soda form it is sold in some parts of Asia. An acquired taste. Japanese people love fermented-milk flavor (see Yakult below). (Switzerland also sells a fermented-milk beverage called Rivella, which tastes a bit like Calpis/Calpico soda.)
  21. Ankou nabe
    あんこう鍋 - monkfish hotpot or stew. Tabletop cooking is very popular in Japan. A small portable gas burner is placed in the middle of the dining table, a variety of cut up vegetables and some kind of protein are made ready, and they're cooked in a pot (in which they are called nabemono 鍋物 or simply nabe 鍋)of simmering water/broth, on a grill or shallow pan. Everyone at table picks out the pieces they want. Ankou is monkfish, a rather slippery, chewy fish with tons of flavor; together with lots of vegetables it makes a delicious nabe on cold winter days.
  22. Unadon
    うな丼 is unagidonburi (うなぎどんぶり)shortened; it's eel filets with a sweet-salty sauce on a bed of rice. A very rich, high calorie dish that's popular in the summer months, since all those calories in eel are supposed to keep your strength up!
  23. Komochi kombu or kazunoko
    Kazunoko (数の子) is brined herring roe, and komochikonbu (子持ち昆布)is the same herring roe pressed onto konbu seaweed. Both have a distinctive crunchy texture and the salty flavor of the sea. An acquired taste.
  24. Yamakake, grated yamaimo with maguro (red tuna) cubes (or just tororo with a raw egg)
    Japanese people love food with a slippery, slimy texture, and the slimiest of them all is grated yamaimo (山芋) or nagaimo (長芋), a type of yam. This is called tororo (とろろ, not totoro!). My form of tororo is when it's combined with cubes of fresh tuna, which is called yamakake (山かけ), but the ultimate slimy experience is tsukimi tororo (月見とろろ), a bowl of grated yamaimo with a raw egg which is supposed to look like a full moon.
  25. Properly made gyokuro shincha
    玉露の新茶、new-crop Gyokuro green tea. How to brew a perfect cup of green tea.
  26. Milky Candy
    ミルキーキャンディー is a classic candy, with a character called Peko-chan who has graced the packaging since 1950. It is made by Fujiya (不二家). It tastes like condensed milk in candy form, and is another example of how Japanese people like that sweet, rather curdled milk taste.
  27. Wanko soba
    ワンコ蕎麦 or わんこそば. I'm breaking my 'no regional food' rule a bit, though you can get wanko soba outside of the region where it's a speciality (the Iwate prefecture in the north). Wanko soba is served in small bowls filled with a very strong tsuyu or soba sauce (cold) with various condiments (see Cold soba with dipping sauce). The customer holds the bowl out, into which the servers throw in a few strands of soba noodles. The customer slurps these up rapidly, and more strands are thrown in. This is repeated until the eater is full. An average male eater can consume about 60 servings. It's a gimmick, and encourages rapid eating. Wanko soba eating contests are the precursor of extreme eating competitions which are so popular in Japan.
  28. Omuraisu with demi-glace sauce
    オムライス is another example of yohshoku. The best place to have an omuraisu is at a small restaurant that specializes in yohshoku and makes their own demi-glace sauce. Failing that, a quick homemade version with ketchup is almost as nice. It's a big with kids in Japan.
  29. Handmade katayaki senbei
    煎餅 - せんべい - means rice cracker, but the little snack-sized rice crackers that are now as common as potato chips around the world are at the bottom of the rice cracker quality scale. At the top are hand-crafted 堅焼き煎餅 (katayaki senbei); round rice crackers the size of your palm or bigger, made of pounded rice that is formed by hand, dried under the sun, and toasted over a charcoal fire until the rice patty pops and forms crunchy air pockets. It is then painted with dark soy sauce. The sweet version is then sprinkled with big grains of salt caled ざらめ (zarame).
  30. Yohkan (yokan) from Toraya
    羊羹 - ようかん - is a dense, fudge like cake of sweet azuki beans; sometimes it contains chestnuts or other ingredients. To be eaten in slowly, in tiny mouthfuls, with green tea. The best yohkan is widely held to be from the old wagashi maker Toraya (とらや); a gift in a Toraya bag has much cachet throughout Japan.
  31. Ishi yakiimo
    石焼き芋 (いしやきいも) are sweet potatoes cooked in hot stones, available from street vendors; a fixture on cool fall evenings. See Hoku-hoku is fall.
  32. Natto
    納豆(なっとう)- fermented, sticky/slimy soy beans. The quintessential 'eww' Japanese food item. Definitely an acquired taste. See Natto article and The Great Natto Diet Rush.
  33. Fresh seaweed sunomono (can also have some tako in it)
    酢の物(すのもの)- a salad of sorts, usually with seaweed and/or seafood, with a slightly sweet, oil-less vinegar dressing. Very low in calories and very refreshing. The best is made with fresh seaweed, tasting of the sea; some chunks of fresh tako (タコ) or octopus are a nice addition. See wakame no sunomono recipe using dried wakame seaweed, which is all we can get here in landlocked Switzerland...(cries)
  34. Ikura or sujiko
    Sujiko - すじこ is salmon eggs still encased in the egg sac, while ikura - いくら is the eggs removed from the sac membrane. Both are cured in salt or soy sauce and eaten raw. The best way to enjoy either is to just mound it on top of a bowl of rice, perhaps with a little grated fresh wasabi. A speciality of Hokkaido.
  35. Tonkatsu
    トンカツ or 豚カツ is a breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet, a typical yohshoku dish. See Tonkatsu recipe.
  36. Goma dofu
    胡麻豆腐 is an example of shoujin ryouri (精進料理), the refined vegan cuisine developed by Zen Buddist monks. See goma dofu recipe.
  37. Chawan mushi or tamago dofu - the same dish either piping hot or ice cold
    Chawanmushi - 茶碗蒸し is the hot version of tamago dofu - 卵豆腐; both are delicate, smooth, savory egg custards. See Tamago dofu recipe.
  38. Freshly made mochi, with kinako and sugar, grated daikon and soy sauce or natto
    Mochi - 餅 or pounded sweet rice, is available in many forms. As a symbol of bounty a tier of two or three rounds of mochi are placed in front of the Shinto altar in the home for the New Year (called kagami mochi). The best mochi is freshly pounded, eaten with brown sugar and kinako (toasted soy bean powder), or with grated daikon radish and soy sauce, or even with natto and green onions. That's the way they were served at my grandparents' house when I was very little.
  39. Gindara no kasuzuke
    銀ダラの粕漬け is gindara, or silver cod, marinated in sakekasu (酒粕), sake lees mixed with other ingredients such as salt or soy sauce, mirin, and so on. The fish is marinated for a day or more, then grilled. The sweet-salty taste of the marinade permeates the firm fish and the result is heavenly.
  40. Hoshigaki
    干し柿 are dried persimmons (kaki). Bitter persimmons (渋柿 shibugaki) are hung outside to dry slowly; the bitter liquid drips out as the fruit dries, leaving a densely sweet delicacy. The bitter liquid is saved and used to lacquer wooden bowls and boxes.
  41. Inarizushi
    Sushi rice stuffed into fried bean curd (油揚げ aburaage) pockets. Typically a homemade sushi, rather than one served in a sushi restaurant. See Inarizushi recipe.
  42. Chikuzen-ni
    筑前煮 ちくぜんに is a homely dish in which cut up chicken, lotus root, carrots, taro root, burdock root, shiitake mushrooms etc. are stewed together in a dashi broth. It is made in large quantities for the New Year's period, when it's heated up daily and eaten during the holidays (giving the cook of the household a break from daily cooking). It can be eaten at any time of the year though, especially the cold months. Filling and healthy!
  43. Surume
    するめ is salted and dried squid' it's chewy, rather like squid jerky. It is usually eaten shredded into fine strips; you can get it like that, or the whole squid (better quality surume is usually sold whole, to be grilled briefly at home). A standard snack to accompany sake (おつまみ otsumami - see Yakitori below). My stepfather loves freshly grilled surume with a little mayonnaise and chili pepper (ichimi or nanami tougarashi).
  44. Yakinasu with grated gingerfav44
    焼き茄子 やきなす - grilled eggplant, with しょうが shouga (ginger) and a bit of soy sauce, is a summertime The slim eggplants are grilled whole, without any oil, until they soften and the skin bursts; the charred skin is then peeled off, leaving the flower bract. The peeled eggplant is eaten ice cold.
  45. Tamago kake gohan
    卵かけご飯 たまごかけごはん is just hot, freshly cooked white rice with a raw egg plus a little soy sauce. To make this, mound a rice bowl with rice, and make a hole in the middle. Drop in a fresh egg an add soy sauce; mix. A breakfast
  46. Kabuki-age
    歌舞伎揚げ is a round, deep fried rice cracker that has a distinctive crackly surface. It originated as a snack served at 歌舞伎 かぶき kabuki theaters, allegedly. Nowdays it's a cheap and rather fattening snack.
  47. Nikujaga
    肉じゃが - Japanese meat and potatoes, quintessential お袋の味 おふくろのあじ ofukukuronoaji ("mother's cooking"). See my mom's nikujaga recipe.
  48. Spinach gomaae
    ほうれん草のごま和え ほうれんそうのごまあえ hourennsou no gommae - more "mother's cooking". Spinach, and other dark green leafy vegetables are always served cooked in traditional Japanese cuisine, usually quickly blanched as a side dish. Besides sesame dressing, a simple お浸し おひたし ohitashi (dashi stock and/or bonito flakes and soy sauce sauce) is also very popular. See how to blanch spinach, and gomaae and ohitashi recipes.
  49. Fuki no tou
    ふきのとう - butterburr shoots, blanched and de-bittered and cooked in a typically Japanese sweet-salty sauce. Since butterburr shoots are only available in the spring, this is a very seasonal dish. Other highly treasured spring vegetables include わらび warabi - bracken fern (shoots), よもぎ yomogi - a type of chrysanthemum, and 筍 たけのこ takenoko - bamboo shoots.
  50. Okonomiyaki
    お好み焼き おこのみやき - popular street food, originating in Osaka but now popular all throughout Japan and beyond! Often erroneously called Japanese pizza, I think it's more aptly described as a savory pancake. See Osaka style okonomiyaki recipe.
  51. Yakitori
    焼き鳥 やきとり - skewered and grilled chicken bits. Very popular street food and 酒の肴 さけのさかな sake no sakana - drinking snack. (Competition between Japanese 居酒屋 いざかや izakaya - traditional pubs for the quality of their sake no sakana (also called おつまみ otsumami) is fierce, just like tapas in Spain.)
  52. Ohagi
    お萩 おはぎ - a traditional sweet, eaten in the fall. Very similar to ぼた餅 botamochi. See Ohagi/botamochi recipe.
  53. Japanese style curry, with rakkyo and fukujinzuke as condiments
    カレーライス kareh raisu is different from other curries! See recipe and a bit of the history of 'curry rice' in Japan.
  54. Kenchinjiru
    けんちん汁 けんちんじる is a clear yet hearty vegetable soup. It is one of the most famous 精進料理 しょうじんりょうり shoujinryouri (a refined vegan cuisine developed by Zen Buddhist monks in the Kansai region) dishes. A variation of kenchinjiru with bits of pork in it is called 豚汁 とんじる tonjiru.
  55. Yakult
    ヤクルト is a sweet, slightly fruity, fermented probiotic milk drink that is supposed to be good for your digestive system. It's sold all around the world now, with plenty of imitators. Included here because it is really very post-war-Japanese. Also see Kalpis above (which doesn't make probiotic claims, but has a similar taste).
  56. Kakipea
    A snack made up of spicy little rice crackers called 柿の種 かきのたね kaki no tane (literally: persimmon seeds) and roasted peanuts. See needlessly long and obsessive article.
  57. Takoyaki
    たこ焼き たこやき - another popular street snack that originated in Osaka. Puffy creamy doughy balls with a piece of octopus inside, served with a sauce. Best eaten piping hot. Frozen takoyaki are a pale, sad approximation of freshly made takoyaki. See takoyaki recipe (the video referenced is no longer available, but you can still follow the instructions I hope!)
  58. Sakura mochi
    桜餅 さくらもち is a traditional sweet that is eaten in spring, to coincide with the cherry blossom season. Sticky rice that is half-beaten and dyed a pale pink is wrapped around 餡 あん an - sweet azuki bean paste. The whole thing is then wrapped with a preserved cherry tree leaf, which is slightly sour-salty.
  59. Buta no kakuni
    豚の角煮 ぶたのかくに - braised pork belly. Similar to a Okinawan dish called ラフテー - rafuteh. Japanese people eat a lot more pork than beef (other red meats are not eaten much). The butcher in my grandparents' town in Saitama prefecture (right next door to Tokyo) didn't even carry beef until the 1980s. See Buta no kakuni recipe.
  60. Daigaku imo
    大学芋 だいがくいも literally means "university potato", probably because this hearty sweet snack is sold at the big university festivals that are held in the fall. Sweet potato chunks are deep fried then dipped in sugar syrup, which forms a hard, caramel-flavored coating, then sprinkled with sesame seeds.
  61. Kappa Ebisen
    かっぱえびせん is a puffy, crunchy shrimp flavored snack, manufactured by Calbee. Yes, Japanese cuisine purists will turn their noses up at this selection no doubt! But I love Kappa Ebisen, it's very Japanese, and it's here. It actually has ground up shrimp in it, so the maker claims that it's a good source of calcium!How Kappa Ebisen is made (Flash page in Japanese).
  62. Tori no tsukune
    鶏のつくね とりのつくね - soft stewed chicken dumplings. Another example of 'mother's cooking'. Fish tsukune (mainly made of oily fish like herring or mackerel) are also popular. Chicken tsukune recipe.
  63. Hakusaizuke
    白菜漬け はくさいづけ is salt pickled nappa or Chinese cabbage, a pickle for the cold winter months. (This is turned into kimchi in Korea.)
  64. Hayashi raisu
    ハヤシライス is Japanese beef stew. See recipe and main article.
  65. Goya champuruu
    ゴーヤチャンプルー is perhaps the best known dish of Okinawan cuisine. Its main feature is the use of bitter gourd, which is stir-fried with pork, egg and tofu to make a hearty dish. It's supposed to give you lots of energy yet cool your body at the same time, making it perfect for the tropical climate of Okinawa.
  66. Dorayaki
    どら焼き どらやき is another traditional Japanese sweet (wagashi). Sweet azuki bean paste is sandwiched between two small pancakes.
  67. Ochazuke
    お茶漬け おちゃづけ is rice with various salty/savory toppings, over which hot green tea is poured. It's often served as the last course in a formal Japanese meal, and it's also a popular midnight snack. See main ochazuke article.
  68. Sakuma Drops
    佐久間ドロップ or サクマドロップ are fruit flavored hard candies manufactured by Sakuma Seika. (Seika means 'confectioner'; there are actually two companies called Sakuma Seika, both manufacturing hard candies, run by rival members of the same family!) The candies are coated with powdered sugar, which prevents them from sticking together, and come in a reclosable can. This candy bridges the gap between traditional Japanese sweets and postwar 'modern' sweets; while hard candies existed previously, the fruit flavoring was quite new at the time. Sakuma drops featured prominently in the Studio Ghibli movie Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓). Sakuma Drops are on this list to represent the many delicious hard candies available in Japan! See also Meiji Chelsea.
  69. Stewed kiriboshi daikon
    切り干し大根 きりぼしだいこん - shredded and dried daikon radish. There are many dried foods in Japan, which are still eaten regularly even if drying as a method of food preservation is old-fashioned. See Dried vegetables.
  70. Takenoko gohan (or in fall, kuri gohan)
    竹の子ご飯 たけのこごはん is rice cooked with fresh bamboo shoots; 栗ご飯 くりごはん is rice cooked with sweet chestnuts. One signifies spring, the other fall. More 'mother's cooking'!
  71. Cream or potato korokke
    コロッケ korokke is the Japanese version of croquettes. While you barely see croquettes much these days in the West outside of restaurants, in Japan they are an everyday food, part of yohshoku. You can buy them frozen or freshly made at any supermarket or convenience store, and many people make them from scratch at home too. クリームコロッケ kureemu korokke - cream croquettes - are made of stiff bechamel (white) sauce, usually with crabmeat or shrimp in it, and ポテトコロッケ - poteto korokke are made of mashed potatoes plus something else (ground meat, corn, etc). Usually served with the ubiquitous Bulldog Sauce.
  72. Fresh yuba
    湯葉 - is a Kyoto speciality. Thin films of tofu are scooped off the top of vats of warm soy milk. It’s available in dried form and is usually used in soups and such. Fresh yuba made from fresh warm soy milk is considered a great delicacy and is usually eaten with a litle soy sauce, yuzu juice and such. Yuba is part of shoujinryouri.
  73. Real ramen
    ラーメン is imported from China, but has been adopted wholeheartedly by Japanese people. One only needs to watch the movie Tampopo once to see how obsessed Japanese people can get about good ramen.
  74. Monaka
    最中 もなか is another traditional sweet. A crispy waffle-like casing is filled with sweet azuki paste (an), a sweet custard-cream, or ice cream.
  75. Ekiben of all kinds
    駅弁 えきべん are bento lunches served at train station. They are one of the best ways to sample local delicacies around Japan fairly economically. If you can't travel around on trains throughout Japan, you can try the ekiben sold in department store food halls. A bit more about ekiben here.
  76. Edamame
    枝豆 えだまめ - the quintessential summertime beer snack, now famous around the world. Addictive, more-ish yet healthy - how can you go wrong with edamame?
  77. Chicken karaage
    とりの唐揚げ とりのからあげ tori no karaage. Another imported-from-China and adapted to Japan food. My kind of fried chicken! See recipe.
  78. Kuzumochi
    葛餅 くずもち - a cool summer sweet made from kuzu powder. See recipe.
  79. Mitarashi dango
    みたらし団子 みたらしだんご - yet another traditioan snack: sticky mochi rice dumplings coated in a salty-sweet sauce. Mitarashi dango recipe.
  80. Konnyaku no dengaku
    こんにゃくの田楽 こんにゃくのでんがく - Konnyaku served hot on a skewer with a salty-sweet dengaku sauce, which is made with miso, sugar and other things. Barely any calories! See more about konnyaku.
  81. Yukimi Daifuku
    雪見大福 ゆきみだいふく is a daifuku (mochi dumpling) filled with vanilla ice cream rather than the traditional sweet bean paste. A fairly recent invention, it's not-too-sweet and very nice on a hot day.
  82. Sukiyaki
    すき焼き is a dish from the Kanto/Tokyo area. Thin slices of beef are cooked in a shallow pot, usually on a tabletop gas burner, in a sweet-salty 'sauce' made in the pot by combining sugar, a bit of sake and soy sauce. After the meat gets going, vegetables, tofu, shirataki noodles and udon noodles are added to the pot. The 'dipping sauce' is a raw egg. At-home family cooking at its finest!
  83. Nama yatsuhashi
    生八つ橋 なまやつはし is a traditional refined sweet from Kyoto flavored with nikki or cinnamon. See yatsuhashi recipe.
  84. Panfried hanpen
    はんぺん is a airy-light fish cake, made of ground up white fish, yamaimo and egg white. It's commonly available readymade in any food store, but I think it has a refined flavor and texture to rival any French quenelle or the like. It is used in soups, stews, and so on, but my way to eat it is to just panfry it in oil or butter until golden brown. It's also good stuffed with a ground meat mixture.
  85. Nozawanazuke or Takanazuke
    野沢菜漬け のざわなづけ and 高菜漬け たかんづけ are a traditional preserved mountain food: freeze-dried greens that are salted down. Very nice as onigiri wrappers.
  86. Kiritanpo
    きりたんぽ is a traditional food from the north of Honshuu, especially Akita prefecture. Pounded rice cakes are formed around a skewer and grilled. These are the eaten as-is with a little soy sauce or miso, or put into soups and stews. Chewy, doughy and very Japanese.
  87. Amanattoh
    甘納豆 あまなっとう - unlike regular natto, amanatto (sweet natto) are not sticky or fermented; they are just beans with a crystallized sugar coating. A traditional sweet snack, eaten especially around the end of the year.
  88. Narazuke
    奈良漬け ならづけ could be the oldest known pickle in Japan. A speciality of Nara, the first capital of a unified Japan, various vegetables like gourds and cucumbers together with ginger are pickled in sake lees. The sake lees are changed several times before the pickles are ready. The resulting pickles are semi-transparent and sweet. Related: wasabizuke, vegetables pickled in wasabi mixed with sake lees.
  89. Aji no himono
    アジの干物 - 干物 ひもの himono means dried fish. Dried fish in Japan is usually not dried to a cardboard-hard state, but rather eaten when still a bit soft. Aji or horse mackerel is delicious dried or semi-dried, cured with just salt or with a sweet mirin coating (this is called mirin boshi).
  90. Baby Ramen
    ベビーラーメン, or officially ベビースターラーメン is a salty snack that looks like little dried bits of instant ramen - it probably is bits of instant ramen, deep fried for good measure. It comes in little packets which are all connected in one long strip, useful for hanging up in a small store. Small snack and confectionary stores called 駄菓子屋 だがしや (dagashiya) used to exist in every neighborhood, selling homely snacks like Baby Ramen and Botan Candy, but they are now sadly a thing of the past, existing only in Showa-era 'amusement parks' and the like. The good news is that Baby Ramen still survives. Update as of 2010: Dagashi stores seem to be making a slow comeback, on the wave of a general trend for Showa era nostalgia.
  91. Kobucha
    昆布茶 こぶちゃ - also read kombucha, but do not confuse it with the drink from the mystery Russian mushroom. This is a 'tea' made with salty pieces of soft konbu seaweed. It is drunk as a tea, even though it 's salty - rather like British people drink Bovril dissolved in hot water. It can also be used as an instant dashi.
  92. Kasutera
    カステラ - a Japanese spongecake that came via Portugal from Spain in the 17th century. Sweet and airy, usually with a honey flavor. See kasutera recipe.
  93. Tazukuri
    田作り たづくり is a traditional dish that is part of お節料理 おせちりょうり - osechiryouri, New Year's feast cooking. It consists of tiny little dried fish that are cooked in a sweet-salty sticky caramel like sauce. Sesame seeds are added too. The numerous little fish signify a wish for a good harvest and prosperity (little fish like this apparently used to be used as fertilizer in the rice fields.) In old Japanese tazukuri is called ごまめ gomame.
  94. Karintou
    かりんとう is another traditional Japanese snack. Bits of flour dough are deep-fried, then coated in dark brown sugar caramel. Karintou is here because my mother told me that this was the main snack of her childhood, made at home by her mother. I used to hate karintou when I was younger, because they were so hard and looked like poo, but now I crave it...
  95. Sauce Yakisoba
    ソース焼きそば; yakisoba is of course derived from Chinese lo mein, but the Japanese version made with Bulldog sauce is well, very Japanese. A typical street stall snack.
  96. Kamaboko
    かまぼこ is a rather rubbery firm fish cake, rather like a fish sausage in texture. It is usually formed on a small wooden board. It's often dyed pink on the outside, and pink and white alternating slices of kamaboko are a part of お節料理 おせちりょうり - osechiryouri, New Year's feast cooking. Kamaboko is eaten year round as a side dish.
  97. Oyako donburi
    親子丼ぶり おやこどんぶり - literally 'parent-child bowl'. A donburi is both the name of the container (bowl) as well as the name of the food which is served in it - various things on top of a bed of plain rice. An oyako donburi consists of chicken pieces and vegetables encased in half-scrambled egg. Other donburi include gyuudon (beef donburi), tendon (tempura donburi), katsudon (tonkatsu donburi), tekkadon (raw tuna cube donburi), and so on and on. Typical lunch food.
  98. Atsuyaki tamago
    厚焼き卵 あつやきたまご - thick, slightly sweet Japanese omelette, a fixture in bento boxes and on sushi. See Tamagoyaki recipe which uses a frying pan (traditionally it's made in a special square pan, but I don't have one!)
  99. Kuri kinton
    栗きんとん くりきんとん is another part of お節料理 おせちりょうり - osechiryouri, New Year's feast cooking, consisting of whole chestnuts cooked in sugar syrup in a sweet potato paste that is dyed yellow with a gardenia seed. The golden colors of the dish signify a wish for good fortune in the coming year.
  100. Japanese potato salad
    Japanese potato salad (ポテトサラダ)is made with plenty of Japanese mayonnaise (which is rich and slightly sweet) and is served cold, often as an accompaniment to a hot dish like grilled fish. Japanese people love mayonnaise. See Japanese potato salad recipe.

More lists?

Also see Diane's 100 Chinese foods to try before you die on Appetite for China!

Want more lists? The Big List of Must Eat Lists.

Filed under:  japanese ingredients offbeat lists

A dozen Japanese herbs and vegetables to grow


I am finally getting around to sowing some seeds for the vegetable garden. I really should have sown some things earlier, but I figure it's not too late yet.

If you are planning a vegetable garden, or even a few pots on your windowsill, and want to introduce some Japanese flavors, here's a list of some herbs and vegetables to consider growing, in order of importance and ease of growing in a temperate climate. (That's one with real winters...at least, before global warming.) The ones marked with an *asterisk can be grown in pots. A couple of my favorite seed sources are listed at the bottom.

*1. Shiso or perilla

If you can only grow one Japanese vegetable or herb, it should be shiso, or perilla (perilla fructescens). I've also seen it labeled "beefsteak plant", for what reason I know not. Shiso is used at all stages of growth. The seedlings are clipped and used as mejiso, as a fragrant garnish. The fully grown leaves, called oh-ba (big leaves), are used whole or shredded, as wrappings or garnish, as well as in pickles. And the flower buds, called hojiso, are salted and pickled. Onigiri wrapped in salted green shisos leaves are to die for.

The green shiso is the most useful one - the red shiso is usually just used for making umeboshi (pickled plums), and for hojiso. If you have the space growing both is great, but you'll need more green than red.

Since shiso leaves bruise rather easily, they are pretty expensive even if you can buy them. So, they are really worth growing yourself.

If you are lucky, shiso will self-seed itself. They did for me, but someone else mistook them for stinging nettles and pulled them all up! So, I'm sewing some anew this year.

You might find this in the ornamental seeds section,since the leaves are very attractive.

In terms of growing habits and conditions, it's quite similar to basil, so if you can grow basil you can probably grow shiso successfully. To keep the plants going keep plucking off any new buds until the weather turns cool, then let them form buds which you can cut off and preserve in salt. The only problem with shiso is that the leaves can get chewed up or get little holes drilled into them by various insects. Otherwise they are quite problem free. They do require lots of sun.

*2. Mitsuba

This is another herb that adds a really Japanese flavor to dishes. It's primarily used as a garnish, so you just need a little.

There are two kinds of mitsuba sold, but they are the same plant: regular mitsuba, and the kind with long, blanched stems. The latter kind is a pain to grow for the home gardener, but regular mitsuba grown for the leaves is very easy. Succession sowing is required. Mitsuba does pretty well in pots on a windowsill.

*3. Daikon radish sprouts

Called kaiware (which means "split shell), this is something you grow indoors rather than outside. Sew some seeds on a piece of thin washing-up sponge pushed into the bottom of a pot or a waterproof container of some kind, and keep the sponge moist. The seeds should sprout in about 2-3 days. Let them grow straight up if possible, though you can still use them if the stems curl. Used as a garnish and a salad ingredient.

4. Small Japanese turnips

Japanese turnips (kabu) are snow white and tiny compared to Western style turnips. They are very sweet and great in everything from pickles to soup to stews. The green tops can also be cooked. Provided you can prevent the pests from chewing the roots, they are very easy to grow, maturing in 30 days or so.

5. Japanese greens

[Note: this part has been edited to correct some botanical fallacies and confusion!]

There are many easy to grow Japanese greens: Komatsuna, Mizuna, Shungiku, Nanohana, etc. Most are better when grown in cool weather. If you can manage to overwinter komatsuna (botanical name brassica rapa var. peruviridis) and other greens in the spring you'll get more tender and sweeter leaves. On nanohana (botanical name: brassica rapa var.amplexicaulis), which is rather similar to broccoli rabe or broccoli rapa , you will get some beautiful yellow-green flowers, considered as one of the harbingers of spring.

Beetles and other pests do love to make little holes in the leaves of tender greens, so you need to protect against that - if you don't mind how it looks, covering them in horticultural fleece is the best way. Note that in Japan, greens (including spinach) are usually allowed to grow to full size rather than picked as 'baby leaves' for salads.

*6. Japanese eggplants / aubergines

Japanese eggplants or aubergines are small, black and slim. You can substitute eggplants sold as "Chinese", which are a bright purple and very slim, but you can't really substitute large Western style eggplants.

Growing eggplants is rather advanced gardening, especially in cool climates. I have had the best success growing them in large pots in a protected location. They require a rich growing medium, frequent fertilizing and lots and lots of water. If you're up to it though, they will reward you with tons of gorgeous little eggplants that keep giving and giving.

*7. _Shishito_ chili peppers

Shishito chili peppers are mildly spicy, rather like jalapeño peppers. They're usually eaten while still green. Very nice as tempura and in many other dishes. If you can grow other kinds of peppers, chili or sweet, then you can grow shishito.

*8. Green onions

You use such a lot of green onions in Japanese cooking that it can be quite worthwhile to grow some in the garden. You need to sow then in succession for a continuous supply. They are quite easy to grow. There are lots of varieties, but I just grow a general "evergreen" type. You can grow these in pots or growing boxes. You can even try planting up the cut off bottoms of store-bought green onions - they will sprout!

9. Kabocha, or Japanese squash

You need lots and lots of space to grow squash. Japanese squash, or kabocha, are sweet, dense and decidedly not watery. I've had mixed success with kabocha, but when I have gotten some to ripen successfully we've spent the rest of the year talking about how good they were.

10. Daikon radish

I find daikon difficult to grow because we have rather stony soil, so the daikon roots often end up splitting in odd ways. Also, you can buy daikon or mouli quite easily in stores, so it may not be worth the effort. But your own are always better, of course, especially since you can also eat the delicious green tops, which most stores in Europe and the U.S. seem to cut off.

11. Gobo or Burdock root

Gobo, or burdock root, is very hard to get a hold of unless you have access to a fairly good sized Japanese grocery. But it's also very hard to grow. It requires very deep digging to avoid it splitting into multiple thin roots, and it takes a long time to mature. But that earthy, crunchy flavor is an integral part of many Japanese dishes.

12. Japanese cucumbers

Japanese cucumbers are small, very thin and quite seedless. Worth growing if you like to eat lots of raw cucumber in salads and so on. Grow like other cucumbers, ideally on a trellis.

Other vegetables

I've had mixed, mostly bad, experiences trying to grow these:

  • Edamame. The tips tend to get attacked by tiny black beetles, even while bush beans are growing near them happily. I guess they must be very tasty. I may try them again though, because nothing beats really fresh edamame.
  • Soramame, or broad beans. Also very popular in England. I need to sow these in the fall I think...sowing them in the spring yields rather sickly and poor bearing plants. (Note, I'm not much of a gardener!)

I'd also like to get my hands on some myo-ga root. And if I could grow a real ume tree...

Some favorite seed sources [UPDATED]

My favorite Asian seed mail order source by far is Evergreen Seeds in Anaheim, California. I have been buying seeds from them forever, and my mother used to buy seeds from them back in the early '80s for her garden in Long Island, New York. They ship internationally, which is so rare for a U.S. based company. They carry lots of Asian (as in Chinese/Korean/Thai) seeds besides the Japanese ones.

KCB Samen is a great online store based in Basel that sells a huge variety of squash seeds, including several kabosha varieties. A more detailed review.

Kitazawa Seed Company in Oakland, California is another good mailorder source (though their website seems to be broken at the moment). I don't think they ship outside of the U.S. though.

I'd also like to mention Real Seeds, especially for UK and European gardeners. While they don't really carry a lot of Japanese vegetable seeds, I just love their whole attitude. They don't sell any F1 hybrids, just heirloom and open pollinated varieties. They actively encourage you to save your own seeds - unheard of for a seed supplier! Their web site is so fun to read I bought way more seeds from them than I needed.

A reader recommends Nicky's Nursery in the UK. They have some 'Oriental' vegetable seeds, green, red and bi-color shiso seeds, and so on. They ship to Europe and 'Rest of World', but not to the USA or South Africa due to import restrictions by those countries.

A lot of general seed catalogs, like Thompson and Morgan, Burpee's, Mr. Fothergills etc. do sell some Japanese vegetable seeds. Thompson and Morgan is my favorite big seed catalog, mainly because they ship worldwide. (The two major Swiss seed companies, Select and Samen Mauser, are good sources for vegetable seeds in general, but they don't carry any Japanese vegetable seeds. They have great selections of green beans though.)

See also

Filed under:  japanese vegetables shopping gardening herbs

About Japanese ingredients and substitutions

[Updated to add Substitution section.]

See also: Sake and mirin redux etc.

I haven't exactly counted it up, but of the thousands of comments left on Just Hungry, not to mention Just Bento, probably at least a quarter are questions about ingredients or ingredient substitutions. So I thought I might put down what my criteria are for what kind of ingredients I choose to feature in the recipes on either site, especially when it comes to Japanese recipes. [Update added on August 15th, 2008]: I've also added some suggested, and acceptable, substitutions.

Can I get a hold of it?

In case you didn't know, at the moment I live in a country with a fairly miniscule Japanese expat or immigrant population (the last I heard there were less than 2000 Japanese people living in the Zürich area). There is only one real Japanese grocery store near me, and it is quite small with a limited selection of products. There's also an equally small (though slightly better stocked) Korean grocery store, and a couple of Chinese grocery stores. (See Where I shope for Japanese/Asian ingredients in Zürich.) I supplement what I can get locally by placing an order with Japan Centre a few times a year.

My point is, that what I can get is fairly limited compared to many people, though more generous than others. So by sticking to what I can get here, I think that I'm in a good middle ground for people trying to cook anything Japanese. If you live in a region (e.g. most of California, New York City, or Hawaii) with big Japanese expat/immigrant populations, you have a much bigger selection available to you than I do!

(My mom also sends me things from Japan periodically, but I do not include the more exotic things in the recipes here, though I might mention then in passing.)

Is it available by mailorder?

I also periodically check to see if certain ingredients are available online. Some online merchants don't have very comprehensive listings on their web sites, but by emailing them they can tell you if they have something in stock.

Where to look for Japanese ingredients

In order of the likelihood of finding Japanese ingredients:

  • Japanese grocery stores, including online stores. This is obvious. Please consult the Worldwide Japanese grocery store list for your area, and go to your nearest store to see what they have! That's the best way to get acquainted with unfamiliar ingredients.
  • Korean grocery stores. A lot of Japanese ingredients are used in Korean cooking.
  • Chinese grocery stores and general Asian grocery stores. Chinese grocery stores tend to stock less Japanese ingredients than Korean grocery stores, but you can still find a lot of things.
  • Health food stores, including online stores. Many dry and/or vegan ingredients, such as rice flour, kuzu powder, agar-agar, miso and so on can be found at health food stores.
  • South East Asian grocery stores (Thai, etc.) These stores don't stock Japanese ingredients per se, but some of the fresh product and things can be used.
  • South Asian grocery stores (Indian, Sri Lankan, etc.) These can be a surprisingly good source for 'exotic' vegetables and such that are used in Japanese cooking.

Is it a widely used ingredient in Japanese cooking?

In general, I try to stay away from any ingredient that might be considered to be too regional or esoteric in Japan, and stick to ingredients that are likely to be in any Japanese kitchen.

Is the recipe something that is normally made in Japan?

When I do traditional Japanese recipes here, I try to stick to ones that are commonly made in Japanese homes (vs. something exotic, regional or so complicated it's only available in restaurants).

The exception to this rule is when I try to make something that is readily available in Japan, but not necessarily elsewhere. An example of this is really fresh tofu. The hard work required is worth it for the results.

Ingredient substitutions

In certain cases, you can make substitutions without a problem. I try to include substitution recommendations whenever possible, or when I am fairly sure it would work. For instance, many Japanese recipes call for katokuriko (片栗粉)which is a flour made from potato starch, but this is hard to get outside of Japan in most places. Cornstarch (or cornflour) has a very similar texture and performs the same function, so that is an easy substitute. Using honey or syrup instead of maple syrup will change the flavor a bit but also works.

In some cases though there is no substitution. If you are making kuzumochi, you really can't use anything other than kuzu powder if you want the same texture.

Sometimes you just need to try out a substitution to see if it works. For instance, when I call for a specific rice flour like shiratama-ko or joushinko, but you can't get it, try substituting a rice flour you can get and see how it goes. (I 've made rice dumplings with red rice flour from Sri Lanka, and it turned out fairly well.) The worst that can happen is that you end up with an inedible dish that you have to throw away, but that's not the end of the world. Don't be afraid of making mistakes!

Some acceptable substitutions

[This section added on August 15, 2008]

  • Mirin and sake. I think more people ask about substitutes for these two ingredients than anything else put together. Both are alcoholic beverages (though mirin is never drunk and is only used in cooking). Mirin is stronger and sweeter than sake. Sake can be used as a substitute for mirin (with an added pinch of sugar), and vice versa. If you cannot get a hold of either, you can use sweet sherry or Chinese shiaoxing wine. If you cannot use alcohol for religious or other reasons, even though most of the alcohol will evaporate after cooking, just leave it out - it will affect the flavor, but there's no reasonable non-alcoholic substitute that I can think of. See also: The role of alcohol, onion and garlic in Japanese meat dishes (also applies to fish dishes in many cases) (Vinegar is not a good substitute. Vinegar makes things sour. I can't believe there are people saying that vinegar is a substitute for sake. Is vinegar a good substitute for wine in a recipe? Please.) Mirin style seasoning or mirin choumiryou (example here) has less than 1% alcohol content, so it can be used as a mirin substitute in terms of flavor. However, mirin style seasoning often has additives like MSG and sugar, so I'm not a fan of it. If you do leave out mirin from a recipe, you can add a bit of (or more) sugar to the recipe to compensate for the sweetness at least.
  • Japanese-style or sushi rice. Keep in mind that 'sushi rice' is a name given by non-Japanese sellers to Japanese style or japonica medium grain rice. Medium-grain Italian rices that are used for risotto, such as vialone and arborio, are acceptable substitutes for Japanese rice; long grain rices including basmati and jasmine rice are not.
  • Dashi stock. Japanese stock is usually made from kombu seaweed, dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi), dried fish called niboshi, or a combination of all or two of these. (See basic dashi recipe.) You may find it difficult to find these ingredients, or they may be too expensive. Powdered or granular dashi stock is similar to stock cubes, and can be used instead of made-from-scratch dashi; keep in mind that dashi granules are saltier and often contain MSG. See also vegan dashi stock made with dried shiitake mushrooms and kombu seaweed. If you can't get a hold of any of these, you can use a basic vegetable stock instead - it won't taste that Japanese but it's better than plain water at least!
  • Miso and soy sauce. There are no substitutes for these. As to whether you should stick to Japanese soy sauce or use other kinds - I do believe that Japanese soy sauce tastes quite different from, say, Chinese soy sauce, but your palate may not be able to detect a big difference. Kikkoman is the most famous Japanese brand, and is available worldwide.
  • Japanese tonkatsu sauce or okonomiyaki sauce, or "bulldog" sauce. Bulldog is the brand name of a popular line of barbeque-type sauces that are used in a lot of dishes, from panfried noodles (yakisoba) to deep fried pork cutlets (tonkatsu) , okonomiyaki, takoyaki and more. If you're in the U.S., you can use A-1 Steak Sauce, maybe tempered with a little added sugar and/or ketchup. Elsewhere, you can use Worcestershire sauce for the flavor if not the texture.
  • Rice vinegar. White balsamic vinegar is the best substitute, but that's rather more exotic I think than rice vinegar! You can use also use a mild white wine vinegar instead, with a pinch of sugar to mellow it out.

In the vast majority of recipes here on Just Hungry as well as on Just Bento, I try to stick to these flavoring ingredients, plus universal ones like salt, pepper and sugar, so hopefully you won't run into too many problems around here at least.

Are there any other ingredients you'd like to know possible substitions for? Let me know in the comments.

See also

Filed under:  japanese ingredients philosophy produce

Kouya Dofu or Kohya Dofu, Freeze Dried Tofu


I've talked a little about kohya dofu or kouya dofu (高野豆腐)in the past, but I thought I'd describe it in detail so that I can refer back to it when I use this very versatile Japanese pantry staple in recipes.

Kouya dofu is freeze dried tofu. It's a long lasting pantry staple of most Japanese households. It comes in plastic packaging, usually 5 to a pack, like so:


Each square is about the size of a business card, and about 1cm or 1/2 inch or so thick. Each kouya dofu square is about 90 calories. They look like dehydrated squares of bread, or one of those sponges that you soak in water to reconstitute and use. The packets require no refrigeration.

Indeed, it is a sponge - a block of tofu that's been reduced to its cell structure. It's a very old traditional preserved food, that probably got invented by accident when someone left out some tofu in the winter and it froze solid. It's made by repeatedly freezing and thawing tofu, until all the moisture can be extracted.

Usually, kouya dofu is used by reconstituting it first. The easiest way is to soak it for a while in boiling water to cover. When the water has cooled down enough for the tofu to be taken out and genty squeezed, it's ready to use. It swells up to about 3-4 times its original size.


From here, you can just cut it up and use it in soups or stews. You can also marinate it. It has a more dense and firm texture than regular tofu, and like regular tofu it soaks up any flavor it is soaked or cooked in. It's usually stewed in a standard japanse soy sauce - mirin - sake - dashi - sugar mixture.

Here I've cooked some reconstituted kouya dofu in the same way that I cooked frozen tofu cutlets, to make kouya dofu nuggets. But I didn't have to take the time to freeze and defrost regular tofu. The results are much 'meatier' than nuggets made with frozen regular tofu. You might even be able to fool some unsuspecting people into think it's some sort of meat....


Another interesting way of using kouya dofu is to turn it into a powder by grating it or whizzing it in a food processor. The powder can be used instead of breadcrumbs, as a filler or binder in burgers and meatballs. This can be a good thing for celiacs and gluten intolerant people. The spongy texture soaks up any excess moisture and flavors. And of course, it provides and extra protain boost.

In Japan, kouya dofu is very cheap. Outside of Japan it can be more expensive, but the packet of 5 in the photo above was only $1.99 at Nara Foods in Port Washington, Long Island. So, look for it next time you are in a Japanese grocery store and give it a try, especially if you or someone you cook for has gluten allergies, or are vegan or vegetarian.

Filed under:  japanese ingredients vegetarian tofu vegan

Looking at rice

(I've updated this very popular post with some info about germ rice (haiga-mai) and sprouted brown rice (hatsuga genmai). In case you missed it the first time around, here it is again in your RSS reader and on the front page.)

Rice is a big part of my food life. While I do like other kinds of carbohydrates, especially good bread and pasta, rice is definitely my favorite.

There are so many different kinds of rice though. Even if one leaves out the rather more exotic kinds like red rice from the Camargue, American wild rice (which is not actually a rice but a kind of grain) or black rice (kokumai), I usually have on hand several different kinds of rice, each with a different use. Here are the ones I have in the pantry right now that I use in everyday cooking.

rices-longgrain.jpgThis is the long grain, parboiled rice, the kind that is most commonly used in European and American cooking. The grains don't stick together, for that separate, 'fluffy' texture that American/UK cookbooks find desirable. To me this is the most boring kind of rice with little character of its own. Nevertheless it is the least expensive kind of rice usually, and has its uses. I use this for rice dishes that have a lot of added flavor, like pilafs or fried rice. It can not be used as a substitute for japonica rice in most traditional Japanese dishes, since it is it not sticky enough.

rices-uruchi-japonica.jpgThis is Japanese-style rice, or uruchi-mai - the kind of rice I talk about the most on this site. It is also sold as medium grain rice, or sushi rice. It's the rice to use for almost any kind of Japanese dish, including the all-important sushi and onigiri. The rice grains cling together without being mushy when properly cooked. This rice must be polish-washed to bring out its best flavor, as I have previously described. The best kinds of this rice have a translucent quality and have clean, rounded grains. As you can see, the grains are rounder compared to long-grain rice.

A variation of white uruchimai is haigamai (germ rice, 胚芽米). It's hulled and polished white rice with the germ left intact. This is a bit more nutritious than regular white rice. This is getting more available at Asian/Japanese groceries.See this excellent tutorial on Instructables for how to sprout brown rice.

rices-uruchi-genmai.jpgThis is gen-mai, the brown version of uruchi-mai. It requires more water and a longer cooking time than the polished version. If you are in the market for a new rice cooker you may want to look for one that can cook brown rice. I've been eating more of this instead of the polished rice recently. Since the bran that is on brown rice contains oils that can turn rancid, it should be as fresh as possible. (Update: how to cook brown rice in a pot on the stovetop.)

One way to process brown rice, which is supposed to make it much more nutritious, is to let it germinate or sprout. This turns it into hatsuga genmai (literally, "sprouted brown rice", 発芽玄米, also known as GBR in health-food/vegan circles). To sprout rice on your own, soak it in lukewarm water for 24 hours, and keep it in a warm place (I keep mine on top of the hot water tank). At the end of the 24 hours, you may see the end of the grains are splitting a bit, and evena tiny little white root peeking out - that means it's sprouted. If it hasn't sprouted yet, rinse the grains and cover again with lukewarm water. If it still hasn't sprouted by the end of another 24 hours, it probably never will, so you can just cook it before the grains start fermenting actively. Since the grains have been soaked for so long you can cook it as you would white rice (in a rice cooker for example). It is softer and supposed to be easier to digest than regular brown rice.

You can also purchase sprouted rice - look in health food stores.

rices-mochi.jpgThis is mochi-mai, or mochi rice, otherwise called sweet rice, short-grain rice, or sticky rice. The grains are not really that much shorter than the "medium-grain" uruchi-mai above but as you can see, the grains look quite different. The are opaque and white rather than transculent. This is beaten and kneaded to make glutinous mochi cakes, used to make osekihan (red rice with beans), or used for some sweets.

rices-vialone.jpgThis is vialone rice from Italy. I use this or arborio rice for making risotto. It actually looks quite similar to uruchi-mai or japonica rice. These medium grain Italian rices can, a pinch, be used instead of Japanese rice. This is useful to know if you live in an area where vialone, arborio and other Italian rice varieties are cheaper than Japanese rice (which is certainly the case in Switzerland...we are a lot closer to Italy than to Japan after all). The reverse holds true too - if you have more or easier access to Japanese rice than arborio, vialone or carnaroli, you can use that, unrinsed, for risotto. When used for Italian dishes rice is not rinsed, since the powder that clings to the grains is the substance that makes risotto creamy.

rices-basmati.jpgThe final kind of rice that is a staple in our house is basmati rice. It has the longest grain of all, and a translucent appearance. It also has a a distinctive sort of spicy aroma, which matches spicy dishes perfectly. I keep this on hand of for Indian and Thai type dishes. I often have Thai 'perfume' or 'jasmine' rice on hand too, which is quite similar in cooking qualities. Neither basmati or jasmine rice can be used successfully in traditional Japanese dishes such as onigiri or sushi, since they are not sticky enough.

See also

Filed under:  japanese ingredients rice

Looking at tofu


(Periodically I like to dust off an article from the vast Just Hungry archives, give it a little facelift, and present it on the front page again. I wrote this guide to tofu back in September 2008. I think it will answer most, if not all, your questions about Japanese-style tofu and related products. Enjoy!

There are several tofu recipes both here in Just Hungry as well as on Just Bento, and I've even shown you how to make your own tofu from scratch. However, up until now I have never really tried to explain the differences between types of tofu, when to use them and how to store them. Well now is the time to fix that.

Fried tofu type 1: Aburaage


Aburaage (油揚げ)is deep fried tofu, where almost none of the soft white tofu remains. It's also called tofu skin or tofu pocket sometimes. When the tofu is deep fried, an air pocket is formed inside which can be stuffed, as in inarizushi or eggs in treasure bags. Besides stuffing it, you can use aburaage sliced up and put into soups or stir-fries, gently cooked whole in a broth as in kitsune udon, and more.

To get rid of the excess oil on the surface, blanch aburaage in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain away. To loosen it up so that it's easier to stuff, roll a round chopstick over the surface several times after blanching to loosen it up, then cut open.

The best way to store aburaage for longer than a few days is to freeze it. (The bag in the photo is actualy frozen.)

Japanese aburaage is always a rectangular sheet, but you can get small puffs or squares in Chinese markets.

Note: Don't confuse aburaage with canned (or packaged) inarizushi (or 'bean bag' sushi) skins, which have been cooked in a sweet-salty sauce. That is just one way to prepare aburaage. The canned inarizushi skins do tend to be rather high in salt, sugar and MSG, though they are very convenient to use. See how to make inarizushi from scratch, using plain aburaage.

Fried tofu type 2: Atsuage or namaage


Atsuage (厚揚げ)or namaage (生揚げ)is a block of tofu that has been slowly fried in oil until it forms a slightly crinkly pale brown skin. It's stil white tofu inside though, unlike aburaage. You can get rid of the excess oil on the surface just like with aburaage, by blanching it in boiling water. Aburaage is a very versatile food, that can be pan-fried or grilled like a steak, cut up and used in stir-fries or stewed, put into soups and so on. I like using aburaage in bento recipes a lot - because it has less moisture than non-fried tofu, it keeps longer.

The two main types of plain tofu

Finally we get to plain tofu. Plain tofu can be divided into two main types: silken or kinugoshi (絹ごし), and firm or pressed. In Japanese firm tofu is called momen (木綿)or cotton tofu. Here are a block of each: silken on the left, and firm/cotton on the right.


Here are the blocks from the side:


As you can see, the silken tofu is smoother and more watery, while the firm/cotton tofu is well, firmer and denser. Since silken tofu is much softer (higher water content), it is harder to handle if you want the tofu pieces to not fall apart. So if you are a tofu beginner and you want to use it on stir-fries or things like bacon wrapped tofu, you will want to use firm tofu. Firm tofu is less liable to fall apart, especially if you drain off the water a bit. Some recipes call for extracting even more water from the tofu (see using tofu for bento friendly recipes). On the other hand, silken tofu is more suited for recipes that call for it to be pureed, such as quick tofu pudding and baked squash and apple pudding, or in smoothies. I prefer silken tofu in miso soup, though firm is fine too.

Some other tofu types not pictured here

I don't have these on hand so pictures are missing...

Yaki dofu (焼き豆腐)is firm tofu that's been grilled on the outside, giving it a nice flavor.

Kouya dofu (高野豆腐)is freeze-dried tofu that is sold in the dried food section. It looks like little dried beige sponges. This is reconstituted in water before stewing. It can be a good pantry staple because it keeps indefinitely. Update: All about kouya dofu

Yuba (湯葉) is a Kyoto speciality. Thin films of tofu are scooped off the top of vats of warm soy milk. It's available in dried form and is usually used in soups and such. Fresh yuba made from fresh warm soy milk is considered a great delicacy and is usually eaten with a litle soy sauce, yuzu juice and such.

How to keep tofu fresh

Once you open the vacuum sealed pack the tofu comes in, any leftovers must be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, immersed in water. You will need to change the water every day too, but in any case don't keep opened tofu for more than 2 or 3 days. (With homemade tofu the shelf life is even shorter - a maximum of 2 days.) If you leave tofu out of water for more than a day in the fridge, it will take on a sour taste, not to mention picking up stray refrigerator smells! It is possible to freeze tofu (see frozen tofu cutlets) but the texture will change.

As mentioned above, aburaage can be frozen. Firm atsuage can also be frozen, though the inner texture will change a bit.

Calories in tofu products

Per 100 grams or about 3.5 oz:

  • Aburaage: 386 calories (one piece is about 20-25g) This is the calorie count before getting rid of the surface oil, so after it's cooked it would be a bit lower in calories.
  • Atsuage: 150 calories - (one piece is anywhere from 100 to 200g, depending on the brand etc.) This is the calorie count before getting rid of surface oil.
  • Silken tofu: 56 calories
  • Firm/cotton tofu: 72 calories
  • Yaki dofu: same as firm tofu
  • Kouya dofu (dry weight): 590 calories
  • Kouya dofu (cooked weight): 130 calories
  • Yuba (cooked weight): 150 calories

What about those stories I hear about soy being good for you/bad for you?

Whenever I write about soy or tofu products here, I usually get some comments or emails about how soy products are either bad for you (the current trend - makes men grow breasts and so on) or good for you (prevents certain types of cancer and what have you).

My attitude about these types of reports is this: Tofu has been eaten for hundreds or thousands of years. Generally speaking soy products are a great source of vegetable based protein and fat. And in any case, no one should be eating massive quantities of any one food product every day of the week, as seems to be the case with those reports of body builders taking lots of soy protein powder and sprouting boobies and such. Even the most die hard tofu fan in Japan, like my mother, does not eat tofu every single day. (For what it's worth, she has IBD and finds tofu to be one of the few easily digestible proteins.) Variety is the spice of life, and your diet! See also: A problematic report on the dangers of soy.

Hopefully most if not all of your tofu related questions have been answered here. If not, ask away in the comments!

See also

  • How to make your own ganmodoki - a kind of tofu fritter that's available in packaged form, but is much better when freshly made
  • Tofu from bean to plate - a small family-run company in Kyoto that makes tofu and also runs a wonderful tofu-kaiseiki restaurant. Includes pictures of special types of tofu and soy milk - tofu at its best!
Filed under:  japanese ingredients vegetarian tofu vegan

Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at different types of miso

[From the archives. This miso primer was published here last September (2008). I've added some notes about miso-based blends, especially sumiso or miso with vinegar.]

This is a post that has been a long time coming. I kept on holding it off until I had a good variety of miso on hand to show photos of. I can't say I have a comprehensive selection to show you, but I hope you will find this article useful anyway.

Miso (味噌、みそ), as you probably know already, is a naturally fermented paste made by combining cooked soy beans, salt, and often some other ingredient such as white or brown rice, barley, and so on. The texture can range from smooth to chunky, and the color from a light yellow-brown to reddish brown to dark chocolate brown, and the flavor ranges from mildly salty and sweet to strong and very salty. It is packed with umami and protein, not to mention all sorts of nutrients.

Miso-like fermented bean products and pastes exist all over Asia, but here I will mainly limit myself to the most commonly used Japanese misos.

Some general rules of miso

The color can be a fairly good indicator of the strength of flavor, age and saltiness of the miso. Generally speaking, the lighter in color of the miso, the sweeter (less salty) it is. Light colored misos are also younger than dark colored ones in general.There are exceptions to this rule, but if you are confronted with a selection and don't know which way to go, it's useful to remember.

The longer a miso is aged, the deeper in flavor it gets, though it can get a bit odd if aged too long. Commercially available miso is usually aged from 6 months to 2 years. (Note: Many misos made by health-oriented companies (e.g. Eden Foods in the U.S., Clearspring in the UK) do not seem to be aged too long, and therefore lack depth of flavor. If you're just eating miso for health reasons you may not care, but otherwise you are forewarned.)

You can keep unopened miso at room temperature indefinitely. Once opened, store well covered in the refrigerator - though it won't go 'off' that fast really. Ideally you want to consume it within a year of purchase. (I've kept miso for 3 years in the fridge without any ill effects, but I don't really recommend you do that!)

Major types of miso by color

  • Shiromiso (白みそ)or 'white' miso is the generic term for golden-yellow to medium brown miso. It is milder than other kinds of miso, with a slight sweetness. It's the most versatile one for cooking purposes - you can use it for miso soups, miso marinades, and so on. If you can only afford one kind of miso budget-wise or space-wise, get a good shiromiso that is labelled 'medium sweet'.

  • Akamiso (赤みそ)or 'red' miso is the generic term for miso that is a dark reddish-brown in color. It is usually (but not always!) more salty and assertive in taste than shiromiso. If you see a red-brown miso that is labelled a inakamiso (田舎味噌)or 'country' miso, you can be pretty sure that it will be strong in flavor and fairly salty.

  • Awasemiso (合わせ味噌)or 'blended' miso is just that, miso that combines two or more different types of miso together. This is also a good general choice if you don't want to assemble a miso collection.

With or without dashi?

Since miso is so often used in conjunction with dashi stock, some misos already have dashi added to them. These are usually labeled dashi iri (だし入り). If you want to add your own homemade dashi, or you are a vegan and want to avoid any fish products in your miso (see vegan dashi), look for additive-free or mutenka (無添加)miso. If you can't tell from the label whether it has dashi or not, look at the ingredient list - an additive free miso should only have soy beans, salt, rice or barley if they are used, and perhaps some fermentation ingredients (usually listed as koji (麹)).


If you want to be sure to get miso that is made from soy beans that are organically grown and not genetically modified, look for ones that say yuuki (有機). Most if not all miso that say mutenka (無添加)or additive-free are also non-GM . You may also encounter miso that says it's made from kokusan (国産)or domestic (Japanese) soy beans; this usually (thought not always - so check!) means it's made from non-GM, happy soy beans. (See above note about misos made by Western health-oriented companies.)

Gluten free?

Unless the miso contains barley (麦、mugi) or wheat (小麦、komugu) it is gluten-free, unless it has some not-traditional additives.

Some misos to look for by name

You may see a number of 'brand' names for miso, such as Shinshuu, Yamato, etc. Most of these names don't really mean much except to indicate where the miso comes from - the differences are too subtle except for a diehard miso connoisseur. There are a couple that stand out though.

  • Hatcho miso (八丁味噌)is a type of miso made in the Tokai region (now the 3 prefectures of Aichi, Mie and Gifu). It was traditionally said to have been served to the emperor and is held in high regard. It's an all-soybean miso, which is about medium on the sweet/strength/saltiness scale, and is a good general purpose miso.
  • Saikyo miso (西京味噌) is a golden yellow miso that was traditionally made in the Kyoto/Kansai region. It is naturally sweet - the sweetness comes from the sugar produced as a byproduct of the fermentation process, similar to amazake (甘酒). Makes a good dipping sauce or condiment, and is used as a sweet flavor in baked goods and so on by some Japanese vegan cooks. Does not keep as well as other miso types since it's lower in salt, so you must refrigerate it. It's very expensive! (I noticed that the Nobu restaurant group has a recipe online for 'saikyo' miso, but it uses white sugar! That's just sweet miso sauce, not Saikyo miso.)
  • Moromi miso (もろみ味噌)is a mildly salty, chunky miso, usually with added grains of rice or barley that is meant to be eaten as a condiment rather than in cooking. It's used rather like a dip on raw vegetables and things like that. (One of my teachers used to insist that moromi miso on raw cucumbers would make us smarter.)

Miso based sauces or blends

These are not pure misos, but are sauces or blends with miso.

  • Sumiso (酢みそ)is miso with added vinegar, sugar and mirin. It's used as a condiment, marinade, and so on.
  • Miso blend for marinade, or misozuke (味噌漬け)is miso with added mirin, soy sauce, konbu seaweed, and so on. Commercial blends often have MSG or "flavor enhancers" in them.

How to get a good miso?

As with many things in life, generally speaking the more expensive a miso is, the better it's going to taste. Do be sure you are comparing like-to-like when looking at prices though. Generally, special misos like Saikyo miso, or ones with special additives like brown rice miso, tend to be more expensive than general white, red or blended miso. Also, organic/additive-free misos tend to be a bit more expensive.

The only way to really know if a miso is good or not is to taste it. So, if you are trying out a new to you miso, try to get the smallest package possible and try it out.

You may think me prejudiced, and I probably am, but I do think that miso made in Japan generally tastes better than miso made elsewhere. Not to name names, but I've tried some non-Japanese brands, and they are lacking in depth of flavor, even if they are sometimes more expensive!

Making miso at home

I have not tried this myself yet, so I have nothing to show you, but you can make miso at home. All you need is soy beans, salt, some ko-ji (麹)(a sort of fermented rice starter), a big bucket, space, and patience - since you need to age the miso for 6 months to a year. You can find instructions on the interweb. (Maybe one day I will try making my own...)

What I have in my kitchen now


The top row shows the three misos I use the most: two types of shiromiso, and an awasemiso. One shiromiso is a big chunkier in texture and has brown rice in it; the other shiromiso and the awasemiso are both all-soy bean types. I use any of the three for most if not all the recipes here on Just Hungry or over on Just Bento. There's no good reason for me to have two shiromisos and an awasemiso - I just like trying out stuff.

The second row shows misos I use a lot less. On the left is a Saikyo miso, and in the middle is some quite salty-strong akamiso. I use Saikyo miso in some baking experiments and as a sauce to go with stewed daikon radish and such. The red miso is used for some marinades and some miso soups.

Lastly, since I had a square to fill and I only have 5 kinds of miso on hand at the moment, I've included some Korean gochujang (or kochujang as it's pronounced in Japan), although it's not a miso at all. It is however a fermented soy bean paste with added wheat, spices and so on.As you can see much redder than the 'red' akamiso - since I use it almost as much as miso because I love it so much.

The basics of Japanese cooking and all that

What actually prompted me to finally post this was an article I saw elsewhere that was titled What Is Miso Paste? It stated that miso and rice for Japanese people are like 'meat and potatoes for Americans'. Heh?

Sure, miso is part of Japanese cuisine. But you do not always eat miso, or always have miso soup, with a meal, if that was the analogy they were trying to use. Sure, soup is often served with a meal in Japan, but it can just as well be a clear soup as a miso soup. The real basis of Japanese cooking is rice, dashi and _sa shi su se so_. If you whittle it down to the bare essentials, a bowl of plain, white rice and something salty to go with it makes me feel Japanese through and through.

But enough of my whinging. If you have any questions about miso that I haven't answered here, ask away!

See also

Filed under:  basics japanese ingredients miso

Basics: Japanese soy sauce - all you need to know (and then some)


(An exhaustive look at Japanese soy sauce. Originally published in December 2011, revised and edited in August 2012.)

I've written so many articles here on Just Hungry over the almost nine years of its existence, that I've forgotten half of them. But one thing I have not really done so far is delve into the subject of one of the most important ingredients in Japanese cooking, shoyu (醤油)or soy sauce. I have written about soy sauce briefly in years past, but I feel now is the time to go deeper.

Note: I am talking here only about Japanese soy sauce. Soy sauce is made by other Asian cultures of course, where processes and ingredients may differ. I'm sticking to what I'm familiar with here as usual.

So, let's dive in to the world of Japanese soy sauce.

How is soy sauce made?

Like miso, soy sauce is a fermented and aged product. The kanji characters for soy sauce or shoyu are 醤油, which literally means 'fermented food oil' - so in Japanese and Chinese there's no 'soy' at all in the 'soy sauce' name. In the olden days, many foods were salted and fermented for longer shelf life and flavor. For instance the ancient Romans liked a thing called garum, a strongly flavored condiment or sauce made from fermented fish. The fish sauces that are essential for south east Asian cooking are salted-and-fermented-food products too. (Did you know there are several Japanese fermented fish sauces too? The most well known one is called shottsuru (しょっつる)and is made in Akita prefecture, in the Tohoku region.)

Generally soy sauce is made from a mixture of soy beans, wheat, salt and yeast. Some types of soy sauce also include fermented rice (kome koji) or amazake to give sweetness to the flavor. Mass produced soy sauce is made from defatted soy residue (soy from which the oil has been extracted), which makes the soy sauce ferment a lot faster than using the whole bean. Purists argue that this also leads to a loss of flavor and body. The wheat and/or rice is necessary to feed the yeast as the mixture ferments, and to develop a sweet flavor in the soy sauce.

Here's how they make soy sauce at a traditional soy sauce maker (shoyu-ya) in Chiba prefecture:


Here's a nice big vat fermenting away...


Of course this is not how it's done at say, Kikkoman factories around the world. But the process is fundamentally the same.

Soy sauce is typically aged at least 6 months before it is bottled, though some are aged longer. While 'standard' soy sauce (see koikuchi below) usually does not have any additives, in some cases things are added (usually alcohol) to prolong the shelf life of soy sauce, or sweeteners to give it a sweeter flavor. By Japanese law, all such additives must be clearly indicated on the label. So if you're looking for a soy sauce that's as natural as possible, look for one with no additives.

Types of soy sauce

There are 5 main traditional types of shoyu or soy sauce. The type of soy sauce used in largely influenced by what part of the country you live in, or where the cook of the family grew up. (I know a lot of people outside of Japan tend to think it's all the same and homogenous, but at least when it comes to food that's certainly not the case.) Typical Japanese households stock just 1 or 2 types of soy sauce, unless they are really into cooking.

The most widely used type by far is koikuchi (濃い口)soy sauce. Koikuchi literally means 'dark mouth'. This is the quintessential soy sauce that you see for sale from brands like Kikkoman and Yamasa in Japanese grocery stores around the world, and since it is the 'starndard' soy sauce for many people it is not always labeled as koikuchi. Koikuchi soy sauce sales account for more than 80% of the market in Japan according to the Soy Sauce Information Center (SOYIC - Japanese only website). It's the soy sauce of choice in the Tokyo/Kanto area and the north. Koikuchi soy sauce is usually made with equal parts of soy and wheat, plus salt and yeast.

This is the soy sauce I use in all of my recipes here on Just Hungry as well as on JustBento unless specified otherwise. Why? Well for one thing I'm from Tokyo, and my mom and her mom and my father's mom were all from the Kanto region. So we are koikuchi folks. Also, koikuchi soy sauce is the 'standard' as noted above, and much easier to get a hold of than other types.

The second most popular type of soy sauce is usukuchi (淡口; kanji scholars may notice that the kanji 淡い is used rather than 薄い). This is a lighter colored, used primarily in western Japan, namely the Kansai region (Kyoto/Osaka), and has about 15% of the soy sauce market share. In traditional Kyo-ryori (Kyoto cuisine), which has its origins in refined imperial court cooking, dark colored koikuchi soy sauce is considered declassé and ruins the flavor and appearance of food. However, don't think that because it's lighter in color that it's less salty. On the contrary, usukuchi soy sauce is saltier than koikuchi soy sauce - 18-19% of its volume is salt, compared to around 16% for koikuchi. In recipes that call for usukuchi soy sauce this is taken into account. Usukuchi soy sauce is also made with soy and wheat, and is often rounded out with the addition of fermented rice (kome koji), wheat gluten or amazake.

Another type of soy sauce that became popularized in the west is tamari (溜まり)- which means 'pooled residue'. It is a thick, almost viscous soy sauce, which originated in the Chuubu region (central Japan; the main city in the area is Nagoya). It's used mainly as a dipping sauce for sashimi, and to finish off certain dishes to give a burnished reddish- brown color and shine, e.g. to teriyaki dishes. Tamari became popularized in the west because it got the reputation that it was made without wheat. This is not necessarily the case - especially if it's a tamari made the traditional way. If you must stay away from any kind of wheat please check the label. (Tamari made with 100% soy does exist.)

(*A note about gluten intolerance and soy sauce. Much of the wheat gluten is broken down and basically consumed by the yeast during the long fermentation process. I've looked at the blogs of many Japanese celiacs, and they all say they don't worry about consuming small amounts of soy sauce. But of course, Your Body May Vary. Kikkoman does make a gluten-free soy sauce, but I'm not sure if it's for the overseas market only.)

Finally we come to two very regional soy sauces. Saishikomi (再仕込み)soy sauce originates south-western Japan, especially Yamaguchi prefecture. It's unique in that it is re-brewed (that's what 'saishikomi' means) from a previous batch ofmade soy sauce. This means the color is very intensely dark red-brown, and the flavor is less salty and sweeter more rounded than other soy sauces. And then there is shiro (白) or white shoyu that originates in Aichi prefecture. It's even lighter in color than usukuchi shoyu - it's about the color of dashi stock made with lots of katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and has become rather trendy to use amongst some chefs in Japan who want to add some soy sauce flavor to dishes but not color. (Outside of Japan, certain trend-conscious chefs have started specifying usukuchi soy sauce. They need to catch up. ^_^)

Reduced salt soy sauce

Reduced or low-sodium salt soy sauce, called genen (減塩)or teien (低塩) is koikuchi soy sauce that has had its salt content reduced mechanically so to speak.The salt content of reduced sodium soy sauce ranges from 9 to 13%. (Don't confuse reduced salt soy sauce with usukuchi (light) soy sauce, as noted above.)

Grades of soy sauce

Soy sauce is graded both by the Japaneese Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry (JAS) and an industry group called the Japanese Soy Sauce Association. The official government grades are Special Grade (特級, tokkyuu), First Grade (1級, ikkyuu) and Standard Grade (標準, hyoujun). Grading is based on measuring the chemical composition soy sauce, mainly for its amino acid and alcohol content. The Japanese Soy Sauce Association adds two more grades that are higher than Special Grade: Extra Select (特選, tokusen) and Ultra-Extra Select (超特選, choutokusen).

Soy sauce is also graded by experts based on color, aroma, roundedness and other such more subjective criteria.

As with most Japanese things, you tend to get what you pay for when it comes to soy sauce.

Other things to look for on a label might be "yuuki" which means grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides (almost organic), and "marudaizu" which means the soy sauce is made from the whole soy bean rather than defatted dregs.

Generally speaking, people tend to use expensive, special soy sauces and very assertively flavored ones straight up, for dipping and other uses where it is not diluted by other ingredients.

What is nama-shoyu or ki-joyu?

Nama-shoyu (生醤油) - unpasteurized soy sauce - seems to be the new trendy thing these days in the U.S. It's exactly what it says - soy sauce that has not been heated to kill off any good or bad organisms. Natural-food fans like it because it's, well, unpasteurized. Does nama-shoyu always taste better? I'm really not sure. I personally think that the soy sauce made by skilled, experienced artisans is the best, regardless of whether it is 'raw' or not.

Is nama-shoyu a health food? In my opinion, anything with the high levels of sodium soy sauce has can never really be a "health food". It's a condiment and flavoring, something to be used in small amounts. In that sense, and this is just my humble opinion of course, nama-shoyu is not worth the expense over a good old pasteurized soy sauce. Pasteurization is not 'bad' for you you know - it's one of the greatest innovations in human history. Before pasteurization, people died regularly from food poisoning and such.

Many people in Japan called nama-shoyu ki-joyu; both terms have the same kanji characters (生醬油). I've read that they are both the same, and also that ki-joyu is just a culinary term used by chefs and such to say 'straight soy sauce' without the addition of mirin, sake or other ingredients. In English speaking areas at least nama-shoyu is the term used.

So now my head is spinning. What soy sauce do you recommend?

If you can only afford one soy sauce type (budget or space-wise) in your kitchen, get the best koikuchi (or regular) soy sauce you can afford. It's really the best all-rounder. I usually buy Yamasa Marudaizu or regular Yamasa. I just prefer Yamasa over Kikkoman, but that's just a personal preference. (And by the way, I do stick to Japanese brands; I just find they taste better to me. I tried an 'organic' soy sauce made in the UK once and it was just..lacking.) I do have a couple of extra-special, artisanal soy sauces around purchased in Japan, but they are not really necessary and I actually rarely use them, except for dipping.

If you dislike the dark color soy sauce gives to dishes, or have gotten into Kyoto style cooking, you'll want to use usukuchi soy sauce, but it does tend to be more expensive than koikuchi. Your local Japanese grocery store will stock both koikuchi and usukuchi soy sauces, as well as tamari and maybe other types. Your local general-Asian grocery store will probably only have koikuchi (plus soy sauces from other nations).

Nowadays you have a wide selection of soy sauces to choose from in the U.S. as long as you're willing to mailorder - go nuts if you want! In France/Europe, be sure to look up Workshop Issé if you want to go high-end with your soy sauce.

I hope I've covered all of your soy sauce questions! If not, let me know in the comments as always.

Filed under:  basics japanese ingredients washoku

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


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


  • 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

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


  • 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


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


  • 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)


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.


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...;_;)

Filed under:  basics japanese sauce yohshoku washoku

Cooking courses on JustHungry.com

A listing of free cooking courses held on Just Hungry.

Courses for 2013

A list of JustHungry courses for 2013.

Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku


The response to Bento 101, my introductory course to the basics of bento lunch making, has been overwhelmingly positive. So I've decided to follow it up with another structured online course titled Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. We'll be conducting it here on Just Hungry since it's about general cooking methodology rather than specific to bentos.


As you may already know, the cooking that goes on in Japan is roughly divided into 4 cuisine types: Washoku, yohshoku (or yoshoku), chuuka, and everything else. The first three, washoku (which means "Japanese food"), yohshoku (meaning "western food" see a description of yohshoku) and chuuka (Chinese food) comprise most of what Japanese people cook for themselves every day. And of these washoku, which comprises what's considered traditional Japanese food, is the most important to learn if you want to master Japanese cooking, since it forms the foundation for everything else that goes on in the Japanese kitchen.

In this course you'll about the fundamental building blocks of washoku and Japanese cooking. After completion you should be able to tackle Japanese recipes with a lot more understanding and ease. It may even help you to recognize the difference between good and not-so-good Japanese food when you eat out.


During this 5 part course, we'll be making 5 dishes: rice, soup, and three okazu - the foods that go with rice. (There may be some variations to each item too.) Each dish will teach you specific skills and flavor combinations that are used all the time in Japanese cooking. And as a bonus, at the end you'll have a "full course" Japanese meal that you can serve proudly to anyone, even your Japanese friends, with the knowledge that it's pretty authentic.

Will it cost me anything?

Nope. Just like Bento 101, it will be free.

Requirements (or, is this course for you?)

  • Because I want to teach you what "real, authentic" Japanese food should taste like, you will be required to purchase some ingredients that are fundamental to the cuisine. While I usually offer ideas for substitutions and so on in my recipes, for this course we won't be doing that. This does require you to make an initial investment in some foods that may be rather expensive or hard to get, depending on where you live. If that is an issue for budgetary or other reasons, then this course may not be for you.
  • Unlike Bento 101, the focus of Japanese Cooking 101 will be entirely on cooking and cooking techniques. You should take this course only if you're seriously interested in Japanese food, and in cooking in general.
  • You should know your way around the kitchen. You don't have to be an expert, but you should know how to wield a kitchen knife, cook something simple on the stove, and so on.
  • However, I am going to assume that participants have no prior knowledge of how to cook Japanese food. I'll be explaining what each ingredient is, and how it's used, in detail. So it may be a bit too basic and tedious for people who have been making Japanese food for a while.
  • You'll need access to a computer or some way of getting online of course. If you want to share your results visually, you should have a camera or camera phone etc.
  • The meal we'll be creating will contain meat and fish products, so it may not suit you if you're a vegetarian, although you may find some techniques useful.
  • Since two alcoholic products, sake and mirin, are fundamental to washoku, if you have any reasons for avoiding alcohol in cooking this course may not be for you.
  • Last but not least, you'll get the very most out of this course if you follow every lesson in sequence and do each assignment. I estimate that it will require about 2 hours of your time per week.

Start date and duration

  • We'll start the week of March 4th (right after Bento 101 wraps up)
  • The course will go on for 4 to 5 weeks, and consist of 6 lessons with at least 5 cooking assignments.

Where do I sign up?

There's no formal sign up process. Just follow along when we start in March!

So there you have it. Interested? Questions? Let me know! I'll post the required materials and so on later this week.

(ETA: I inadvertently deleted the original announcement post - and more than 150 or so of your comments under it! :( If you asked a question or something and don't see it, please try re-posting your comment.)

Filed under:  japanese washoku cooking courses japanesecooking101

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.

Filed under:  japanese ingredients washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101: Fresh ingredient shopping list for Week 1

We'll be starting Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku next week. If you're cooking along with the course as the lessons are listed, this is your shopping list of fresh ingredients. This is in addition to the staple ingredients on this list.

For Week 1 your fresh ingredient shopping list is pretty short. Basically I want you get something that can go into miso soup (omisoshiru) or clear soup (osuimono or osumashi). Here are some suggestions for some classical ingredients, but you can go with something else if you like too.

For miso soup - choose 1 or 2 of the following (you don't need the whole list):

  • Potatoes and wakame seaweed (which you have already in your staple list)
  • Soft (silken) tofu, on its own or with wakame
  • Cabbage
  • Onion
  • Daikon radish
  • Spinach leaves
  • Aburaage (fried tofu skins)

For clear soup - again, choose 1 or 2 of the following; if any of these ingredients are unfamiliar to you, just go with something else:

  • Green onions (scallions)
  • Wakame seaweed (on your staples list)
  • Mitsuba
  • Mizuna
  • Spinach
  • Soft (silken) tofu)
  • Fresh shiitake mushrooms or regular mushrooms
  • Chicken breast meat
  • Kamaboko

If you haven't gotten all the ingredients on the staples list yet, the ones you will be needing are:

  • konbu seaweed
  • katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
  • OR dashi granules
  • wakame seaweed (if you'll be using it in your soup)
  • miso

You'll also need some salt, which I'm going to assume you have anyway. (Any old edible salt will do here, you don't have to get expensive sea salt or anything unless you want to.)

And that's it! The first lesson will be posted early next week.

Filed under:  japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 1: How to make dashi stock, the foundation of Japanese cooking

Welcome to the first lesson of Japanese Cooking 101! Throughout this course I hope to teach you about the foundations of traditional Japanese cooking or washoku (和食), as well as how to cook some Japanese dishes. So let's get started!

Lesson 1: Dashi

Dashi or stock (often called dashi stock, which is kind of redundant) is the foundation of all savory washoku. It's not just used in soups; it's used in everything, from sauces, dressings, as a liquid when stewing vegetables, and more. Without dashi, your Japanese dishes simply aren't right. If anything, dashi is more critical to Japanese cooking than meat, vegetable and fish stocks are to French cooking.

So what is dashi? Basically it is a liquid that is packed with umami, or glutamates. Umami is an essential part of any savory cuisine, but particularly so in Japanese cooking. It's not at all surprising that it was a Japanese scientist who invented the purest chemical form of umami, monosodium glutamate (MSG).

While using MSG or a instant dashi powder or granules is very handy, and although the quality of dashi powders have have improved in recent years, dashi made from time-tested, natural ingredients is more rounded and better tasting. The difference between dashi made from instant powder and one made from scratch is like the difference between a bouillon you make with a stock cube and one you make by simmering bones and vegetables for hours.

Luckily for us, the Japanese of yore came up with ways to make whipping up a batch of dashi very easy. Various dried ingredients, mostly from the sea, which can be kept without refrigeration, are used to make dashi quite easily - so much easier than making a meat stock. (I mean, dealing with those icky greasy bones after making chicken or beef stock is not nice.)

Main dashi ingredients

Dashi is made from one or two of these ingredients:

昆布 (kanji); こんぶ (hiragana): Kombu (or konbu) -seaweed


kombu seaweed is a slightly leathery seaweed. It may come in wide sheets, or long ropey strands. kombu is the most widely used dashi ingredient, and has the most neutral flavor of them all. If you are a vegan, a pure kombu dashi is an all-purpose, neutral tasting dashi.

Good kombu is covered on the surface with a fine white powdery substance. Do not wash this off - it's not caked on salt or dust! It's full of that umami we want to extract.


(Note: Many Japanese cookbooks instruct you to wipe the dirt off the surface of kombu with a tightly wrung out kitchen towel. The truth is, this really isn't necessary in most cases these days, since the kombu we get has already been cleaned very well. If you happen to get a batch with some gritty stuff on the surface you'll need to wipe it off, but make sure you're not getting rid of that powdery white stuff in the meantime. If a tiny bit of grit does make it into your dashi you can always strain it off later.)

鰹節 or かつお節 or かつおぶし: Katsuobushi, or bonito flakes

Also called kezuribushi or okaka.


Katsuobushi is a bonito fish (katsuo) that has been dried and fermenented to develop a lot of umami. The fish shrinks down and hardens until it's like a block of wood. This is then grated or shaved into thin flakes, rather like wood shavings. The shavings are used in cooking. Good, fresh pre-shaved katsuobushi is fluffy and yellowish-beige in color with a hint of blush pink. Katsuobushi is the second most common dashi ingredient after kombu. Most of the dashi used around the country in restaurants uses a combination of kombu and katsuobushi.

Katsuobushi is usually available in flaked form, although you can get a whole katsuobushi and a special box grater and grate your own. While freshly shaved or grated katsuobushi is very flavorful, it's a pain in the ass to grate manually, so most people, including professional cooks, use the pre-shaved stuff. (I've seen some electric katsuobushi-shavers sold in Japan, but they're pretty expensive.)

Other dashi ingredients used

We won't be using these ingredients for this lesson, but these items are used in dashi too.

  • Small dried fish such as nishin or iwashi (にしん, いわし: herrings and sardines) are often used instead of katsuobushi. Some regions of the country prefer them over katsuobushi, and some people just use them because they are cheaper. The dashi made with these don't taste overly fishy, but are a bit more fishy than katsuobushi.
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms (干し椎茸) are used for dashi on occasion. The soaking liquid from reconstituting dried mushrooms makes a very strong tasting dashi, which can be used on its own or with kombu dashi.

Ichiban dashi (first dashi) and niban dashi (second dashi)

Simply put, ichiban dashi or first dashi is the dashi you make from fresh (as in previously unused) ingredients kombu and katsuobushi. Niban dashi or second dashi is dashi made from the kombu, katsuobushi and so on that has previously been used for making ichiban dashi. Ichiban dashi is used for things like soups, or when you want the maximum amount of umami possible. Niban dashi is used for things like stewed dishes, when other ingredients like meat and vegetables will add more umami to the dish so a subtler dashi is adequate. Niban dashi is really a way of being frugal with your dashi ingredients.

Let's make some dashi!

In this lesson we will be making a standard ichiban (first) kombu and katsuobushi dashi, but I'll also show you how kombu-only dashi is made.

Long time readers of the site may know that I've given you a couple of different ways of making dashi in the past. They all work well, but here I'll walk you through the method that I think makes the best tasting dashi.

We will making 1 litre, or about 4 U.S. cups of dashi. For this you will need:

  • 10 to 15 grams (1/3 to 1/2 ounce) of kombu
  • 10 to 15 grams (1/3 to 1/2 ounce) of katsuobushi
  • 1 litre or 1000 ml / 4 U.S. cups of water plus a bit of extra water (about 100ml or 1/3 cup) to allow for evaporation during cooking

The ratio of water to ingredients: Allow for a minimum of 10 grams of kombu, and 10 to 15 grams of katsuobushi, per 1000 ml(1l) or 4 U.S. sized cups of water. If you're making a kombu-only dashi, you'll want to use at least 15 grams. If you don't have a fairly precise scale, 10 grams of kombu is about a 4 inch square piece - which is the advice I've given you previously, and 19-15 grams of katsuobushi is a good handful. Here I used 15 grams of each. If you don't get the amounts precise don't worry; since these are all-natural ingredients, you can't really use too much of it.

Here's 15 grams of kombu. - about 1 1/2 4-inch / 10 cm squares.


And here's 15 grams of katuobushi - a generous handful:


Set aside the katsuobushi. Put the kombu and water in a pan and leave it to soak for at least 30 minutes. You can leave it in the water for up to a day in the refrigerator, if you want to do the soaking step in advance.


If you want to track how the dashi progresses, take a small sip of the liquid after the kombu has been soaking in it for a while. You should taste just a hint of the sea already. The surface of the kombu will have turned a bit slippery.


Put the pan on the hob and turn up the heat. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat.

If you are making a kombu-only dashi, keep the pan on a barely-there low simmer for 30 minutes. Check the water level and add a bit more if it seems to be evaporating too fast.

IF you are making a kombu-katsuobushi combination dashi, simmer the kombu for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat.

Again, if you want to track the progress of the dashi, taste it at the 5, 10 and (if you're going for kombu-only dashi) the 30 minute stages. You'll notice that the dashi is getting gradually stronger in flavor, tasting like the sea. You should notice the umami even at the 5 minute mark. Kombu-only dashi barely has any color.


To make a kombu-katsuobushi combo dashi: After 10 minutes of simmering, add the katsuobushi, and turn the heat off.


Let the pan sit for a few minutes (about 10 minutes) until the katsuobushi sinks to the bottom of the pan.


Strain off the liquid, using a fine-mesh sieve.


Don't throw away the used kombu and katsuobushi! We'll be using that in a later lesson, so put it in a plastic bag and store it in the freezer.


The dashi will have a pale golden color. Give it a taste - you'll notice the katuobushi, but it won't be unpleasantly 'fishy'; it will be like a very light bouillon without the salt.


At this point the dashi can be used right away, or stored well covered for a few day in the refrigerator. You can also freeze it - putting it in ice cube trays is a handy way of doing this.

_This pale golden liquid is the foundation for your savory Japanese dishes. Master the art of dashi making and you're well on your way to becoming a Japanese Iron Chef!

Tomorrow I'll show you how to turn this dashi into two kinds of soup: clear soup called osumashi or osuimono, and misoshiru or miso soup.

Addendum: Using instant dashi stock granules

While dashi made from natural ingredients tastes the best, it may be difficult of not impossible to get the raw ingredients like kombu seaweed and katsuobushi in some parts of the world. In that case using instant dashi stock granules is fine, and certainly better than using straight MSG or nothing at all. And to be brutal, most Japanese restaurants around the world do not make dashi from scratch; they use the granules, (Once you know the taste of 'real' dashi, you'll soon be able to tell when a restaurant isn't using it.)

A complaint I hear sometimes about dashi made from dashi granules is that it is 'fishy'. While they do have some fish flavor (and the granules themselves, especially certain brands, can smell rather fishy) since they are made from katuobushi extract and such, I suspect that one problem is that people are using far too much of it. You only need to use about 1 teaspoon per 4 cups (1 liter) of water, or 1/4 teaspoon per cup.


Dashi, whether made from granules or from scratch, is not meant to be used on its own; it is meant to be a flavor enhancer, not the entire flavor. You add other ingredients like salt, soy sauce, sake and so on to the dashi to "complete" the flavors. So trying to make add enough dashi granules to water or other liquid to make it 'strong' will not turn out well at all.

When you use dashi granules start with a small amount, add the other flavors and then add a bit more if you think it really needs it. Tasting as you go along is the best way to cook something you're unfamiliar with.

Dashi granules that come in pre-portioned packages like these are handy if you can't remember the dosage. These little sealed packages tend to keep better too.


But again, if you can get the real ingredients, please try to make dashi the proper way at least once, so you can know what it's supposed to taste like.

Filed under:  basics japanese washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 1-Addendum: Making Miso Soup and Clear Soup with Dashi

Now that you know how to make a proper dashi, you're 90% on your way to making delicious miso soup and clear soup. If you have ever wondered why your miso soup doesn't taste quite right, and you were omitting the dashi part...you're in for a treat!

Basic miso soup (味噌汁, misoshiru)

For this lesson I will be using one ingredient, potato, that should be familiar to anyone, and another, wakame seaweed, which may be more unusual but is a standby in Japanese kitchen. It also gives me a chance to show you how to handle miso soup additions that have different cooking times.

A bit about wakame

Wakame (わかめ) is very different from kombu, but is probably the second most used seaweed in Japanese cooking. Unlike kombu wakame doesn't have a whole lot of umami, although it has a pleasant sea-flavor. It's enjoyed more for its texture, which can be kind of chewy and squeaky when raw, or soft once you cook it even briefly.

Wakame is available in two forms: fresh (raw) and packed in salt; or dried. I usually have the dried kind around because it's more convenient (especially when you live far away from a Japanese grocery store like me) and that is what I used here:


Dried wakame expands to 4-5 times its volume when reconstituted, so use sparingly. Dried wakame usually comes already chopped up, so all you need to do is to take out some and reconstitute in cold water is using in salads or side dishes. For soup you can just put it directly into the soup.

Fresh wakame packed in salt should be stored in the refrigerator. Before using, rinse off the salt under running water, then blanch briefly by pouring boiling water over it. If using in a salad, refresh in cold water. Fresh wakame comes in long whole strands, so you need to chop it up before using. It also expands a bit (about 1.5 times or so) so don't pull out more than you need from that tangle in the packet.

The miso I used, and how much to add to your soup

For this miso soup I used a white Shinshuu miso. Shinshuu is the old name of Nagano Prefecture, and is known for its excellent miso. It's fairly mild on the saltiness scale.


Every miso has a different level of salt, and the worst thing you want to do is to add too much miso to your soup. A general rule of thumb is to use about 1 tablespoon per cup (U.S. measure, 236.5ml) or 1/4 l (250ml) but if you have a very salty red miso for example, you may need less. So when you are trying out a new miso, always add less than you think you need. It's easy to add more. Since we'll be using 1000 ml / around 4 cups for this recipe, we'll start with 3 tablespoons and add more if we think we need it.

(See: Japanese miso primer for more about different types of miso.)

Potato and wakame miso soup (じゃがいもとわかめの味噌汁)

For 3-4 servings

  • 1000ml / 4 U.S. cups dashi
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 2-3 tablespoons of dried wakame, or 4-5 tablespoons (about 2 strands) of fresh wakame
  • 3-4 tablespoons of miso
  1. Bring the dashi up to a boil, and add the potato. Lower to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are soft, around 10 minutes depending on how big the pieces are.


  1. In the meantime, if you're using fresh wakame, process it as detailed above. Dried wakame can just be thrown in there without reconstituting. When the potato pieces are tender, add the wakame.


  1. Put the miso paste in a bowl and add some of the liquid from the soup.


  1. Mix it around in the liquid until it's dissolved. Never add miso paste directly to soup: always dissolve it first. Otherwise you run the risk of salty clumps or miso in the soup, or of overcooking it. (Incidentally, I always do this dissolving part in the bowl of the ladle I'm using, as do most Japanese home cooks. Once you get more used to making miso soup you can try that too. Less washing up to do!)


  1. Add the dissolved miso to the soup, then immediately turn off the heat. Miso should not be boiled, or it starts to turn a bit grainy. (Mind you it will still taste fine, so if this happens to you don't throw away your soup or anything). Taste your soup, and if needed add a bit more dissolved miso.

  2. Serve in a bowl. The combination of potato with soft wakame is really homey and delicious. Take your time to inhale the aroma of the soup. If you serve this to a homesick Japanese person they may cry in gratitude.


Tip: If you can't get wakame, you can use some shredded spinach (as I used in the clear soup below) instead.

Miso soup summary

  • Cook any hard ingredients until tender in the dashi.
  • Add no-cook or almost-no-cook ingredients at the end.
  • Always dissolve the miso before adding to the soup, using some of the dashi in the pot.
  • Add less miso than you think it needs, then add as needed. 1 tablespoon = 1 U.S. cup or around 250ml of dashi is a fairly good baseline, but all misos are different.
  • Never let miso soup boil after adding the miso.

Variation: Clear soup (お吸い物 - osuimono or おすまし - osumashi)

Delicate clear soup or osuimono may seem even easier to make than miso soup on the surface, but getting the flavor balance just right can be a bit tricky. A clear soup really must have a great tasting dashi as a base. Many cooks prefer to use a kombu dashi which is more subtle and refined according to some, but the standard kombu + katsuobushi dashi is fine too.

Here I have used two ingredients that should be easy to get anywhere.

Chicken supreme (tenders) and spinach clear soup (鶏ささみとほうれん草のお吸い物 - tori sasami to hourensou no osuimono)

For 3-4 servings

  • 1000ml / 4 U.S. cups dashi
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce (light soy sauce preferred, but dark is ok)
  • 2 teaspoons sake
  • 1 teaspoon mirin
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 chicken tender or supreme (the long, thin, tender part that's on the underside of a chicken breast), cut into small slivers
  • 3-4 spinach leaves, stalks removed and shredded

I didn't include any step by step photos here since you'll just see a pan of clear liquid mostly! But here are the steps.

  1. Bring the dashi to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.
  2. Add the soy sauce, sake and mirin. (Note for people who can't use these ingredients - just leave them out; the soup will still taste pretty good.)
  3. Add the chicken, then add the spinach. Both will cook almost immediately.
  4. Taste the soup. Add a pinch of salt if you think it needs it, then taste again, until it has the right amount of saltiness.
  5. Serve in a bowl.


So there you have it! You know how to make great miso soup and clear soup!

If you would like to do so, please link to a picture of your results in the commencts right here, via Twitter to @justbento or @makiwi, or on the Facebook page.

Filed under:  soup miso washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101: Ingredients and equipment list for Lesson 2

For Lesson 2, we are going to cover the all-important subject of cooking rice. So, from the list of pantry ingredients for the course, you'll need:

  • Japanese type rice (uncooked) - this is your one and only critical ingredient for the week. Please read the instructions on the <a href="http://www.justhungry.com/handbook/cooking-courses/>pantry list post carefully for exactly what to get.
  • A packet of microwave rice - as a baseline for what Japanese rice should look, feel and taste like

You'll also need the following equipment:

  • A fine-mesh sieve, as described on the pantry list post
  • A bowl
  • A rice paddle is not critical, but handy to have
  • A cooking implement for cooking the rice, which can be one of the following:
    • A rice cooker
    • A heavy bottomed pot, like a cast iron pot, with a tight fitting lid _ A large (at least 10 inches or 25cm diameter) frying pan, with a tight fitting lid

If you'd like to try the bonus how-to, how to prepare proper sushi rice, you will also need:

  • rice vinegar
  • salt and sugar
  • dashi as prepared in Lesson 1, or dashi granules, or kombu
  • Equipment: a sushioke or handai (a large, wooden bowl for mixing sushi rice) is ideal, but a large bowl will do too. Plus a rice paddle and a handheld fan or a hairdryer.
  • Plus toppings of your choice, such as smoked salmon and cucumber, or some sashimi-grade tuna or other sashimi-grade fish.

And that's it! It should be a very interesting lesson!

Filed under:  japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 2: Prep and Cook A Great Bowl of Japanese Rice

How properly cooked Japanese rice should look

This is Lesson 2 of Japanese Cooking 101. Today I'll show you how to cook the star of Japanese cooking - plain, steamed rice. Rice is so central to the Japanese table that the word for cooked rice, gohan (ご飯)to use the polite term, or meshi (飯)to use the more informal term, is also the word for the entire meal. In other words, in Japan when you have rice, you have a meal.

Another point to keep in mind is that most savory foods eaten in Japan, with the exception of noodle dishes, are designed to go well with plain rice. Once you understand that a lot of things about Japanese cooking will make sense. Japanese dishes tend to be a little bit too salty or a little bit too well high in flavor, especially umami, to eat on their own. They are made that way on purpose so that they will pair well with the blandness of that bowl of plain rice.

Preliminaries: What is Japanese rice supposed to be like?

The handiest way to see how Japanese rice is supposed to be like is to get one of these - a pack of microwaveable rice.


I wish I could say you can go to your nearest Japanese restaurant to get a bowl of good rice, but I've seen such difference in quality at various so-called Japanese restaurants that I'm hesitant to do that. But I do know that these microwave packs are pretty uniformly good.

So how do you heat these things? If you look at the corner of the rice packet - and this is something all the different brands of these rice packets share - you see the numbers 2 and 15. That means that to cook it in the microwave you need to peel back the top wrapper to the line, then microwave on the High setting for 2 minutes. If you don't have a microwave you cat heat it up over a pan of boiling water: Put the pack in a pan of boiling water lowered to a simmer, with the top wrapper on, and heat for 15 minutes.


So go ahead and heat up the rice. Take some out - careful, it's very hot - and put a little into a bowl. Taste it without anything on it. The rice should taste quite clean, with a slightly sticky texture so that the grains adhere to each other if you press them together lightly. However, each grain is still intact and not at all mushy.


One more thing:

Properly prepared Japanese rice is never, ever ever "fluffy".

One of the things that flummoxed me most when I got interested in cooking as an adult (I cooked a bit as a teenager, but mainly things like everyday Japanese food and cookies) was this insistence in many American cookbooks that the ideal texture of rice should be "fluffy". I didn't get it at all, since fluffy to me is duck feathers, the fur on my favorite teddy bear, a soufflé maybe, or angel food cake...in other words, not something applicable to well cooked rice, at last not Japanese style rice. I do understand that some types of rice, such as basmati (my second favorite kind of rice) and jasmine, need to have fairly firm and separate grains. I also understood why risotto needed to be creamy. I have since tried rice that is said to be 'fluffy', such as the type that cooks up in a minute...but if that's supposed to be 'perfect' rice then I don't know what.

But regardless of how other types of rice are supposed to be like, the bottom line is: Japanese rice is never, ever "fluffy".

Now you know how Japanese rice should be like, you should also understand why you cannot substitute the types of long-grain rices that should have separate, non-sticky firm grains like jasmine, not to mention Carolina type rice. (You can use the medium-grain rice types that are used in risotto and the like in a pinch; see Looking at Rice, my rice-type primer.)

So let's cook some Japanese rice!

Rinse, dry, soak: The most important steps to cooking Japanese rice

Many rices don't need any rinsing at all, and with some, such as the risotto rices, it's even prohibited, since the powdery substance is critical to the creamy texture. Things are very different when it comes to Japanese rice: the rinsing, drying and soaking steps are the most critical parts of cooking properly textured, properly tasting rice.

In this lesson we will be cooking 320g / 360cc (360ml), or 1 1/2 U.S. cups ((11.3 oz) of rice. If you have a rice cooker, this is equivalent to 2 rice cooker measuring cups.. To that we'll be adding 410ml (1 3/4 U.S. cups) of water at the end.

Equipment: We will be using a fine-mesh sieve and a bowl that the sieve can fit over, as described in the list of required ingredients and equipment for the course. This will yield about 660 grams, or a bit more than 4 U.S. cups of cooked rice, which will serve 3-4 people as part of a Japanese meal. To cook the rice we will be using a heavy-bottomed cast iron pot with a heavy lid as the base.

Measure the rice into the sieve, and put the sieve into the bowl. We'll be working in the sink.


Run cold water from the tap at a fairly slow stream into the sieve/bowl. Rub the rice grains gently between your fingers. The water will turn very milky and opaque.


Lift the sieve out of the bowl. It's important to not let the rice sit in that milky water, otherwise it will be re-absorbed into the grains and the cooked rice will not taste as clean as we want it to be. Discard the water in the bowl.


Repeat the fill with clean water -> rub grains gently -> drain away the cloudy water steps, until the water in the bowl is pretty clear. (Don't rub the grains together too hard or you may break them up, which is not the idea.)


This about as clear as it should be. With most Japanese rice these days you only need to do the above 3 steps about 4-5 times, but if you're using another rice such as vialone, you may need a couple more rinse cycles as it were.


Drain the water away from the rice once again. Suspend the sieve over the bowl to let the rest of the water drain away from the rice, for at least 15 minutes. 30 minutes is ideal. (You use the bowl under the sieve to catch any dripping water, but if you have a sieve with legs you can just leave it in the sink.)


After draining for 30 minutes, the rice grains should look very white and a bit opaque.


Put the rice and 410ml (1 3/4 U.S. cups) of water in the pot. This about 1.1 times the rice in volume. Note: If you have rice that's been around for more than a year, add a bit more water (around 420ml) to compensate for the rice drying out. Leave the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes, 1 hour is ideal. Soaking the rice ensures that the moisture penetrates each grain, so that they cook evenly and thoroughly in a relatively short time without getting mushy or leaving a hard uncooked center.


Some notes for the soaking step

  • You can soak the rice for longer, up to a half-day or so. If you're cooking rice for dinner, you can rinse the rice in the morning and cook it when you get home (or set the timer on your cooker accordingly). If you are cooking rice for a bento you're going to be packing in the morning, rinse the rice and set it to soak at night. When the weather is very hot, it's safest to soak the rice in the refrigerator, but otherwise room temperature is fine.
  • If you are in a big hurry you can skip or shorten the soaking time, but it will affect the texture of the rice. If you just don't have time to soak the rice, add a tiny bit more water.
  • If you have a rice cooker, put the drained rice in the bowl and add water up to the 2-cup level. If you have a high-end rice cooker you just need to switch it on, since the cook cycles on these have the soaking time already built in. If you have a less expensive cooker that starts cooking the rice as soon as you switch it on, add some soaking time by setting a timer for 1 hour or more.)
  • If you're lucky enough to have new-harvest rice, you can shorten the soaking time to 15 minutes.

So we've soaked our rice. For this lesson we'll be using a small yet hefty cast-iron pot. You can use these instructions as-is if you are using a donabe (a pottery pot for cooking rice) or a tetsugama (an iron rice cooking pot). If you want to use a frying pan to cook the rice, please follow the instructions on this page. The most important thing that all methods share is a lid that sits quite securely on the cooking container. And of course, if you're using a rice cooker you can just set it and let it do its thing.

So we've now soaked our rice. Put the pot on the hob over medium heat on the low side. If you're using gas, the flame should be about this big in relation to the size of the pot. (For electric or IH, set the heat to a tick below medium.)


Now at this point, you can do as my mother advises: Set a kitchen timer for 12 minutes and forget about it until the timer goes off. This actually works pretty well. But if you want to fuss a bit over the pot and see how it progresses....

Let the pot heat. Do not open the lid. You should hear the pot start to boil. Eventually you should see steam coming out of the edges of the lid. (The photo doesn't show this too well to be honest, but in person you'll see it.)


Lower the heat a little bit more so it's a bit stronger than a bare simmer, and set the timer for 7 minutes. (Actually if you just let it be, the boil time + simmer time does add up to around 12-13 minutes. Mother knows best!)

At this point you really shouldn't open the lid but if you must, take a peak. You should see that the water is gone, the rice looks shiny, and there are little steam holes all over the surface. You may see a few bubbles.


Put the lid back on as quick as you can! Turn the heat off, and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes.


Open the lid - your rice should look like this: perfectly cooked, the surface dotted with little steam holes. There should be no excess moisture left in the pan, but if there is, put the lid back on and put the heat up to high for 20 seconds. Note that this may brown the bottom of the rice a bit.


Stir up your rice with a rice paddle. Use the paddle to turn up the rice away from the sides and the bottom. The stirring-up process helps any remaining excess moisture to evaporate, so the rice grains don't have a chance to get mushy. (Tip: this stirring-up is especially important if you are using a rice cooker and using the keep-warm function. If you don't stir up the rice the bottom parts get rather water logged.)


There shouldn't be any grains glued to the bottom or burned!


Take a small bit of the rice. Note the texture, the color, the flavor...it should be very much like that microwave-packet rice. Grains separate, sticking slightly together; sticking well together when pressed lightly; and a very clean flavor.


And there you have it - a perfectly cooked bowl of Japanese rice...


...the star of a Japanese meal (I put a little furikake on top.)


Phew, that was a lot of steps! But it's pretty easy once you have them down.

Summary: How to cook perfect Japanese rice

  • Rinse the uncooked rice in several changes of clean water, while constantly draining the cloudy water away.
  • Let the rice dry out a bit in a sieve.
  • Put the rice and 1.1 times the rice in volume of clean water (c.g. 1 cup of rice = 1.1 cups water) in your cooking implement for at least 30 minutes, ideally 1 hour or more up to half a day.
  • (Or follow the instructions for your rice cooker.
  • If using a pot with lid: Lid on, heat pot over medium-low heat for 12 minutes (use a timer!) OR...heat over medium-low heat until steam is coming out from the edges of the lid; lower the heat a bit, and cook for 7 minutes (use a timer!)
  • Turn off the heat, lid still on. Let rest for 10-20 minutes.
  • Turn the rice up with a paddle.
  • Enjoy!

I hope you can digest all that. I know it's a lot of instructions, but by following along you will have rice success.

Remember: whatever cooking method you use, including ones I haven't covered here such as using the microwave or the oven, the important parts of the process to ensure proper texture and taste are the rinsing an soaking steps.

Coming up, we'll have a bonus for Lesson 2: how to prepare sushi rice, or shari, plus how to take care of your rice cooker. Stay tuned!

And of course as usual, please post your comments, questions and results in the comment section right here or on the Facebook page.

Addendum: If you have very hard water

If you have very hard water in your area, you may find a kind of grey scum on the top of your cooked rice. You can just remove the scum and the rice should be ok, but if it bothers you try using filtered water for the soaking and cooking. When we lived in the Zürich area we used to filter our rice-cooking water with a Brita filter. In our new house, we invested in a water softener - one of our best decisions ever. The rice no longer looks grey, our towels aren't hard and spiky, and our shower drain doesn't need cleaning out nearly as much.

Filed under:  basics rice washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 2 Bonus: Sushi Rice (Shari) plus Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Chirashizushi

Now that you know how to cook Japanse rice properly, perfect sushi rice, called sushimeshi (すし飯) or shari (しゃり). Sushi rice is what makes sushi sushi - the topppings and things mixed in are almost secondary. So, for good sushi, you must have good sushi rice.

Dashi or no dashi?

Many books recommend cooking the rice with dashi, or something that has a lot of umami such as kombu seaweed. Indeed that's the recommendation I gave when first wrote about making sushi rice on this site almost 10 years ago. While that umami boost does make rice taste yummier, it's not always necessary if the things on top of the rice or mixed in the rice have plenty of umami anyway. Keep in mind that the soy sauce or other sauces have loads of umami too.

One trick of the trade that I learned from my mother, who used to run a very busy sushi restaurant, is: if you want the rice to have that extra bit of shine, add a tiny bit of flavorless vegetable oil such as canola oil to the rice when cooking - about 1/8 teaspoon per rice-cooker cup (180cc/ml). So per U.S. cup it's about 1/7th of of a teaspoon...a couple of drops really. Do not add any more - you don't want your rice to be oily, just shiny. This is a good trick to use if you find that the quality of the rice is a bit subpar.

For this lesson, we'll keep it simple and just cook plain rice, as detailed in the first past of this lesson. The only things we'll be adding are: rice vinegar, sugar, and salt - to the freshly cooked rice. I used some sucanat for this (which is a raw cane sugar that is light brown in color), and sea salt - just for that extra bit of luxury - but plain white granulated sugar and table salt will work just as well.

Sushi-zu (sushi vinegar) mix recipe:

For the amount of rice we cooked in the first part (360cc, or 2 rice-cooker cups, or 1 3/4 U.S. cups) we will need:

  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar (45cc) (1 1/2 tablespoons per cup)
  • 1 tablespoon fine sugar (1/2 tablespoon per cup) (I used sucanat; white granulated or superfine sugar is fine)
  • up to 1 teaspoon finely ground salt (1/2 teaspoon or less per cup) (I used sea salt)

Mix all the above together. That's it!

Note that the amount of salt depends on what you'll be putting on, or in, the rice. If you're making unseasoned raw fish sushi, then add 1 teaspoon; if you're making a sushi with salted ingredients, such as the smoked salmon and cucumber sushi below, you'll need less.

Sushi rice step by step

Here is another tip from my mother: as long as the rice is piping hot, there's no need to heat up the vinegar, sugar and salt so that the latter 2 ingredients dissolve. They will dissolve fine in that hot rice. Here she just quickly mixed them together in a rice cooker cup and dumped it on the rice. We used a stainless steel mixing bowl, because I don't have a nice wooden sushi oke or handai. (The wood helps to absorb excess moisture from the rice, but as long as you work rapidly a plain old bowl works well.) A tip here for rice cooker owners: don't mix the sushi rice in the cooker bowl, since the vinegar may damager the inner markings or coating, especially with less expensive cookers.


Rapidly mix the rice using a cutting motion with your rice paddle. It's rather like folding egg whites into a cake batter: use a cut-turn-fold motion, trying to break up lumps vertically and letting in air so that the rice cools rapidly. Don't squish the rice grains if you can help it.


If you have a pair of extra hands, they can help cool the rice more rapidly by fanning it from the side, but if not just mix the rice as quickly as you can. The metal bowl helps to cool the rice a bit faster than wood.


And so there you have it - a bowlful of sushi rice. It should still be slightly warm - the ideal temperature.

Recipe: Smoked salmon and cucumber chirashizushi


Chirashizushi (ちらし寿司) means 'scattered sushi', and is the easiest kind of sushi to make. This version uses two ingredients that anyone should be able to get - smoked salmon, and cucumber. Since the smoked salmon is 'cooked' so to speak, this sushi is great for bentos.


  • Cooked rice as per Lesson 2 (about 660g of rice - enough for 3-4 servings)
  • 3 tablespoons (45cc) rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon superfine or granulated sugar, or sucanat
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (less than the usual amount since the salmon and cucumber are salty)
  • 1/2 English cucumber
  • 150g / 5 1/4 oz smoked salmon

Cook the rice as per the instructions. While it's cooking, prepare the vinegar mix by combinting the vinegar, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

Slice the cucumber lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice very thinly, and sprinkle with a little more salt (not listed). Massage the salt and the cucumber with your hands, and squeeze the cucumber tightly to remove excess water. Set aside.

Slice the smoked salmon into thin slivers. Set aside.

When the rice has finished cooking, while it's very hot empty it out into a bowl. Working rapidly, mix in the vinegar mix as per the detailed instructions above.

Once the rice is mixed, fold the cucumber and salmon in gently, leaving a few pieces to decorate the top.

Serve on a plate, in a bowl or in a bento box.

Filed under:  japanese rice sushi japan washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101: List of fresh ingredients for Lessons 3 and 4

I hope that you have enjoyed the first two lessons plus bonus lessons of Lessons 1 and 2 of Japanese Cooking 101. I'm going to have to take a few days break because I'm feeling a bit under the weather, but Lesson 3 will come next week and possibly Lesson 4 also. So this is the shopping list for both lessons. As usual, this is in addition to the basic pantry ingredients required for the course.

Lesson 3 list

For lesson 3 we will be tackling nimono (煮物) or stewed dishes.

  • Carrots
  • Boiling type potatoes (new potatoes are great)
  • Medium onions
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms. If you can't get dried, fresh will be ok. If you can't get shiitake mushrooms button mushrooms are ok (but will taste very different).
  • Snap peas, mange-tout or other bright green vegetable (for garnish)

Lesson 4 list

We will be doing _sunomono__ (酢の物)or a mixed vinegar flavored side dish.

  • Broccoli (Tip: we'll be using the stalks, so you can use the florets as the green garnish for the nimono)
  • Wakame seaweed (optional), dried or fresh (in salt)

And that's it! I'll see you back here next week for the next lesson.

(If you are just joining us, please start at the Japanese Cooking 101 course announcement and work your way through the linked pages at the bottom.)

Filed under:  ingredients japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 3: Nimono (simmered dish) basics

This is Lesson 3 of Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku.

If you have been following along on Japanese Cooking 101, so far you have learned out to make proper dashi, the base stock used in many savory dishes in Japanese cooking (as well as miso soup and clear soup using that dashi), and also learned how to make proper Japanese style rice.

In Lesson 3 we'll be making vegetable nimono, one of the most common types of dishes found in washoku.

What is nimono?

The ni part of nimono (煮) means to stew or simmer. A nimono dish in Japanese cooking means that it's been simmered in dashi flavored with sugar, sake, mirin and soy sauce, plus some salt on occasion. The ratio of the flavoring ingredients differs according to personal taste, regional preference and so on but the basic combination is the same.

Making "2nd dashi" (niban dashi)

The dashi you use for making nimono can be regular "1st dashi", as we made in Lesson 1. But if you look back at that recipe, you'll see that we kept that used kombu seaweed and katsuobushi and stuck the little packet in the freezer:


That once-used dashi ingredient mixture will yield even more goodness, called "2nd dashi" or niban dashi (二番だし). 2nd dashi is not as flavorful or refined as 1st dashi (ichiban dashi), but it's flavorful enough for simmering vegetables and so on where we'll be getting plenty of flavor from the ingredients anyway. Since I tend to make miso soup more frequently than nimono, I just keep the used kombu seaweed/katsuobushi in the freezer and pull out 2 of the little packs at a time to make niban dashi.

Making niban dashi is very simple. Just put it in as enough water as you need (for today's recipe we will be needing around 400 ml or about 1 3/4 U.S. cups, so add that plus a bit more to allow for evaporation) in the pan with 1-2 used-dashi-ingredient bundles. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and simmer for 5-6 minutes. At this point you can put in a small handful of fresh (unused dry) katsuobushi (bonito flakes) to boost the flavor a bit, or even 1/4 teaspoon of dashi stock granules. Let the dashi ingredients settle down in the pan, then strain through a fine mesh sieve.

If you forgot to keep the used dashi-making ingredients, just make a batch of "1st dashi" following the Lesson 1 instructions. Water plus dashi stock granules is fine too, if not as flavorful.

So let's try making a potful of delicious simmered vegetables, Japanese-style!

Winter vegetable nimono

I stuck to using ingredients that 1. most people should be able to get a hold of, 2. that are inexpensive, and 3. don't need any pre-processing for this dish.

Yields: About 5 cups of cooked vegetables, enough for 2-3 Japanese meals as a side dish

Time required: 10-15 minutes prep time, 20-25 minutes cooking time (does not include time for making the dashi or soaking the mushrooms, which can be done in advance)


The cooking liquid:

  • 400ml (about 1 3/4 U.S. cups) 2nd or 1st dashi stock (see previous section), or 400ml of combined shiitake mushroom soaking liquid and dashi, or 400ml water with 1/2 teaspoon dashi stock granules. (In other words, 400ml of liquid with flavor.)

The vegetables:

  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 large or 2 medium-small boiling type potatoes, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and root end and top removed
  • 4 small or 3 medium dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water until rehydrated, OR 4 small or 3 medium fresh shiitake mushrooms, OR 5-6 button mushrooms
  • 3-4 snow peas or mange-tout, for garnish (Other garnishes you could use: small broccoli florets; green beans. Or for uncooked garnishes, chopped up green onion or mitsuba would work.)

The flavorings:

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil, olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon white or raw sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • salt (optional)

Equipment needed: Cutting board, sharp kitchen knife, a small saucepan, and an otoshibuta - which I'll explain below.

Proper traditional Japanese cooking (washoku) is all about getting little details right. They really don't have to take a lot of time once you've learned them, but they make all the difference both in taste and texture, as well as final presentation. If you want this dish to turn out as nicely as it can, please read through and follow the cutting instructions. Of course it will all turn out pretty good even if you cut up the vegetables the way you want to...but humor me and follow along at least once. ^_^

1. Cut the carrots.

The most common cut used for carrots in stewed dishes is called ran-giri (乱切り) which means 'random cut' or 'rough cut'. You want each piece to be fairly even in size, but with multiple surfaces so that they cook evenly. It's quite simple to do: Put your peeled carrot on the board, and cut at even intervals while giving a quarter-turn to the carrot each time.


You'll end up with pieces like this...


...sort of trapezoidal in shape. These pieces cook very nicely and evenly. (I cut my carrots like this for curry too.)


Now this is very much optional, but if you want to give your final dish an extra flair cut some regular round slices from the carrot and make some flowers out of them. I didn't include the cutting how-to here since it was already way too long, but if you have some small bento cutters you can just cut out some flowers or other shapes (see this post for example.)


2. Cut and prep the potatoes

Next up are the potatoes. After peeling them, cut them into fairly even pieces like so:


The next step is optional but will really make the final dish that much better. Since potatoes are starchy, the sharp cut edges tend to melt and disintegrate into the cooking liquid. This makes them look a bit messy, as well as clouding the liquid. To prevent that, just shave the edges of each piece to round them off. This cutting method is called mentori (面取り) - 'taking off the edges'.


The potato pieces will look like this. The reasoning behind this is related to the reason why vegetables are 'turned' in classic French cuisine but it's a lot more simple to do. It's not necessary to "mentori" all vegetables - carrots for instance stay firm and intact after cooking unless you overcook them. The most commonly "mentori"-ed vegetables are the starchy ones like potatoes and kabocha squash, plus daikon radish - the ones that literally tend to lose their 'edge' during cooking.


But a frugal Japanese home cook doesn't throw away the trimmed edges. Save them for a soup or a stir-fry by rinsing off the starch in water (to prevent them from browning) and wrapping tightly.


Put the cut up potato in a bowl of water, and then drain to rinse off the surface starch. This step will make the final dish that much more clear shiny. Don't let the potato bits soak too long in the water though - we don't want them to get waterlogged.


3. Cut the shiitake mushrooms

Tightly squeeze out the rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms, saving the soaking liquid. Cut off the stem, which is usually too chewy even after rehydrating. Cut each cap in half - but instead of just going straight up and down, make a slanted 45 degree cut.


The reason for doing this is purely for aesthetics. The diagonal cut shows off the pale beige inside part of the shiitake, which offsets the dark brown cap nicely. A small, simple yet nice decorative touch. Do this cut for fresh shiitake also. Regular white button mushrooms can just be sliced in half (you can leave the stems on); if you have brown cap mushrooms the diagonal cut may work well too.


4. Cut the onion.

Just cut the onion into 1/8th wedges.


5. Let's cook some nimono!

Once you've prepped the vegetables, the cooking is pretty easy.

Heat up your pan with the teaspoon of oil. Sesame oil will add a bit more flavor, but any vegetable oil is fine here. (Olive oil is great too.) Put the onions in first and stir around for 2-3 minutes until the edges start turning a bit translucent.


Add the potatoes and carrots and continue stirring for a minute. This short sautéing step helps to bring out the sweetness of the vegetables.


Add the mushrooms and stir a bit more.


Add the dashi stock (or combined dashi + mushroom soaking liquid). There should be enough to just about come to the top level of all the vegetables in the pot - if there's not enough, add the a bit more dashi or even plain water, but do not overfill with liquid or the end results will be rather blah.

Bring it up to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Some scum will rise to the top, which should be removed so that the final dish will have a clean taste and appearance. I use this specialized scum-scooper ladle but any ladle will do fine - even a large spoon will work. Try to take off just the scum and leave the liquid.


Add the flavoring ingredients in this order: sugar, mirin, sake, and then finally the soy sauce. You can even reserve the soy sauce until the very end to retain its maximum fragrance if you prefer. I just dump it in at this stage though.


Finally we want to let it simmer on its own. But before we leave the pot, let's put on an otoshibuta (落としぶた) or "dropped lid". This is one of the things that may be unique to Japanese cooking, although other cuisines use similar techniques sometimes. It's essentally a lid that is smaller than the diameter of the pot, that is placed directly on the surface of the food that's being cooked. it prevents the surface from drying out, allows moisture ton condensate on the backside and then drop back into the cooking liquid, and keeps the ingredients in the simmer from shifting around and falling apart. I've explained the otoshibuta several times already on this site, and used it whenever I've made a simmered dish. The most traditional type of otoshibuta is made of wood - but it's still hard to get one of these outside of Japan. But a makeshift one works just as well really. The simplest form of makeshift otoshibuta is simply a pot lid that belongs to a pot that's smaller than the one you're using, preferably one. You can also use a piece of crumpled up aluminum foil or kitchen parchment paper with a couple of holes punched into it for ventilation.

I do happen to have an otoshibuta, which I bought in Japan...it's made of silicone. The 'handle' part is a pig face, with the snout acting as ventilation holes. It's also a pun, since the word for pig in Japanese is "buta". So...otoshibuta... ^_^; (OK so I do like my silly puns.)


So, leave the pot to simmer with the dropped pig...I mean, dropped lid on top, for around 20 minutes. If the heat is too high, lower it or take the pot off the heat for a couple of minutes before putting it back on. You may want to give it a stir up from the bottom halfway through. (Experienced cooks can take the pan and give it a good toss to mix the contents up, but don't do this unless you are confident you can.)

In the meantime, blanch 3-4 snap peas (or other greenery you are using as garnish) in boiling water for a minute or two, and set aside.

Come back to check on how tender the vegetables are, and if they are done turn the heat off and let it rest for a few minutes. Taste a potato and see if it needs a touch more soy sauce, or even a pinch of salt, and adjust according to your taste.

6. Finishing up


Arrange the vegetables attractively in a bowl, pouring a little of the cooking liquid over it to add shine and flavor. Garnish with the snow peas or other green garnish of your choice to make it "pop". jc101-nimono-sm.jpg

Store any leftover nimono in the cooking liquid. It will improve in flavor that way. Nimono like this will last in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 days, so make enough to use in a couple of meals and bentos. After a couple of days you may want to heat it through before using.

Nimono summary

  • Use 2nd dashi or niban-dashi to be frugal
  • Cut the vegetables according to their nature; shave the edges off the starchy ones
  • Sauté the vegetables in a little oil to bring out their flavor and to add more flavor from the oil
  • Add the soy sauce last, to retain its flavor. Add the sugar, sake and mirin first. (See also: SaShiSuSeSo.)
  • Use an otoshibuta (dropped lid) while simmering
  • Use some green garnish to make the final dish pop.
  • It's worthwhile making nimono in some quantity, since it tastes better the next day and keeps for several days in the refrigerator. Reheat before eating at home, or reheat then let cool down again if using for bento.

This basic procedure is the same for most kinds of nimono, whether they are all-vegetable or have some meat or other protein such as tofu in them.

As usual, please leave any questions, etc. in the comments below or on the Facebook page!

Filed under:  basics japanese vegetables washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 3 extra: Nimono without dashi


Not all nimono dishes need to be made with dashi. If one of the ingredients has plenty of umami on its own, you can make a dashi or broth from it without having to add any more. One such ingredient is squid (ika) or calamari. If you live in an area with a sizeable Italian, Greek or other Mediterranean immigrant population, as well as us Asians, chances are you can get a hold of good quality squid. If you can, get a nice one and try this quick and simple nimono.

Recipe: Squid and potato nimono

Yield: About 4 1/2 to 5 cups, enough for 2-3 Japanese style meals as a side dish

  • 1 large fresh squid
  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • approximately 500ml (2 U.S. cups) cold water Gut and peel the squid. You may want to ask the fishmonger if he can do this for you. Otherwise, here is a good video that tells you how to do it. The advantage of doing it on your own is that you get to use the guts and skin for a bit more flavor in your broth.

Cut off some of the legs and cut into pieces. Slice open the body so that it lies flat. Score the surface of the body and the back fins lightly in a crosswise pattern. Cut the body into squares about 1-1.5 inches (2.5 - 3cm) in size. Reserve the skin and guts.

Peel and cut the potatoes following the instructions in the basic nimono lesson.

Put the water, squid bits, and squid guts and skin into a pan and bring it to a boil. Put the squid pieces and legs in the water and boil for one minute, no more. Immediately drain the squid, making sure to reserve the boiling liquid. The boiling liquid will be your dashi or cooking broth. Take the guts and skin out of the blanched squid and discard.

Return the liquid to the pot and put the potatoes in. Simmer the potatoes until tender. Put in the sake, mirin and optional sugar, then add the soy sauce. Return the squid to the pot and simmer for an addtional 2-3 minutes. Don't over cook after you re-add the squid or it will turn tough. Taste, and adjust the seasonings if needed.

Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with slivers of onion and lemon or yuzu peel.



Any kind of protein with lots of umami will work with this method. You may want to try chicken for instance - the dark meat works best. Chicken wings will work well too. Thinly sliced beef or pork work well too.

Filed under:  japanese fish washoku japanesecooking101 squid nimono

Japanese Cooking 101: List of fresh ingredients for Lessons 4 (addendum) and 5

I'm falling a little bit behind with Japanese Cooking 101 but not to worry, the rest of the lessons are lined up. Lesson 4 will be posted tomorrow, and Lesson 5 on Friday.

I've already given you some fresh ingredients to get for Lesson 4, but in addition or instead of the broccoli you can also use cucumber. If you can get a hold of some small white turnips with their tops on, you may find it interesting too. Of course you can always get the things later after reading through the lesson.

For Lesson 5, we'll finally be tackling the main protein dish. I pondered this for a long time since I know it's hard for many of you to get fresh fish. I've settled on using some fresh salmon for the main part of the lesson, with a variation using chicken. If you want to try the salmon, you'll need about 120-150g / 4-5 oz. or so per serving, skin preferable. If you'll be trying the chicken, you will need 120-150g/ 4-5 oz. per person of boneless dark thigh meat, skin on or off (I'll be showing it with the skin on). I've revised the plans for Lesson 5: please read this.

And as usual you will need the basic pantry ingredients for both lessons.

I'll see you back her tomorrow for Lesson 4!

Filed under:  ingredients washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 4, Part 1 : Awase-zu (Vinegar Sauces) For Sunomono


This is Lesson 4 of Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku.

So far in Japanese Cooking 101, we've covered how to: * Make proper dashi, the base stock used in many savory dishes in Japanese cooking (as well as miso soup and clear soup using that dashi) in Lesson 1; * How to make proper Japanese style rice, the base starch of most meals in Japan in Lesson 2; and * How to make nimono or stewed dishes in Lesson 3.

A typical Japanese meal consists of many small dishes to accompany the rice. At least one or two of those dishes is a relatively simple dish called aemono (和え物) a dish of vegetables and sometimes a small amount of protein such as seafood or tofu mixed with a sauce and served cold. One type of aemono is sunomono (酢の物), a sour-flavored dish. Think of it as a Japanese style side salad, using oil-free dressings. Sunomo are quite easy to prepare, can be made on the spot or a bit in advance, and are very refreshing as accompaniments to richer dishes.

There are two stages to preparing a sunomono dish:

  1. Making the sauce. This can be done as you need it, or in advance. You can also buy bottled versions of many of these sauces in Japan or in well stocked Japanese grocery stores elsewhere, but they aren't that hard to make from scratch. They're a lot less expensive if you make them yourself, plus you know exactly what's going in them. (Many commercial sauces have MSG and preservatives and so forth.)
  2. Prepping the vegetables and other ingredients. This means cutting and peeling, salting on occasion, and/or blanching. In washoku (traditional Japanese cooking) it's very rare to just eat vegetables raw without any kind of pre-processing such as blanching or salting. (The habit of eating raw vegetable salads became widespread in Japan only after World War II.)

In Part 1 we will be looking at the various sunomono sauces.

Awaze-zu or vinegar sauces: Sour + flavor

The su part of sunomono means vinegar, so sunomono sauces all consist of vinegar or a sour citrus juice plus flavorings. Collectively these sauces are called awase-zu (合わせ酢) or "combined vinegar". Here are some of the most commonly used awaze-zu, which can all be made in advance or just made on the spot as needed.

  • Nihai-zu (二杯酢): 3 parts rice vinegar and 2 parts soy sauce, e.g. 3 tablespoons rice vinegar to 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Just combine and it's done.
  • Sainbai-zu (三杯酢): 3 parts rice vinegar, 1 part soy sauce, 2 parts mirin (you can substitute sugar for the mirin); e.g. 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 tablespoons mirin or sugar. Combine and stir over low heat until the mirin has 'cooked' a bit (about 5 minutes) or the sugar has melted, and cool.
  • Ama-zu (甘酢) or "sweet vinegar": 3 parts rice vinegar, 2 parts sugar, a little salt; e.g. 3 tablespoons vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Combine and stir over low heat until the sugar and salt have melted.
  • Tosa-zu (土佐酢): The ratio of ingredients for sanbai-zu (above) with a handful of katsuobushi (bonito flakes) added. Combine as for sanbai-zu and stir over low heat, and simmer for a few minutes and strain before using. You can also just add a small pinch of dashi stock granules to sanbai-zu instead. (Tosa-zu gets its name from Tosakuni, the old name for current day Kochi prefecture, which is still famous for its bonito and katsuobushi production.)
  • Goma-su (ごま酢), sesame vinegar: 2 parts vinegar, 2 parts sugar, 3 parts soy sauce and 4 parts toasted and ground sesame seeds, e.g. 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 tabelspoons sugar, 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce, and 4 tablespoons toasted and ground sesame seeds. (You can use tahini instead although it's a lot better with the ground sesame seeds.)
  • See also: Nanban-su (南蛮酢) or Nanban sauce.
  • Ponzu or Pon-zu (ポン酢): This citrusy sauce is very versatile, and is used as a dipping sauce as well as for making sunomono. The citrus juice can be from any sour citrus; in Japan the most commonly used fruits are yuzu, daidai or kabosu, but lemon, lime, and sour orange can be used too. There are various recipes for ponzu - here are a couple of variations:
    • Classic ponzu: 3 parts rice vinegar, 3 parts soy sauce, 1 part dashi stock, 1/2 part citrus juice; e.g. 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon dashi stock and 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice, all combined.
    • Sweet ponzu: 3 parts rice vinegar, 4 parts soy sauce, 2 parts mirin or sugar, 1 part citrus juice, 1 part dashi stock; e.g. 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Combine and heat until the sugar has melted.
    • Ultra simple ponzu: 3 parts citrus juice, 1 part soy sauce, a pinch of sugar; e.g. 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, a tiny pinch of sugar. This is my favorite formulation and I often omit the sugar. It's a great all-purpose citrusy sauce. (For a small amount just combine 1 tablespoon juice and 1 teaspoon soy sauce.)

Which sauce you use depends on the ingredients you are using in the sunomono, as well as personal preference.

Which type of vinegar and soy sauce?

The most used vinegar for awase-zu is rice vinegar (米酢), read as kome-zu or (less frequently) yone-zu. This is a very mild vinegar with a slight sweet flavor. You can experiment with other vinegars; for instance, white balsamico is quite interesting, with a pronounced sweetness that may allow you to omit or reduce the amount of sugar in a given recipe. Apple cider vinegar, kuro-zu or black vinegar and so forth are alternatives with distinct characteristics. If you can't get a hole of rice vinegar, try white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.

The type of soy sauce that is preferred in most awase-zu recipes is usukuchi (薄口) or light colored soy sauce. Light does not mean it has less salt - it actually has more salt than dark colored soy sauce, but it's preferred since it is light in color and won't add any brown tint to the vegetables and so forth. But the "regular" type of soy sauce you can get usually is dark soy sauce, so if that's all you have that's fine too. Some types of awase-zu specifically call for dark soy sauce, such as Nanban sauce (nanban-su).

Tamari and other very dark soy sauce types are rarely used in awase-zu recipes, will give a definite brownish color to your dish. But again, flavor-wise they are fine to use, although since they are usually a bit lower in salt you may need to add a tiny pinch of salt depending on your taste.

Make ahead?

The awase-zu types that don't use perishable ingredients like dashi and citrus juice will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator, in a sealed container. The awase-zu types with dashi or citrus juice will keep for a couple of weeks, but don't try to keep them for too long.

I've given you a lot of information here, but it's really not difficult: just pick one awase-zu that looks good to you (or that's called for in a recipe) and you're ready to go.

Go to Part 2: How to prep various vegetables for sunomono.

Filed under:  preserves and pickles vegetables washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 4, Part 2: Prepping Vegetables For Sunomono

Now that we know how to make the vinegar sauces for sunomono, let's turn our attention to the prepping of the vegetables. The key to good sunomono, and all aemono (mixed-vegetable dishes), is to use vegetables that have had the excess moisture removed. The way to do this is to either drain them well, salt them lightly to draw out the moisture, or to blanch them briefly.

Here are some ways to prep vegetables for sunomono. The recipes for the the vinegar sauces (--su or --zu) mentioned are in Part 1.

Wakame seaweed

Wakame is one of the easiest sea vegetables or seaweed to work with. I've been trying to eat more wakame recently since it is packed with minerals, so I'm just going to include it in all the sunomono variations below. It can also be used in miso soup, as I showed in Lesson 1a.

Wakame comes either in dehydrated form or 'raw' and preserved in salt. If you have the latter kind, simply rinse it well in running water, then soak for a few minutes in a bowl of fresh water. If you have the dehydrated kind, soak in plenty of water to cover until it's rehydrated. Either way, it should look like this after a while.


The dehydrated kind usually comes pre-cut into pieces but the salted kind comes in long pieces like so.


Just cut it up into small, bitesize pieces.


Here's about 1/2 cup of ready to go wakame, which can be used in sunomono, soups, salads and so forth.



Cucumber is one of the most versatile vegetables for sunomono. It's available year-round (although its real season is summer), and its crunchy-crisp texture lends itself well to vinegar sauce. Japanese cucumbers are quite small and narrow, but just about impossible to get outside of Japan, so I usually use the type of cucumber that's called an English cucumber - long, and sometimes sold individually shrinkwrapped. Since cucumbers have a high water content we need to remove some of that.

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, and rub the surface with a little salt. This adds salt flavor, draws out excess moisture, and also makes the dark green skin really pop in color. Plus, if you have very fresh cucumbers with sharp little thorns, the salt will rub those off.


Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.


Be sure to be thorough and remove all the seeds, like so. (Tip: Don't throw away the seeds and pulp! Chill it in the refrigerator, then use it to give yourself a cool cucumber-skin treatment; apply it over your face, lie down for about 30 minutes, and wash off. Your skin will feel super-smooth and refreshed.)


Cut up the cucumber into fairly thin slices. Sometimes I like to slice it paper-thin, and sometimes I slice it a bit thicker as I have here. Massage the cucumber to distribute the salt, then squeeze out as much excess moisture as you can.


Cucumber and wakame sunomono with ponzu

Cucumber sunomono lends itself to any kind of awase-zu, but I especially like it with the citrusy flavor of ponzu. I used the Ultra Simple version of ponzu here and it was great. Use 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of sauce per cup of vegetables, or to taste.


Small turnips

Not all turnips are suitable for using uncooked like this, but small turnips work very well. These little white turnips are perfect.


If you can get turnips with their green tops still on, cut the greens off to leave a little bit on the root. (Use the greens for making homemade furikake.) Carefully peel the turnips so you leave that little green topknot intact.

Tip: The outer part of some kinds of turnips (like these white ones) is rather tough and fibrous, so you should peel them rather thickly. I know it seems wasteful, but the turnips will be a lot more edible.


Then slice the turnips lengthwise, so you have a bit of that green with each slice (except for the sides). Sprinkle the slices with a tiny bit of salt, massage as with the cucumber, and squeeze out tightly to express any extra moisture.


Turnip and wakame sunomono with sanbai-zu

The sweetness of sanbai-zu brings out the sweetness in the turnips. This is just as good without the wakame. Use 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of sauce per cup of vegetables, or to taste.


Tip: cutting the turnips with the green tops on makes the slices very attractive in miso soup too.


Broccoli stems and wakame with tosa-zu

This is a very frugal dish, making use of a part of broccoli that most people just throw away. To prep the broccoli stems, cut off the florets (to use for another dish). Peel the tough green outer parts of the stems, and cut them into bitesize pieces. Blanch the pieces in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes until crisp-tender, drain and cool. The umami-rich flavor of tosa-zu goes very well with broccoli and wakame. You can add one broccoli floret as a green accent, or use another green accent like the snap pea piece I've used here. Use 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of sauce per cup of vegetables, or to taste.


What other vegetables can you use?

Many vegetables work as sunomono. As I wrote above, you just need to make sure that you get rid of any excess moisture. For instance:

  • Daikon radish: Slice thinly, salt and squeeze out.
  • Radishes: Slice thinly or into halves or quarters, salt and squeeze out.
  • Cabbage: Cut up roughly, salt and squeeze out.
  • Tomatoes: De-seed and get rid of the pulp. Drain in a sieve to let any excess moisture run off.
  • Lettuce: Make sure to pat away any water on the leaves. Rip up the leaves with your hands to avoid the browninng you get when you cut lettuce with a steel knife, or use a stainless steel or ceramic knife to chop up the leaves. Serve immediately after mixing with the vinegar sauce. (Lettuce and wakame with nihai-zu works very well, as does ponzu.)
  • Celery: Peel off the tough outer fibers of the stalks. Slice very thinly, and sprinkle with a tiny of salt and squeeze out. Celery works well with sanbai-zu or ama-zu.
  • Mizuna: Blanch in plenty of boiling water, cool in cold water and squeeze out tightly. Cut into short lengths. Mizuna goes well with any of the sauces, but I like it best with simple nihai-zu or ponzu.
  • Edible chrysanthemum flowers: Blanch briefly in boiling water and drain. This is used most often together with other vegetables, such as daikon radish, and is really pretty.

A few vegetables may not be so suited to vinegar flavor (brussel sprouts come to mind for one) but that's really a matter of taste. I hope you'll try out your favorite vegetables as sunomono and see how they turn out.

Other ingredients uses in sunomono

Boiled seafood such as boiled shrimp, octopus and squid are often used in sunomono. Boiled shrimp is easy to do at home. If you want to try octopus, buy a piece of sashimi-ready octopus at a Japanese grocery store. (Raw octopus needs to be massaged and beaten up to make it tender enough before boiling.) Poached chicken also works well, especially with nanban-su.

You can find dehydrated seaweed salad mixes at Japanese or Korean grocery stores. To use these just soak in water as for the wakame until they are rehydrated and pliable. Use any of the vinegar sauces - for a Korean twist, add a bit of sesame oil and grated garlic.

Harusame is a noodle made from potato starch that is used in sunomono. It requires special treatment so I'll post a separate recipe with it at a later date.

If you think about it, sunomono sauces are rather like oil-free dressings, so they can be used with any number of salad-like combinations. The oil-free dressings sold in Japan are actually just variations on sunomono sauces.

I hope you've enjoyed this trip through sourness. In the next lesson we'll finally get to the main protein dish of a Japanese meal.

Filed under:  japanese vegetables vegetarian vegan washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101: Lesson 5 theme and ingredients revised to - Fish!

I have been re-thinking the last cooking lesson for Japanese Cooking 101. Originally I was going to do a mixed fish and meat lesson, but I think I will concentrate on fish since I really haven't covered fish cooking much over the years on Just Hungry. The problem I've always run into is that the availability of fish is very spotty around the world, so I'm never sure if the readers of the site can get their hands on the fish I'm talking about.

But the truth is, fish is central to washoku or traditional Japanese cooking. It's a bit hard to be a vegetarian in Japan, but being a pescatarian is very easy. While modern Japanese people do eat a lot of meat dishes, up until about 150 years ago eating meat was actively discouraged by the government, so meals were centered on vegetable proteins like tofu, and fish. And in Japan the array of fish available is rather bewildering.


So in the spirit of showing you the real fundamentals of traditional Japanese cooking, for Lesson 5 we'll be tackling fish! If you can get a hold of the fish in question please do try following along. If not, I hope the information will be interesting at least.

Note that I'm able to get all of these fish in my small village in southern France because we have an excellent fishmonger (poissonnerie) even though we're about a 2 hour drive away from the nearest fishing port. So please take a look around to see if you have a good fish seller in your town. A good fish shop should not smell 'fishy' at all; it should smell like the fresh sea air, and be impeccably clean, with lots of shiny, bright and clear-eyed fish.

The fish to get if you can

I've arranged these in order from "probably easy to get for most people" to "maybe be very hard to get".

  • A precut piece (filet) of salmon - preferably with the skin on. (this is what I listed originally previously. I'll show you a chicken variation for what I'm going to do with the salmon too.)
  • Fresh,whole sardines (have the fishmonger remove the heads if you're squeamish about fish eyes)
  • A flat white fish like haddock or plaice or sole (again, have the head removed if you want, but don't have the fishmonger filet the fish)

And, this last one might be very hard to get:

  • a whole piece of tuna or bonito - a section of the body part, not the whole fish obviously (that would be rather unwieldly). I will show you how to break down a piece of fish to turn into pieces cut for sashimi or sushi. That's right, you don't have to restrict yourself to pre-trimmed, expensive pieces of sashimi-fish from Japanese grocery stores or expensive fishmongers to make sashimi and sushi, as long as you have good fresh fish.

I do not expect you to get all the fish by any means, but perhaps you can file the lessons away for later.

Since I've revised the lesson plans, I'll be posting the first part early next week. (I'll be posting some non-lesson stuff in the meantime though.) I hope you'll enjoy the fish lessons!

Filed under:  ingredients fish japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 1: Salmon Teriyaki

Welcome back to Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. We are entering the most involved lesson in the whole series: how to deal with fish. As I explained previously, learning how to deal with fish is pretty fundamental to conquering traditional Japanese cooking. So, Lesson 5 is divided up into several parts.

Before we dive into the deep end, let's start with something easy: cooking a piece of salmon. Salmon is one of the most easily obtainable fresh fish, since it's so popular, still available in abundance since part of the supply comed from fish farms (although the farmed variety has some catching up to do in terms of taste to the wild kind), and overall a pretty easy fish to deal with. It usually comes to us in cut form so we don't have to deal with de-boning or fileting it and things.

Incidentally, I prefer to buy all my fish, salmon included, with the skin on. The skin of a salmon is delcious anyway, but the main reason for buying a fish with the skin on is that it holds the flesh of the fish together better. And with very low-fat fish the skin helps to prevents the flesh from drying out too much.

While I've given you several formulas for teriyaki over the years on both JustHungry and JustBento, this is the one I use the most now because it's easy to memorise. The teriyaki sauce formula is a 2:2:2:1 ratio of soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar. You can halve or omit the sugar if you like it less sweet. The sake and mirin are what give this that delicious 'teriyaki' flavor, so do try to use them if possible.

Salmon Teriyaki

Prep time: 5 min :: Cook time: 10 min :: Total time: 60 min

Yield: 2 servings

Serving size: 100-150g (approx. 3 to 5 oz)


  • 200-300g (approx. 7 to 10.5 oz) fresh salmon, skin on
  • salt
  • flour, cornstarch or potato starch, optional
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons sake
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 to 1.5 tablespoons sugar
  • oil , for frying


  1. So, let's say you have a nice, glistening, fresh piece of salmon. Salmon is a rather fatty fish, and it benefits from an initial salt treatment. The salt helps to draw out excess moisture from the fish, firms up the meat and also eliminates any hint of 'fishiness', leaving it tasting delicious. You only need to sprinkle a little bit on, like so:

  2. Leave the fish like that for at least 30 minutes if you can, or in the refrigerator for up to a day.
  3. Cut your slab of salmon into individual serving size pieces about 2-3 cm (1 to 1 1/2 cm) wide. Optionally coat each piece in flour, cornstarch or potato flour - this will make the sauce a bit thicker.
  4. The rest goes very quickly. Teriyaki is cooked about 80% of the way before you add the sauce ingredients. Heat up a frying pan with a little cooking oil, and put in the salmon in one layer.

  5. Cook each side over medium-high heat until browned.

  6. Make sure to brown and crisp up the skin side well.

  7. While you are cooking the salmon, combine the soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar in a bowl. When the salmon is just about cooked, add all the sauce ingredients in one go into the pan. Careful - it will sizzle and spit a bit.

  8. Rapidly turn the fish pieces so that they are coated in the sauce. In the meantime the sauce will thicken up a bit as the moisture evaporates. When the salmon is a deep golden brown, it's done.

  9. The basic rule for how to present a piece of fish is, to put the skin side away from the diner. There should always be a bit of garnish too, to provide a contrast in color as well as a contrast in taste. This can be anything that's nice and green - here I've just used a bit of lamb's lettuce (mache), but traditionally you might use a couple of shiso leaves, or panfried shishito peppers, or even a couple of green beans or snap peas.


(this part is for search engines)

By Makiko Itoh

Published: April 16, 2013

Type: fish, japanese, washoku


You can use this exact same formula for any kind of oily, firm fish such as swordfish or mahi-mahi. It is perfect for buri or amberjack/yellowtail. It doesn't work as well with white fish, but you can give it a try providing the fish is firm.

If you are making a larger quantity, use a ratio of 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce, sake, and mirin plus 1 tablespoon of sugar per 100-120g (3 to 4 oz) of fish.

You can also use a similar formula for chicken, including the pre-salting. Use the thigh meat, skin on or off; if skin on, pierce the skin a few times with a fork before cooking, and start cooking with the skin side down. Turn over when the skin is nice and crisp.

Note that I do not marinate the fish in the sauce beforehand. This is because I think the fish tastes better if it has been pre-salted instead, which enhances the umami that is already in the fish. Not pre-marinading also means you can get a nice crispy skin.

So, that was easy wasn't it? Next time as we continue the Fish Lesson, we'll dive into something a bit more challenging.

Filed under:  japanese fish washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 2: Fish buying tips, plus how to "open" a fish

Welcome back to Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku Lesson 5 - Fish! This is Part 2 of the Fish lesson; in Part 1 we started with an easy salmon teriyaki.

While many Japanese meat dishes are known around the world these days, such as tonkatsu and the gyuudon (beef on rice), many such meat dishes are in fact part of a different branch of cooking called yoshoku (yohshoku), or western-influenced Japanese cuisine. For a very long time eating meat was either actively discouraged or outright banned in Japan, so that most people who either lived near water or could afford it ate a lot of fish as their main source of protein.

So, learning how to deal with fish is quite important if you want to become a Japanese cooking whiz. Let's start at the fishmonger....

Where and how to buy fish


You will need to start by looking for a good fishmonger. If you're very lucky your local supermarket has a decent fish department (in the U.S. Whole Foods usually has a pretty good one), but otherwise you may have to ask around or do some research to find one that consistently stocks fresh fish.

A good fish seller should not smell 'fishy'. There will be some smell, but it should be like the ocean. If the place stinks, do not trust them.

A good fish seller should have a rapid turnover, and only stock what they normally sell. Just because there are tons of fish on display doesn't necessarily mean it's all good! Smaller fish shops may only sell locally caught fish. That's great, because it means that fish is fresh, in season, and all that you desire. If you live near the sea, you'll also want to see some locally caught fish, not just shipped in stuff. In addition, a good fishmonger will do things for you such as taking off the heads and removing the guts.

Look into his eyes...

Let's talk about fish heads for a moment. I know some people are squeamish about seeing eyes on the food they eat, but in the case of fish the eyes really say a lot. Fish generally start to go bad from the head down, and if the eyes look sunken or dull, that's bad news.

This is a nice, bright-eyed fish.


And how about this guy?


Anyway: when you are looking at fish, if they have their heads on, make sure they are as clear as glass. If the fish you want has already had its head removed, look at the fish that's on the shelf or in the case that do have heads - do they look nice and clear? If yes, your headless fish is probably good too.

Another way to gauge the freshness of fish, besides it smell (it should not smell 'fishy') and the eyes is if it's nice and firm and has a moist looking skin. You have to gauge this with your eyes only most of the time since fishmongers will not let you touch the merchandise. So, use what you can readily see and smell first.

How to 'open' a fish

There are several ways to cut a fish - fileting it for instance, or cutting it across the body into 'steaks', and so on. One way that's pretty common in Japan is to simply open it up, leaving the head on and the backbone in the fish. This method of cutting a fish is called 開き - hiraki (noun) or 開く - hiraku (verb, to open). It's like butterflying but a bit easier. It's also a good way to become familiar with handling a whole fish. If you fish, this is a great way to cook your catch on a campfire grill on the spot, since the opened up fish cooks quickly and evenly.

The easiest kind of fish to use for this - indeed the easiest kind of fish to cut up on your own, is a medium sized round-bodied fish like mackerel, herring, trout and so on. Flat fish like plaice or sole are not suited for this treatment. Here I have used a fish that looked nice at our local fish shop - I think it's called a smelt whiting or whiting in English; it looks a lot like a fish called kisu in Japanese.

If you can, get your fishmonger to take the guts out for you. It's less messy that way.

You will need a sharpt kitchen knife and a cutting board. If you chose a fish with proment plasticky scales, you'll also need a de-scaler. Tip: if you don't have a de-scaling tool, try a used by clean credit card-type card. Run it up the fish skin from the tail repeatedly until all the scales are loosened, and rinse off. In any case, always de-scale befor cutting up the fish.

Put your knife in right behind the gills...


...and firmly cut through until you feel the bone. Don't go all the way through. (Tip: If you're removing the head, just keep going.)


Start cutting the belly side of the fish, starting with where you made your head cut. If you didn't get the guts removed at the fish shop, this is the time to remove them. Pause to rinse out the guts and pat dry before proceeding.


Cut through the belly side all the way to the tail....


...then pull gently on the top half of the fish while slicing through right on top of where the bone is.


Once the top half of the fish is separated from the bottom half and only connected at the back side, wash the fish out thoroughly inside and out. Make sure that all the scales are rinsed away, as well as any residual bits of the innards. (Tip: If you are fileting the fish you'd keep going and cut all the way through the back part.)


Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Isn't he a fine looking thing?


Put some salt in and round both of the eyes. This helps to keep them fresh a bit longer.


Lightly salt both sides of the fish. A good way to lightly salt something is to sprinkle on the salt from a high above; you get more even coverage that way.


At this point you can just grill the fish or pan-fry it, with no added seasoning if you want the flavor of the fish to shine through, or with a teriyaki sauce brushed on it (see Part 1 for the basic teriyaki formula.)


Or, you can make a sort of homemade himono or semi-dried fish, but leaving it on a rack for a day or two. (If you are not sure about leaving out fish in the open, and/or have some furry feline creatures around, do this drying bit in the refrigerator.)


Here is the fish after it's been air-drying for 2 days, simply grilled. It was delicious, in the way only really fresh fish can be. We had it with grated daikon radish and some soy sauce drizzled on top.


You can also pan-fry it in olive oil or butter, maybe with some herbs piled on for a great light meal.


  • A good fish shop should smell fresh, and have a carefully selected array of fish, at least a good percentage of it of it locally caught if you live near the sea.
  • A good fishmonger will know how to recommend fish to you and to do some basic processing such as gutting it.
  • Look at the eyes of a fish! If they are nice and clear, the fish is fresh. Also trust your nose.
  • Try cutting open a fish!

Not too complicated or scary, right? Next time we'll look at how to deal with tiny fish like sprats and sardines.

Filed under:  fish how-to washoku knife skills

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 3: How to break down small fish

We are entering the home stretch here for both Lesson 5, Fish and the whole Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku course. I hope you've been enjoying it so far!

In this lesson we are going to get very intimate with fish. Basically all fish needed to be prepped the same way: the head taken off (sometimes the head is cooked with the fish or separately); de-scaled if it has prominent scales; gutted, and then usually fileted and/or boned. And usually you need a sharp knife for these operations.

However, with small fish like sprats, sardines and anchovies, you don't even need a knife at all, except to take the heads off. They are tender enough that you can just prep them with your hands. This is a great way to really get to know a fish, and it's kind of fun too.

This is a plate of fresh sardines, popular around the world, especially in the two places I spend the most time - Japan and southern France. Beautiful, aren't they? They have nice clear eyes.


The one thing you do need a knife for is taking the heads off. You could pull them off, but that's a bit messy. So, here are the beheaded sardines, with some of the ingredients we'll be using with them later to make the plate look prettier.


To deal with the sardines, position yourself at your sink and have a thin stream of water running out of the tap.

Take one of the sardines, and just run your thumb down the belly and pull it open. You'll see a bit of guts there; just pull it out and wash it off with the running water. (If you don't have access to running water, just use a bowl filled with clean water and swish the fish in it.)


The next thing is to take out the bone. This comes off easily in one go. Pry it off at the head end, and just pull. Don't be hesitant. Give it a tug and it's gone, tail and all.


Don't throw away the bones by the way! Put them on a plate to deal with later.


Here's the gutted and boned sardine - so easy! At this point, run your finger carefully down the surface of the fish. If you feel any little bones left in there (which you shouldn't if you ripped out the backbone properly) take them out with your fingernails or a pair of fish bone tweezers.


Here it is on the other side.


Wash each filet again to get rid of any stray bits of guts and stuff.


This next step is somewhat optional, but does improve the texture of your fish. The skin of the sardine peels off quite easily. Just pry up a corner with your thumbnail, and pull it off in one go. As with the bone, don't hesitate here or the skin will rip and it becomes harder to take it off.


Here are the skinned filets. Put them on absorbent paper towels to drain off the excess water.


At this point you can pan-fry them in a bit of olive oil or butter (maybe coat them with flour or cornstarch first), or marinate them, or whatever you like to do with such fish. You can even turn it into sushi!

Recipes using fresh sardines

Filed under:  basics fish washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no Tsumire-jiru (イワシのつみれ汁) - Sardine balls in clear soup


Now that you know how to gut, bone and clean sardines, one of the nicest ways to eat the sardines is to turn them into little fish balls which can be floated in a hot pot, pan-fried, and so on - or most classically, served in a clear soup. The ginger and onion takes away any kind of 'fishy' taste. You can even serve this in cold soup for a refreshing change. They are very healthy too, since sardines are one of the best sources of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Recipe: Iwashi no Tsumire-jiru (鰯のつみれ汁): Sardine balls in clear soup

Prep time: 20 min :: Cook time: 10 min :: Total time: 30 min

Yield: 4 servings

Serving size: 3-5 balls


For the sardine balls (tsumire)
  • 600g (1 lb. 6 oz) fresh sardines, weighed before gutting/deboning
  • 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon sake , omit if you don't have any
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 piece fresh ginger - about a 1cm + / 1/2 inch long piece (should make about 2 teaspoons of grated ginger)
  • 2-3 stalks green onion, about 1 cup chopped
  • cornstarch or katakuriko potato starch
For the soup:
  • 750ml / 3 U.S. cups dashi stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce, light soy sauce (usukuchi) is preferred but dark is ok
  • green onion, ginger, mitsuba etc., for garnish
  • sansho pepper, to taste


  1. Gut, bone and de-skin the sardines as per the detailed instructions here (link).
  2. Finely chop the green onions - you shoul have about 1 cup's worth. Peel and grate the ginger. (No photo for this step...I figure everyone knows how to do this!)
  3. Start chopping up the sardines. First just slice them up.
  4. Keep chopping the fish until the pieces get smaller and smaller.You can also bash the mixture with the side of your knife occasionally.
  5. They should get to about this consistency - rather like rough ground meat. (You can chop up the fish in a food processor if you prefer: use the pulse function so you don't grind them into a paste.)
  6. Put the chopped up fish, ginger, green onion, sake, salt and egg white in a bowl. Mix together thoroughly with your hands until it forms a slightly sticky paste.
  7. Form into balls with moistened hands. (Some people prefer to use two spoons that have been dipped in oil to form the balls, but I just use my hands.) You should have an equal number of balls per serving, around 3-5.
  8. Lightly roll the balls in cornstarch (cornflour) or potato starch. Drop them in a pot of simmering water, and poach for 4-6 minutes until they are firm, and white on the outside. Take them out and drain well. At this point you can use the precooked balls in hot pots, oden stew, or pan-fried gently and served on its own or with a little ginger-wasabi sauce.
  9. Heat up the dashi stock. Add the tsumire (sardine balls) and gently heat through.
  10. Serve piping hot or chilled until it's ice-cold, with julienned green onion or the white part of leek, and/or julienned ginger. You can also add mitsuba, komatsuna, or even watercress to the soup. Some crunchy greens are especially nice in this if you serve it chilled. A sprinkle of sansho pepper on top is great too.

(Below for search engine purposes only)

By Makiko Itoh

Published: April 25, 2013

Type: Japanese, washoku, fish, soup

Filed under:  japanese soup fish washoku japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Fish bone crackers (hone-senbei) with shoestring potatoes


There's no need to throw away the bits of fish that you cut off when you filet them and so forth. Fish bones and heads can be kept for making soup. Or, if the bones are tender enough they can be made into delicious fish-bone crackers.

At the sushi restaurant in New York I worked at many years ago, the chefs used to serve these as extra treats to customers who sat at the counter. One of those was a lovely little girl, who used to come regularly with her father. She just loved those fish bone crackers. One year the chefs made a big batch of them and gave her a takeout box full for her birthday. She was so happy I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head.

I've paired these with shoestring potatoes, which taste surprisingly sweet next to the umami-rich fish bones. The type of potato is important - choose a nice firm waxy type, not a floury type like Idaho baking potatoes. Alternatively you can use sweet potatoes.

Recipe: Fish bone crackers (hone-senbei 骨煎餅) with shoestring potatoes

A frugal way to deal with the bones taken out of small fish like sardines. Tip: Always fry the potatoes before you fry the bones, or the potatoes will take on the flavor of the fish.

Prep time: 15 min :: Cook time: 10 min :: Total time: 25 min

Yield: 2 servings


  • 16 to 20 fish bones from fresh sardines
  • 2 Yukon Gold or Bintje potatoes, or similar firm potatoes, medium sized
  • salt, to taste
  • flour or cornstarch, to dust the fish bones
  • oil, for frying


  1. These are the fish bones taken out of the fish. Wash them off, and pat them dry with paper towel. Leave to dry out a bit on a plate for an hour. (Do this in the refrigerator if the weather is hot, or if you have some feline overlords about.)
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into small matchsticks. Rinse them and then pat them dry, and leave on a sieve to dry out some more until you're ready to fry everything.
  3. When you are ready to cook and while the oil is heating up, coat the fish lightly with flour or cornstarch.
  4. Heat up some oil for frying. Heat the oil to a low cooking heat, about 170°C / 340°F (see this for how to gauge frying oil temperature with wooden chopsticks). Fry the potatoes until cooked but not browning yet. Take them out and drain.
  5. Heat up the oil until it reaches the high range, about 180°C / 355°F. Put in the pre-cooked potatoes and fry until a golden brown. Take out and drain.
  6. Put the fish bones in and fry until golden brown and crispy. Take out and drain.
  7. Lightly salt the fish and the potatoes. Serve as a snack or appetizer. It goes very well with beer.

(Below is for search engine purposes)

By Makiko Itoh

Published: April 26, 2013

Type: Japanese, fish, washoku, appetizer

Filed under:  japanese fish washoku appetizers japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 6: Putting It All Together

Welcome to the last lesson in Japanese 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. I hope you've enjoyed the course and learned a few things along the way. In this last lesson we'll take a look back at what we've learned, and also see how to put it all together to great an authentic traditional Japanese meal at home.

What we've covered in this course

First we looked at the basic pantry ingredients for the course, which are also the basic pantry ingredients for a traditional Japanese kitchen.

Then learned how to make proper dashi stock, which is the foundation of many savory dishes in Japanese cooking. We also learned how to make miso soup and clear soup using that good dashi stock.

Next, we took a good hard look at how to prep and cook Japanese style rice. Rice is central to Japanese life, not to mention most Japanese meals. We also learned how to make sushi rice.

Then we got to the dishes that go with the rice and soup, starting with nimono or simmered dishes (even without dashi). We went on to sunomono and aemono - basically prepped or precooked vegetables with some kind of sauce.

We then ended by looking in-depth at arguably the most important protein used in Japanese cooking, fish, from a simple teriyaki to whole fish opened up to breaking down whole small fish and using every part of it.

If you missed the course by the way, just follow the links in the paragraph above in sequence! Or, just start at the very beginning intro, then go to the first article linked below that, required ingredients. After that just keep clicking on the 'next' article link below each article.

There was actually a logic to this...

There's a reason why I presented the parts of the course in the order I did:

  • Dashi is so fundamental to traditional Japanese cuisine that it's important to know how to make it and how to use it. This way of thinking - flavoring something with a little umami - permeates other types of cooking in Japan too.
  • Soup also is a part of most meals, even breakfast.
  • Rice forms the center of most Japanese meals. Sure, sometimes we deviate and have some noodles or something else, But we keep going back to rice. The word for cooked rice, gohan (ご飯)is also used to indicate the whole meal. When mom called out "gohan dayo-" when we were out playing, we knew she meant "it's dinner time", not just "it's rice". Even if that bowl of rice was not always 100% - poor people often had to mix in other grains like barley or millet - the ideal was always that plain bowl of white rice. (Ironicly of course these days people mix in these zakkoku (雑穀), the 'other grains' formerly looked down upon, into rice for their nutritious benefits. See more about zakkoku-mai or mixed grains with rice.)
  • The other dishes are basically side dishes to the rice. In Western style cooking, the main protein is the 'star' of the meal, but in Japan the rice is the unquestioned king of the table. Everything else on the table is judged by how well it goes with that plain bowl of rice. The word for all of these side dishes is okazu (おかず)__, or more formally, fukusai (副菜).

The one-soup, three-side dish rule

A balanced Japanese meal is supposed to have__ 一汁三菜 - ichijuu sannsai - 1 soup, 3 side dishes, to go with the rice. It may sound like a lot, but it's not that much more than many western style meals if you think about it. A typical western meal might have a soup as a starter, then a main dish with steak, potatoes, and some side vegetable like steamed broccoli, followed by a sweet dessert. A traditional Japanese meal doesn't have separate courses - everything is served at once. (This differs at top end Japanese ryoutei or kaiseki restaurants, who often serve single dishes one at a time in multiple course.) Having more than 3 sides is extravagant, although in the olden days people avoided having 4 sides since the number 4 is unlucky in Japanese culture. (4 can be read as "yon" or "shi", and "shi is synonymous with 死, or death. Most Japanese buildings don't have a 4th floor, just like most Western buildings don't have a 13th floor.)

The bare basic Japanese meal is 一汁一菜 - ichijuu issai - 1 soup, 1 side dish, plus the bowl of rice.

(Incidentally, there's also no tradition of having dessert with a meal, which may be why many Japanese main dishes have a bit of sugar in them. Sweets are eaten separately during the day, not with a meal. This is changing, and many people have some fruit or a light dessert after a meal, but that is a recent thing influenced by western style eating.)

How to line up all those dishes

Traditional Japanese meals are served in multiple serving containers, one for each item. And there are some basic rules to follow as to how to line them up.

Here's how to line up a basic 一汁一菜 - ichijuu issai - 1 soup, 1 side dish, bowl of rice meal.


As you can see, the rice goes on the left, the soup on the right, and the side dish is behind that. The rice always goes on the left, even for lefties. That left corner closest to the diner is considered to be the most 'honorable' position (don't ask me why it's honorable...) so that's where it goes. If you think about it it it's not the most convenient way to arrange things for a right handes person, who'd have to reach over the soup to get to the rice. Maybe this is why you usually lift up your rice bowl and your soup bowl to eat from them. (You don't life up the other serving dishes though.)

This is how the full 一汁三菜 - ichijuu sannsai - 1 soup, 3 side dishes and rice meal is arranged.


There are no rules really to dictate where the side dishes go in relation to each other. But again, the rice and soup are closest to the diner, with the rice on the left. Plus, the main fukusai or side dish is in the most prominent position.

I arranged the dishes we made during the course for dinner one day following these rules. (Click on the photo to see a larger version.)

Components of a typical Japanese meal

The little dish of umeboshi is not really considered to be a proper side dish so you can ignore that, but as you can see the rice is on the left, soup on the right, and the side dishes beyond that. As I mentioned in the salmon teriyaki chapter for fish, the skin side goes on the top or the far side; the same goes for a piece of skin-on chicken for example. If you are serving a whole fish the head goes to the left.

Flavor balance is important too

When you put a Japanese meal together, pay attention to the balance of flavors and cooking methods. Ideally you should aim for 1 yakimono (焼き物), something cooked with dry heat - grilled, pan-fried, or deep fried; 1 nimono (煮物), something simmered, and 1 aemono (和え物) or sunomono (酢の物) - a cold dish with a sauce, dashi based or vinegar based. This gives a good balance of flavors and textures. While the yakimono is usually a protein, the two other sides can be all-vegetable, or contain a little protein (e.g. a little seafood), and so forth.

In practice, on an everyday basis most families would have maybe 2 side dishes plus some pickles or something. But this is the ideal anyway. And it's not impossible to achieve since many dishes can be prepared in some bulk in advance, especially the nimono. What makes things a little easier for the cook when preparing Japanese food is that not everything has to be piping hot. The soup certainly should be, and the rice should be freshly cooked and hot too. And some yakimono or protein dishes should be too. But the side dishes to round out the meal don't need to be.

There are a lot of recipes on the site that you can use for any of these categories. Take a look!

Wrapping things up

So how was that walk through the basics of washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine? I hope it was interesting.

For people who were looking forward to more fish lessons, I've decided to hold off on them for a bit and possibly put them in a more advanced course down the line. Stay tuned!

I'm also planning at least one more 'course' series like this this year, but I'm still open to ideas about what it should be about. If you have some ideas please tell me in the comments.

Filed under:  japanese washoku japanese culture japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101: Final thoughts, or what was the point?

I'm still getting reactions to the recently completed Japanese Cooking 101 course (if you missed it, here's the complete list of lessons.) While the reactions have been overwhelming positive, I've gotten a couple of negative comments too.

One I wanted to address in particular is the accusation, if you will, is that the lessons do not represent that way most people cook in Japan anymore. One person even opined that I was not a 'real Japanese' because I didn't cook like 'the Japanese people I know in Tokyo' or something like that.

Well you know what, that person is right about one thing: Many (not all!) people in Japan don't take the time to make their own dashi from scratch, or grow their own shiso or other herbs. Some rely on prewashed rice called musenmai (無洗米) so they don't have to bother with rinsing rice either. A lot of recipes on various Japanese cooking sites call for the use of mentsuyu (めんつゆ), bottled noodle sauce concentrate, a ready-made combination of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and dashi. It saves time having to pull out each individual ingredient and adding it one by one, for sure. There are just as many convenience foods and ready-made foods in Japan as there are anywhere else - not to mention tons of restaurants, fast food places, and the like. You can easily avoid having to cook, ever. And sadly, a lot of people are like that. Japan is after all one of those so-called developed countries, where conveniences abound.

I have plenty of quick and easy recipes on JustHungry, and many more on JustBento - although I do try to stick as much as possible to real ingredients. (Some of my Japanese recipes call for the use of dashi stock granules, especially when they're used as an underlying flavor rather than the main flavor. They're so convenient, plus I've heard from many readers that they're easier to get a hold of than bonito flakes and konbu seaweed.)



The whole point of the Japanese Cooking 101 course was to show how things are done for the best possible results, using traditional methods.

Most of the readers of my sites do not live in Japan. I'm not writing for a Japanese audience obviously, since I'm writing in English. I'm not even writing for an audience of English speaking residents of Japan - although I know there are some who've been following along for years (hi guys!). (My column in The Japan Times on the other hand is aimed at English speakers in Japan, so has a rather different focus.) Unless you live in a city with proper Japanese groceries, it can be very hard to get a hold of the right ingredients. Things like mentsuyu are often too expensive to rely on all the time.

Let's face it, most Japanese ingredients are expensive outside of Japan, if you can even get a hold of them. If you're going to try to make proper tasting Japanese food under those circumstances, I would much rather you spend your precious money on basic, fundamental, real ingredients rather than manufactured convenience products. If you have access to a Japanese grocery store you can get things like mentsuyu, or the Japanese equivalents of Hamburger Helper and the like. But they're expensive - too expensive for everday use. On the other hand, although soy sauce, mirin, sake, konbu seaweed and bonito flakes to make dashi, plain old miso and so on are not cheap either, they're a much better investment of your money if you want to create many authentic tasting dishes.

The point is, I want to be able to teach a little bit about how to cook Japanese food the proper way, through my sites, my book and my other writings. Cooking from scratch is, in my opinion, a fundamental skill, and I'm fighting the battle to keep that skill alive. Even if that notion is laughably old fashioned for some people.

Filed under:  philosophy washoku japanesecooking101

Favorite everyday go-to dishes

Here are some of my favorite 'go-to' meals, that I go back to time and again. Most take minimal effort to make and are quite healthy. They are all very good of course!

Filed under:  basics favorites

Variable Roasted Vegetables (an everyday favorite)


Following up on the previous post where I asked about your favorite go-to everyday dishes (keep your ideas coming!) I thought I'd introduce some of mine. The posting of them may be sporadic, since I'll be taking pictures and things when I actually made them for dinner.

First up is something that is very easy to assemble, quite healthy, cheap, as seasonal as you want it to be, and almost infinately variable. It's simply roasted vegetables. I make this all the time, throughout the year, using whatever vegetables I have. It's a good refrigerator-clearer too.

This is not really a recipe, but a sort of generic formula for roasting vegetables.

The basic roasted vegetable formula

  • Prep time: 5-10 minutes
  • Cooking time: 20 minutes + 10 minutes

Preheat the oven to 225°C/ 440°F. Make ready one or two baking sheets

For a well-rounded one-dish meal, I use this combination:

  • 1 part starchy vegetables, e.g. winter squash or kabocha, sweet or white potatoes, lotus root, other starchy roots.
  • 1 part a combination of aromatic vegetables, e.g. onion, leek, garlic, shallots, fennel bulbs. I don't use ginger for roasting since it turns hard and horrible (though you could use grated ginger). Herbs are a nice addition too.
  • 1 to 2 parts other vegetables. Here you can use anything that is not too watery. Vary this by the season. In spring you might use asparagus or spring cabbage; in summer zucchini other summer squash, eggplants and peppers; in the fall or throughout the year, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, rutabaga, daikon radish, brussel sprouts...whatever you like.

The harder and more solid the vegetable, the smaller and thinner you should cut it. Alternatively, you may want to pre-boil it for a few minutes. Lotus root and taro roots require parboiling, and if you parboil white potatoes, when you roast them they will be nice and crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

For every 4 cups of combined vegetables, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil or other oil, salt and pepper, and mix well. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake/roast for about 15-20 minutes.

Take it out and give it a stir around. At this point you can add some toppings - see below for suggestions. Roast for another 5-10 minutes.

Toppings and additions

This is a great side dish to a main protein like steak or roast chicken, but it can also be a complete one-dish meal by adding a protein rich topping. Some suggestions:

  • Cheese! Feta cheese is my favorite for this, but any cheese you like will do. Add at the stirring-up stage.
  • Plain whole or chopped nuts. Walnuts, almonds and pecans are especially suited for this I think. Add at the stirring-up stage to avoid burning
  • Miso-tahini paste with walnuts (go easy on the salt on the vegetables if you use this) Add at the stirring-up stage.
  • Cooked chickpeas or other beans - add at the beginning
  • Cut up sausage. If cooked, add at the stirring-up stage; if not, add at the beginning
  • Leftover meatloaf, crumbled up, with a sprinkle of cheese - add at the stirring-up stage

A couple of combination suggestions

  • A flowery vegetable combination: Broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, artichoke hearts, tiny potatoes or chunks of regular potato, chopped garlic, rosemary. Toss all with olive oil; top with some gorgonzola cheese.
  • A fall vegetable combination (the one pictured in the photo): Winter squash (kuri squash or Knirps used in the photo), fennel, leek, broccoli, garlic. This can be topped with cheese or Miso-tahini paste with walnuts.
  • A root vegetable combination: carrots, daikon radish, sweet potato, onion, garlic. Toss with olive oil and some red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Optionally top with feta or other cheese, or go the sweet way and top with some sugar or honey.
Filed under:  basics vegetables vegetarian favorites

Japanese grocery store list

(Last updated 2/12/2013)

Looking for a shopping list to start your Japanese cooking adventures? Start here!

Bento fans should also check Where and how to buy bento boxes and equipment on our sister site, Just Bento.

A frequently heard lament: Help! I can't find [insert Japanese ingredient] at an Asian store!

A general Asian grocery store/supermarket is not the same as a Japanese grocery store. Most large general Asian stores are Chinese-focused (e.g. Paristore in France), or Korean-focused (e.g. H-Mart in the U.S.). This means that they only have limited shelf space for Japanese food. Yes, there is a difference between the cuisines!

For the best selection of Japanese groceries, go to the stores that are specified as being Japanese. (Two chains with supermarket-level stores are Mitsuwa and Marukai in the U.S. Seattle-area mini-chain Uwajimaya also has supermarket-sized stores.) Your second choice is Korean stores, who usually stock a large selection of Japanese foods. Chinese focused groceries generally only carry a small selection of Japanese food, and may even carry pretending-to-be-Japanese-but-really not food (such as snacks with odd Japanese on them). See this article about where to get Japanese foodstuffs for more.

shoppingbag-j.pngThis is a rapidly growing set of lists of Japanese grocery stores around the world. Ambitious yes, but with the help of Just Hungry readers, we hope to put together a definitive collection of lists. This is definitely a work in progress - please bookmark it and check back often. Note that Korean and Chinese groceries are also noted sometimes, since they often carry a lot of Japanese ingredients.

This is a list put together by you, the reader

We need your help! Tell us about your local Japanese grocery stores! in the comments! Please include the following information if possible - and please add the comment to the appropriate geographical region. Thank you!

The basic information needed is:

I've added an additional category for stores in Japan that visitors shouldn't miss - for selection, uniqueness, etc.

Additional comments, corrections etc. for already listed stores are always welcome.

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in the United States and territories

This list is sporadically updated but should be reasonably current.

Japanese food is getting more and more popular across the United States. Korean-oriented markets also carry a lot of Japanese food supplies. (Chinese markets do not necessarily carry Japanese food, though they may have some items.)

Note that Amazon Groceries carries several Japanese food products..

Below is a reader-contributed list of brick-and-mortar Japanese grocery stores and stores selling food-related items in the United States. Don't forget to look through the comments also! Note that California and the New York-New Jersey - Connecticut areas have their own pages.

Bento fans should also check Where and how to buy bento boxes and equipment on our sister site, Just Bento.

Nationwide chains

99 Ranch Market
Chinese and English web site
Chinese chain. General Asian food supplies. Many locations throughout California, one in Las Vegas, two in Washington State, one in Georgia.
English web site
Worldwide store list
Daiso is a Japanese dollar store type chain. They seem to be expanding rapidly overseas. They have 9 stores in the U.S. as of Feb. 2008 according to their website, all in California and Washington State, but keep checking to see if they are opening more. A good source of cheap kitchenware, tableware, non-perishable food items and bento supplies (selection differs according to the location).
Han Ah Rheum/Super-H/H-Mart
A rapidly expanding Korean supermarket chain with stores in NY, NJ, PA, CO, IL, MD, CA, WA, CA, DC; expanding to other states (TX, etc.).
Stores in California, Illinois and New Jersey (addresses listed below in the regional sections). Mostly supermarket size stores. Often with a mini-mall with independent stores attached.



17th Street Farmer’s Market
840 E 17th St.
Tucson, AZ 85719
Phone: (520) 792-2588
Comments: "Also a fairly large market with lots of locally grown produce and a really nice fish market. This market doesn’t supply as much as G & L (see below) however but does have a fairly decent Asian grocery section. -(Reiko)
G &L Imports
4828 E 22nd St.
Tucson, AZ 85711
Phone: (520) 790-9016
Comments: "This is a fairly large market for lots of different types of Asian groceries and household items. Additionally, they have a warm foods cabinet where you can get char-siu, bao, noodles, and the occasional bbq duck. They will also take orders for any of their hot foods if you like to order in advance for pick up." -(Reiko)
Sandyi Oriental Market
4270 E Pima St.
Tucson, AZ 85712
Phone: (520) 320-0389
Comments: "Mostly a Korean market but has LOTS of Japanese groceries and household items. This is my favorite place to shop and not just because it’s less than five minutes away from where I live. It’s a small store but clean and well organized and run by a very friendly family. Often this store carries some of the harder-to-obtain items that can’t be found at the other markets in my area (like a huge selection of pre-packaged tsukemono, ice cream bars, new crop rice, and many different types of frozen fish). I also come here because the owners make take-out foods like spicy fried chicken and sushi, all nicely packaged up. They also offer fresh bakery goods, individually packaged." -(Reiko)


See the California page.


Pacific Mercantile Co
1925 Lawrence St
Denver, CO USA
Comments: "I’ve shopped here for years. Beautiful produce, excellent fresh fish counter, foods from or used in Japan — canned, frozen, dry-packaged. Large varieties of rice, seaweed, noodles, tea. They also have a housewares section. The store is downtown so parking is metered." - (Harper)
Pacific Ocean Int’l Supermarket
2200 W Alameda Ave # 2B
Denver, CO 80223
(303) 935-2470
Comments: "Chinese, Japanese and other Asian products. Very large (larger than it looks from outside). Large nice produce selection. This is where I come if I can’t find something anyplace else. Not a lot of ambience and the location looks run-down but lots of parking and good prices." - (Harper)


Atlanta area

Buford Highway Farmers Market
5600 Buford Highway
Doraville, GA 30340
Tel: (770) 455-0770
Comments: "The store does have a bit of a funny smell to it but it is half spanish half asian. They have a good selection of food and a small area for kitchen supplies with onigiri molds and dumpling makers. Not bad if you know what you want." -(Jessica)
Gwinnett International Farmers Market
3825 Shackleford Road
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 921-8288
Comments: "This store has much more kitchen items such as takoyaki pans, mandolin slicers, fish shaped pancake molds. They also have a good food selection and also an area with food to order." -(Jessica)
Super H Mart
2550 Pleasant Hill Rd
Atlanta, GA 30349
(678) 417-0206
Also at
6335 State Route 85
Riverdale, GA 30274
(this location has more housewares, gift items, Sanrio, etc)
Comments: "of course the creme of the crop. Very busy on the weekends but a great selection. They have 2 locations in the atlanta area and are building a 3rd this year." - (Jessica)


Tokyo Mart
Monticello Plaza
Chalan San Antonio
Tamuning Guam
Comment: "Compact but fairly complete shop with twice a week shipments from Japan. Canned, frozen, dry goods, bakery items, fresh produce, fresh and frozen fish mainly from Japan, small meats selection from the US featuring Angus beef and Berkshire pork. Some European gourmet food items. There is a tiny kitchen that provides an extensive selection of ready made bento meals daily. Housewares, beauty and health products, Japanese-language video shop, and Japanese magazine subscription service also available. Located near Cost-U-Less, with a large adjacent parking lot." - *santos*


There are several Japanese markets in Hawaii, and regular supermarkets and convenience stores like 7-11 and ABC Stores also stock some Japanese-ish snacks and so on.

(See Bento sightseeing in Hawaii)

Marukai Wholesale Mart
2310 Kamehameha Highway
Honolulu, Hawaii 96819
Tel: (808) 845-5051
Also 2 other location (check website)
English and Japanese web site
Comments: "Japanese Food, Fresh Food, Bento, Asian Food, Hawaiian Food, Souvenirs(Chocolate, Cookies, Coffee, etc.), Liquor, Beddings and Furniture, Health Products, Home Furnishings, Appliances, and Antiques." -(anon)

Other stores - listings to be added: Shirokiya, Don Quijote,


Mitsuwa Chicago
100 E. Algonquin Road
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
(847) 956-6699
English website, Japanese website
Said to have bento supplies. Open 7 days/week.
Sea Ranch Grocery
3223 Lake Ave
Wilmette, IL 60091
(847) 256-7010
Comments: "My mom has shopped here for decades. It’s a small shop but densely packed with Japanese groceries. Next door is a fish store, you can order sushi platters or purchase slabs of fish that you can slice at home." - (JO)
J Toguri
851 W. Belmont
Chicago, IL
Tel: 773 929 3500
Comment: "I wanted to recommend a store in Chicago I haven’t seen listed on here. It’s pretty small and most of it is devoted to gift items and books, however there is a decent size section of Japanese foods. If you can’t make it out to Mitsuwa, and need a basic staple this may be a good choice."


Asia Oriental Market
2400 Yeager Road
West Lafayette, IN
Comments:"They try to be a (small) grocery store that covers all of Asia, so their Japanese selection is a bit limited, but still worlds beyond a standard grocery store. Their produce isn’t good, but that have a lot of canned/dried/refrigerated stuff you can’t get much anywhere else around here." -(Randomscrub)
One World Market
8466 Castleton Corner Dr.
Indianapolis, IN 46250
Tel: (317) 842-3442
Comments: "We just visited this store today and were very pleased. It has a nice variety of everything, including fresh vegetables and fish as well as sushi. I don’t have the hours, but they are closed Monday." -(anon)
Sakura Mart
2450 E 71st St
Indianapolis, IN 46220
Small store, focusing mainly on pantry goods, frozen foods, and snacks, but they do have some housewares and fresh things. Their sushi-to-go case is a cut above as their sushi comes from the related Sakura Restaurant next door, which is often acknowledged as the best place in town for sushi. Some prices are a little high, but on the whole they are comparable to pan-Asian markets in the area, and have a much larger selection of Japanese goods than anywhere else in the Indy area. -(Denise)


New Orleans metro area

Hong Kong Market
925 Behrman Highway
Gretna, LA
Comments: "They do not have a web site, but there is a good review with pictures here. This is a huge supermarket with an incredible selection of Asian foods. The market is located in a strip mall targeted towards the large Vietnamese population in New Orleans, but there are a lot of Japanese and Chinese products. There is a large frozen foods section (with green tea and red bean ice cream!) and a house wares section with dishes, sushi supplies, rice cookers, etc. They carry Japanese candies and sodas also. I have always been able to find what I am looking for there. They do not carry bento gear." - (Traci)


Kotobukiya (CLOSED)
1815 Mass Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140
297 Mass Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
Tel: 617-661-1194
Comments: "Korean grocer. Small store, jam-packed with things like the biggest bags of red peppers I’ve ever seen. -(Pam)
152 Harvard Ave
Allston, MA 02134
Comments: "Korean-Japanese grocer. Tiny store with good selection." -(Pam)
Reliable Market
45 Union Square
Somerville, MA
Tel: 617-623-9620
Comments: "Korean-Japanese grocer. Large store with excellent selection and reasonable prices." -(Pam)


Several Japanese bloggers living in Michigan mentioned they go to the Mitsuwa supermarket near Chicago (see Illinois listings).

Hiller’s Marketplace
3615 Washtenaw Avenue (in the Arborland Mall at US 23)
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Open 8 AM to 11 PM Monday through Saturday; 8 AM to 9 PM on Sunday
Tel: 734-677-2370
English web site
Comments: "This is a real surprise: a locally owned chain of grocers with a great selection of Japanese food. They may have only 2 packages of each item on the shelf, but they must have 50 different items. And they restock regularly so the stuff has not sat for years waiting for a buyer! They also have a whole freezer case devoted to frozen foods, and some refrigerated items. Apparently one of their stores has an even better selection “at 14 Mile and Haggerty Roads is home to Metro Detroit’s most extensive Japanese food selection. Come speak with Satomi Matsuda, who directs our Japanese services division to discover a whole world of new flavors and healthy eating.”" -(Tess)
Hua Xing Asia Market
1867 Washtenaw Ave
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Tel: (734) 528-3355
Comments: "Huge pan-Asian store. It used to be a car dealership and you can see that history in its current layout. There is a decent selection of Japanese staples, snacks, and frozen foods, but you have to go up and down the aisles because the store is not organized by “culture.” Good fresh produce (though sometimes it’s not so fresh). Live fish and turtles and frogs can be frightening, but they also have cleaned and filleted fish that is very fresh. They also have a selection of dishes and equipment." -(Tess)
Korean Market
(It actually has a Korean name, but it escapes me right now -Tess)
3893 Platt Rd
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Tel: (734) 487-9898
Comments: "Tiny store located in a strip-mall anchored by a gas station. It took me months to venture in because it looked so small, but when I did: WOW! Most of the merchandise is Korean, but they have the freshest Japanese vegetables anywhere. Occasionally they have very fresh fish. They stock all the Japanese staples you’ll need on shelves or refrigerated/frozen. They even have some equipment and dishes! Just think “skinny” and don’t even try to use the shopping carts: the aisles are that narrow." -(Tess)
Koyama Shoten
37176 Six Mile Rd
Livonia, MI 48152
Tel: 734-464-1480
Comments: "Although I like to shop at One World Market listed [below], since this store is only 5 minutes from my house, this is where I usually go to get quick, fresh, entirely lovely sushi and Japanese ingredients. Koyama Shoten is the typical small neighborhood-style store, however it stocks a very high-quality selection of fresh ingredients such as vegetables and fish. Both the frozen and the dry goods sections have almost anything you would need, but with less options than a big store. I like the basket on the front counter with its daily selection of warm roll-your-own hand rolls in convenience packaging. They rent Japanese videos and sell magazines, sundries, etc as well. And finally, I love that this store is a very friendly family-owned store!" -(anon)
"They have a very nice and clean grocery store as well as a very friendly and helpful staff. They occasionally have a few bento boxes and they always have a small variety of picks, separators, and other kitchen items. They have a lovely selection of ceramics. They also rent movies and have magazines." -(Kirsten)
42705 Grand River Ave, #B
Novi, Michigan, 48375
Tel: 248-374-3200
English and Japanese web site
Comments: "Mirai is such a special place here in the Detroit area, that even though it is not a grocery store, I feel that it must be mentioned. Where else in a Midwestern industrial state like Michigan could you possibly find 250 Japanese magazines? A broad selection of Japanese books and learning materials for children and adults? The PERFECT brush pen, as well as a good selection of brushes & ink stones for sumi-e, kanji paper, and other needs of the Japanese student? They have a coffee bar (green tea slushies!) and snacks in a refrigerated case, so maybe it counts as a grocery store after all. They also carry a good selection of origami paper and a few books, many gift and decorative items, Japanese cosmetics, and a huge rental video section." -(anon)
Noble Fish
45 E. 14 Mile Rd
Clawson,MI 48017-2132.
(248) 585-2314
"Sushi bar in back. Most comprehensive Japanese grocery store. Closed Mondays." (from the web)
One World Market
42705 Grand River Ave, #B
Novi MI 48375
Cross Streets: Between Market St and Constitution
Tel: 248-374-0844
Webpage with details
Comments: "This store is so big it really is a super-market, and is about the size of 3 small “neighborhood” Japanese grocery stores! You will find here a very large selection of beautiful fresh fish and an excellent variety of fresh Japanese vegetables. They also have a large case of frozen goods, a decent-sized section that stocks Japanese health and beauty aids and kitchen appliances, what looks to me to be a large selection of sake, and really wonderful sushi! I have heard that this store is the “sister store” to the locally highly-regarded Noble Fish. Both carry excellent and similar sushi. You can rent Japanese videos and buy Japanese books, magazines, cosmetics, origami paper, writing materials, etc from Mirai 2 doors north." -(anon)
"All Japanese groceries. Very fresh fish, nice produce, large frozen food section, lots of Japanese snacks and pantry staples, some dishes/equipment." -(Tess)
Oriental Mart
2800 East Grand River Ave.
East Lansing, MI 48823
(517) 337-2519
Comments: "Very large grocery store. Everything for Chinese, Japanese, Indian cooking and more. Organized vaguely by region. Fresh fish, produce, cooking equipment etc. Staff very helpful." - (Todd)
Tsai Grocery
3115 Oak Valley Drive
Cross Streets: Between Airey Ct and Scio Church Rd
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Tel: 734-995-0422
Comments: "This store is as big as One World Market, but it has less Japanese items overall, as it has well-stocked subsections of Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, and Philippine ingredients as well. It has good sushi which comes from a restaurant (Godaiko) a few doors away. The produce selection is fresh and varied, and there are more choices in the frozen and meat sections since other Asian cuisines are represented. The store carries interesting sundry items as well. This is a great place to shop, but quite a drive from most of the Detroit suburbs where there are other good options, although without as many ingredients from different Asian cultures under one storefront." -(anon)
"Good selection of Japanese food (they also own the Japanese restaurant next door), especially a good variety of miso, tofu, konyaku, pickles, and other refrigerated items. The Japanese sections are separated from other Asian foods: soy sauce, tamari, vinegar, noodles, canned goods, and snacks have shelf space distinct from Chinese, Korean, Thai etc. merchandise. Large selection of frozen foods (fish, meats, prepared products). Some cheap household goods (plastic strainers, flip flops, vegetable peelers), some nice dishes, good electric rice cookers and other equipment." -(Tess)


United Noodles
2015 E 24th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Monday to Saturday: 9am - 7pm, Sunday: 9am - 6pm
Tel: 612-721-6677 Fax: 612-721-2019
Email: info [at] unitednoodles [dot] com
Comments: "has some Japanese products, not a whole lot." -(JO)
"i’m not sure how long it’s been since you’ve been to united noodles, but last time i was there (last month), they had expanded their japanese products considerably. nothing compared to, say, uwajimaya in portland, but they do carry stuff that i’ve had a difficult time finding here in chicago, such as the ajishima brand furikake with no preservatives or MSG. i always stock up whenever i go home and end up coming back with more food in my suitcase than clothing. ^^" -(army_kitten)


Chong’s Oriental Market
701 Locust St
Columbia, MO
Tel: (573) 443-1977
Comments: "It is a smallish store but they have a great variety of items… some fresh veggies, lots of canned items, refrigerated section, frozen section. People are very friendly. They have some cooking utensils too. I was able to pick up a Benriner mandolin slicer cheaper than I’d seen it online!"


99 Ranch Market
(owned and operated by independent licensee, whatever that means)
4155 W. Spring Mountain Road
Las Vegas, NV 89102
Tel: (702) 364-8899
Hours: 8:30 am - 10:00 pm
Part of 99 Ranch chain of Chinese/Asian markets. See top of page for details.

New York, North New Jersey, Connecticut

See the NY-NJ-CT page.


Jungle Jim’s International Grocery
5440 Dixie Hwy (Rte. 4)
Fairfield, OH 45014
Phone: 513-674-6000, Fax: 513-674-6001
Email: contactus at junglejims dot com
7 Days a Week 8am - 10pm
Web site
Comments: "This is in the northern suburbs of Cincinnati, a huge six-acre grocery store that specializes in carrying foodstuffs from around the world as well as more everyday grocery items. Their Japanese section is pretty well stocked with frozen and non-perishables. To date, I have not noticed any bento boxes, although they do carry some chopsticks and onigiri molds in the cookware section, which is worth a look. A must-see for any foodie, really." -(DM)
Tensuke Market
1167 Old Henderson Rd
Columbus, OH 43220
Mon-Sat 10:00 - ?, Sun 12:00 - ?
Comments: "Popular Japanese grocery store with a decent selection of perishables, non-perishables and frozen foods. They also carry sushi grade fish. Customers are primarily Japanese. In the same shopping center is a Japanese gift store, bakery, and a sushi bar." -(DM)
A fairly detailed review of their takeout sushi etc.

Pennsylvania and South New Jersey

See also the NY-NJ-CT page.

Han Ah Reum/H-Mart
7320 Old York Road
Elkins Park, PA 19027
Tel : 215-782-1801
also at
7050 Terminal Sq.
Upper Darby, PA 19082
Tel : 610-734-1001
also at
1720 Marlton Pike.
Cherry Hill, NJ 08003
Tel : 856-489-4611
Nation-wide chain. See top of page for general comments.
Comments: "These are all within minutes from downtown Philadelphia. I’ve personally never been, but commenters above have already mentioned their wares." - (yoko)
36 N. Narberth Avenue
Narberth, PA 19072
(about 25 minutes from downtown Philly)
(610) 747-0557, fax (610) 747-0541
Email:seiko [at] maidookini [dot] com
English site, Japanese site
Comments: "Small store, but good selection of produce, frozen items, and packaged foods. Also has a limited selection of toiletries, household appliances, books, magazines, and paraphenalia. There is a lunch counter where you can get made-to-order okonomiyaki and yakisoba, as well as onigiri and sometimes sushi." - (yoko)
"The store is small but seemed to have a good selection of Japanese foods. They also sell (or maybe rent) DVDs and other media. There is a lunch counter that serves okonomiyaki, and they also make and sell onogiri." -(Valerie)
Tokyo Japanese Store (東京商店)
5855 Ellsworth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
Tel: 412 661 3777 Fax: 412 661 3773
mailorder [at] tokyostorepgh [dot] com
Japanese and English web site
10 am–7 pm (Tues–Sat) 10 am–5 pm (Sun) Closed Monday; Parking space available
Comments: "A small store with nice staff. They sell a selection of Japanese staples and frozen foods, as well as cup ramen and a reasonably-sized video rental corner. No alcohol, thanks to the Commonwealth. They generally take a couple vacations a year where they’re closed for a week or two, one around Thanksgiving." -(Christina)
"Tokyo is small but it’s the only Japanese run Japanese food store in Pittsburgh that I know of. It has the basics, sells Japanese style pastries/sweet bread (melon pan, etc.) and even has some rentals for Japanese TV shows. My favorite thing about the store is the Japanese-style bentos they make fresh everyday. There is usually a selection of two or three kinds and they are yummy!" -(morgan)
Young's Oriental Grocery Store
5813 Forward Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
Tel: (412) 422-0559
Mon-Sat 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.
Korean and English web page
Comments: "A small Korean-owned grocer, this store carries a good amount of Japanese food products, snacks, breads (think melon pan, anpan, an donuts), as well as big bags of rice and Japanese style electric rice cookers. Just be sure to check the “sell by” date on everything before you check out though." -(morgan)


See below under Washington State/Oregon.



Asahi Imports
Northwest Center
6105 Burnet Road
Austin, TX 78757
Tel: 512-453-1850
Open Daily 10:00am - 7:00pm
"We've been specializing in Japanese food since 1967"

Dallas-Fort Worth area

Hong Kong Marketplace
1816 E. Pioneer Parkway
Arlington, TX 76010
Tel: (817)265-1488, Fax: (817)459-2345
Sunday - Thursday 9:00am - 9:00pm, Friday - Saturday 9:00am - 10:00pm
See below for comments on the Dallas store.
Hong Kong Marketplace
9780 Walnut St # 360 (North Dallas)
Dallas, TX 75243
(972) 437-9888
Sunday - Thursday 9:00am - 9:00pm, Friday - Saturday 9:00am - 10:00pm
English website
Comments: "This is in North Dallas, and was my go to place for Asian cooking supplies when I lived there. There is a Japanese isle and an excellent selection of dried ramen, Asian vegetables, and seafood. If you go to get staples like soy sauce and rice vinegar, check out the versions on the Chinese isles. They are cheaper than the ones on the Japanese." -(Susan)
Seabose Grocery, Sushi & Seafoods
2760 Trinity Mills Road #102 (Far North Dallas)
Carrollton, TX 75006
Japanese website
TUE-FRI 11:00-7:30, SAT 8:30-7:30, SUN 11:00-6:00
Tel: 214-483-5839, Fax: 214-483-2196
Comments: "Small, excellent Japanese grocery at Trinity Mills & Marsh. Sushi fish comes in on Tuesdays and Fridays. They are happy to answer questions and everything we’ve gotten from them has just been fantastic. Sushi available for takeout only; calling or faxing ahead is recommended." -(Lyn never)
Shop Minoya
3115 W Parker Rd
Plano, TX 75023
Tel: (972) 769-8346
Comments: "You can find almost all the basic Japanese ingredients you need, some kitchenware and bento supplies, frozen food, canned food, sweets and snacks, beverages and etc. I feel that the prices are reasonable too. This is one small authentic Japanese shop which I like to go even if I have totally no idea what I want to buy. I always leave the shop with several plastic bags of goodies. I absolutely love the shopping experience there!" - (Jaslene)

Houston area

Dun Huang Supermarket
9889 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, TX, USA 77036
Comments: "I haven’t gone to this one yet because it’s new, but I’ll give you a ‘review’ when I check it out." -(Steph)
Hong Kong Food Market
11205 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, TX 77072
(281) 575-7886
Also at
13400 Veterans Memorial Dr
Houston, TX, USA 77014
Tel: (281) 537-5280
Price range: $-$$, but mostly $
Comments: "I have been [to the Veterans Memorial Dr. store] a couple of times, and they do have some Japanese items and produce (like the other one on Bellaire Blvd), so it’s not too bad =) It has less of a selection of everything (it’s smaller) than the other one though. But it’s cleaner." -(Steph)
Golden Foods Supermarket
9896 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, TX, USA 77036
(713) 772-7882, (304) 325-6262
Price range: $-$$, but mostly $
Comments: "They (Hong Kong Food Market and Golden Foods Supermarket) sell all-around (though mostly chinese and vietnamese) asian products/food: I prefer ‘Golden Foods Supermarket’ between the other one though, because it is much cleaner and newer (just opened a year ago I think) than Hong Kong Food Market, but HKFM is bigger (at least I think so). But these are both pretty big, it’s just that HKFM smells xDD" -(Steph)
Nippan Daido
11146 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77042
(713) 785-0815
English and Japanese web site
Mini-chain with stores in White Plains NY, Fort Lee NJ, and Houston Tx. Food, housewares, kitchen appliances, video rentals.
Price range: $$ (moderate)
(recommended by Steph)

Welcome Food Center (惠康超級市場)
9180 Bellare Blvd
Houston, TX, USA 77036
Tel: (713) 270-7789
Comments: :This one I have been to, but I went there a long time ago, so I can’t really remember if they have alot of Japanese items. I think they have a fair amount, but it’s mostly Chinese/Vietnamese.: -(Steph)

Washington D.C./Maryland/Virginia

Daruma Japan Market
6931 Arlington Rd.
Bethesda, MD 20814
Tue - Sat : 10:00 - 20:30; Sun : 11:00 - 18:00
Japanese only website (the owner also has a golf-oriented blog)
"Largest selection of Japanese foods in the metro area."
Han Ah Reum
8103 Lee Hwy
Falls Church, VA 22042
See above Nationwide section. Korean grocery chain with many Japanese products.
4947 St. Elmo Ave
Bethesda, MD 20814
Comments: "Small Japanese food store specializing in sushi carry-out."
Naniwa Foods
6730 Curran St.
McLean, VA 22101
Comments: "Authentic Japanese food store with large selection of premium sake."
"Naniwa, although the only truly Japanese store in the area, does not take credit cards (a dismaying fact I tend to forget when I go there)." -(renae)
Lucky World
3109 Graham Road
Falls Church, VA
(703) 641-8585
Comments: "Large Asian Food Store with selection of Japanese goods." -(anon)
Lotte Mart
11190 Parklawn Drive
Rockville, MD
(301) 881-3355
also at
3250 Old Lee Highway
Fairfax, VA
(703) 352-8989
Totally useless website
Lotte is a huge South Korean-Japanese conglomerate. They seem to have just the two stores in the U.S., though it's hard to tell at all from their crappy website. They also operate fast food restaurants and manufacture snack foods. They also own a baseball team in Japan. Wikipedia entry.
Comments: "Large Asian Food Store with selection of Japanese goods." -(anon)
Super H Mart
10780 Fairfax Blvd. (Lee Hwy.)
Fairfax, VA 22030
Part of the Han Ah Rheum/Super-H etc. chain - see Nationwide section above. Korean grocery with Japanese products.
"My favorite of all the stores I’ve found in Northern Virginia is Super H, which Lisa mentioned in her comment." -(renae; originally recommended by Lisa)

Washington State/Oregon

99 Ranch Market
22511 Highway 99
Edmonds, WA 98026
Tel: 425-670-1899
Hours: 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM / 7 days
Also at:
18230 E. Valley Highway #100
Kent, WA 98032
(425) 251-9099
Hours: 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM / 7 days
Comments: "I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the 99 Ranch Market chain yet! There are two here in western Washington, one very near my house, just as large as Uwajimaya and cheaper!" -(Shannon)
See top of page for general comments.
Alderwood Mall
3000 184th Street SW, Suite 398
Lynnwood, WA 98037
Mon-Thu 10:00-21:00, Fri-Sat 10:00-22:00, Sun 11:00-19:00
Also at
Space #D-12,2013 S.Commons
Federal Way,WA 98003
Mon-Sat 10:00-21:00, Sun 11:00-18:00
Also at
West Lake Center
400 Pine St.Suite 1005
Seattle WA 98101
Mon-Sat 10:00-21:00, Sun 10:00-18:00
Also at
Bellis Fair Mall
One Fair Parkway #618
Bellingham WA 98226
Mon-Sat 10:00-21:00, Sun 11:00-18:00
Comments: "Daiso is a Japanese dollar store carrying some food items (snacks, candy, and other convenience foods) as well as a large variety of other Japanese products for $1.50 USD (up to $5 USD for some items). This is a great resource for Japanese cooking utensils, Bento boxes and accessories, and all kinds of other odds and ends."-(Augustina)

15555 NE 24th St. & Bel Red Rd.
Bellevue, WA 98007
Phone: (425)747-9012
Mon.-Sat. 9AM-10PM, Sunday 9AM-9PM
English and Japanese website
also at
600 5th Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: (206) 624-6248
Mon.-Sat. 9AM-10PM, Sunday 9AM-9PM
also at
10500 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale HWY
Beaverton, OR 97005
Phone: (503)643-4512
Mon.-Sat. 9AM-10PM, Sunday 9AM-9PM
Mailorder via Amazon.com
Comments by Maki: Uwajimaya, or Uwaj' as it's affectionately called by locals, is a family run operation. Their flagship store in Downtown Seattle is about the size of a supermarket. It carries about 50%-60% Japanese food, plus Chinese, Korean and regular-American food (fresh produce, meat, etc). Very well stocked. Parking can be a bit of a pain on busy weekends, due to its popularity. A wonderful center of the Asian community. At the Downtown store, there is a small sit-down area to enjoy takeout style sushi and bentos, and a Kinokuniya bookstore attached. A Daiso is located right across the street. (Based on Jan. 2011 trip.)
Other comments: "The stores are pretty large and have good selections of just about anything you’d need to cook Japanese food. The Beaverton and Seattle locations also have a Kinokuniya bookstore. All the grocery stores have Japanese groceries, butcher and fishmonger. They also have all sorts of Asian foodstuffs, dishes, cutlery, appliances and toys." -(tami)
"Both stores carry a number of "international" goods, but they have a very Japanese focus. Prices are middle-of-the-line." -(Dina)

Viet Wah
1320 S. Jackson St
Seattle, WA 98104
Tel: 206-329-1399
English web site
Also at
6040 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Seattle, WA 98118
Tel: 206-760-8895
Also at
2820 N.E. Sunset Blvd.
Renton, WA 98056
Tel: 425-336-6888
Comments: "Vietnamese grocery with Japanese products (food and rice cookers). Produce is always cheap, fresh, and plentiful." -(Lillian)

U.S. only mailorder-only sites

The stores listed with web sites above will sometimes also have mail order services - check the individual listings.

In addition, the following companies are primarily (or solely) mail order places, who ship only within the U.S.:

Bento fans should also check Where and how to buy bento boxes and equipment on our sister site, Just Bento.

  • Amazon.com - Groceries, Gourmet Food, kitchen equipment. JH Amazon astore with some of my recommendations (help support the site, at no extra cost to you!)
  • Japan Super. Online Japanese grocery store. Ships within the 48 contiguous states. Their online catalog lists a wide variety of Japanese foods. Based in California.
  • KOAMart: Korean food, some Japanese food also.
  • Sugar Charms: Cake decorating supply store that also has a good selection of bento items. "I really like sugarcharms.com for interesting and moderately priced bento items." -(Becki)

See also

Geographical bento suppliers list at Live Journal bentolunch community

Is your favorite grocery store missing? Leave the details in the comments! (Once the info in a comment is incorporated into the main article, the comment will be deleted.)

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed to this page! I couldn't do it without you!

(Last updated Feb. 4 2011)

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies usa

Japanese grocery stores in California

General notes on California: Due to the large Asian-American population and sizeable expat communities, Japanese grocery stores are quite plentiful, especially in the Los Angeles area, but throughout the state generally, and there are even more Asian groceries.

Is your favorite store missing? Let us know about it in the comments! Once the information in a comment has been incorporated into the main article, the comment is deleted to avoid very very long page syndrome.

Statewide chains

99 Ranch Market
Chinese and English web site
Chinese chain. General Asian food supplies. Many locations throughout California, one in Las Vegas, two in Washington State, one in Georgia.
Marukai Market
Japanese and English web site
Japanese chain. Operates membership stores and non-membership stores throughout California, one in Hawaii. They also operate some 99 cent shops, and have a cooperation with Daiso, a leading 100 yen store chain in Japan. (You can pick up a lot of cheap bento supplies at 100 yen shops.)
Comments: "There are large supermarkets in Torrance, Gardena, Glendale, and Covina. Membership is $10, but they’ll give you a one-month pass for $1, as many times as you want. Housewares, furniture, and cultural icons (tansu, kotatsu, hanten, etc) as well as food."
Mitsuwa Marketplace
Japanese and English web site
Japanese supermarket chain. Took over the former Yaohan Plaza locations when the Yaohan corporation went belly up. These are fairly large supermarkets (some larger than others), with a good selection of Japanese groceries, a food court, and attached mini-mall. There are seven Mitsuwa locations in Calfornia (two others are in the Chicago area and northern New Jersey). Besides groceries and prepared foods, sells housewares and more (selection varies by location).
Japanese and English web site
Japanese grocery chain with several stores in California (and one in New York). Groceries, prepared bentos and sushi to go, etc.
Vien Dong
English and Vietnamese web site
Vietnamese mini-chain with general Asian products.
Zion Market
Korean and English web site
Korean market with three stores in southern California.

Los Angeles/Orange County general area

Ebisu Supermarket
18940 Brookhurst Street
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(714) 962-2108
Under construction website
Comments: "nice market"-(anon)
Granada Market
1820 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90025
Mitsuwa Costa Mesa
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
665 Paularino Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 557-6699
Mitsuwa Little Tokyo
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
333 S. Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 687-6699
Mitsua San Gabriel
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
515 W. Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 457-2899
Mitsuwa Santa Monica
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
3760 Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 398-2113
Mitsuwa Torrance
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
21515 Western Avenue
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 782-0335
Nijiya Market
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
2130 Sawtelle Blvd. #105
Los Angeles CA 90025
Comments: "Japanese American chain, mostly in California, but with one shop in New York state. Sawtelle shop: Small shop with wide range of standard goods, organic produce, fresh meats and fish, extensive bento selection (better than Mitsuwa up the street). Open until 11.45 pm!" - (santos)
"In addition to the Sawtelle one that Santos mentioned, there’s one in Little Tokyo (not very big) and a much larger, nicer one on Grant Ave. in Mountain View (San Francisco Bay Area). " - (meg)
Safe and Save
2030 Sawtelle Blvd
West Los Angeles CA 90025
Comments: "Small family-run market with all the basics, baked goods, snacks, produce, fresh meat and fish counter. Not as well stocked as the larger markets on the same street, but the prices are competitive, the staff is super-friendly, and the atmosphere is more relaxed and convivial. Free parking lot in the back." - (santos)

Sacramento area

Kims Market: Asian Food
636 4th Street(Between F and E st.)
Davis, CA 95616
Mon-Sat 10am-7pm; Sun 12:30pm-6pm
Comments: "A very tiny cramped store, but it has practically everything you need to stock your basic Japanese/Korean pantry. Most of the stuff sold is in the dry/frozen goods category, but they do stock some of the more unusual fresh veggies (yamaimo yams, negi, and daikon.)They also sell some imported snacks, appliances, and household supplies. Everything is on the slightly pricy side for an Asian store, but its the only place where you can find unusual food items that American markets rarely stock. A plus is that they also sell marinated short ribs, in-store made pickles, and fresh kimbap (korean sushi)." -(Ami)

San Diego area

General comments on San Diego area:

"[Marukai and Mitsuwa] are in the Kearny Mesa and Clairemont Mesa neighborhoods of San Diego. [Nijiya and Zion] are in Linda Vista and City Heights neighborhoods, respectively. My Filipino family has been shopping at all of these stores throughout the years and all of them offer an interesting variety of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Filipino foods, among others." -(Lorena)

99 Ranch
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
7330 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92111
Tel: (858) 974-8899
Comments: "This is a Chinese market, but they many Asian staples." -(Lorena)



Marukai Market
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
8151 Balboa Ave.
San Diego, CA 92111
Tel: 858-384-0240
Comments: "This is a non-membership store and is located in the same plaza as the recently opened Daiso store and Marukai Living store. This is the newest Japanese market in San Diego, having opened in January 2008." -(Lorena)

Mitsuwa Marketplace San Diego
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
4240 Kearny Mesa Road
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 569-6699
Comments: "This location also has a dishware store, bentos-to-go, cafe, bookstore, and “cute” shop." -(Lorena)
Nijiya Market
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
3860 Convoy St., #109
San Diego, CA 92111
Phone: (858) 268-3821
Hours: Mon ~ Sun 9:00am- 10:00pm
Comments: "This is a San Diego-based chain and specializes in organic and Japanese food." -(Lorena)
Zion Market
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
4611 Mercury St.
San Diego, CA 92111
Comments: "This is a Korean market, but they have many Asian staples." -(Lorena)
Vien Dong
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
6935 Linda Vista Rd.
San Diego, CA 92111
Tel: (858)292-7176
Also at
5382 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92105
Tel: (619) 583-3838
Comments: "This is a Vietnamese market, but they have many Asian staples." -(Lorena)

San Franciso Bay/San Jose/San Mateo area

Also check out Biggie's San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide for bento things, on Lunch In A Box.

747 Buchanan Street (Japan Town)
San Francisco, CA 94115
Tel: (415) 922-1244
English web site
Japanese confections shop selling manjuu and mochi. In operation since 1906.
Comments: "If visiting SF’s Japan Town, don’t miss [this shop]" -(Greg Wittel)
Ichiban Kan
98 E. 3rd Avenue
San Mateo, CA 94401
Tel. (650) 347-1347
Mailorder site (continental USA shipping only - boo), blog
Modelled after a 100 yen shop in Japan. Sells bento supplies, cheap and interesting kitchenware, accessories, toys, and all kinds of things. A '99 cent shop' with a difference. Considered to be a mecca for bento fans. Mailorder store set to open in April.
Also a store in San Francisco in the Japantown mall (see below)
Imahara Produce
19725 Stevens Creek Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014
Comments: "Family run. Excellent produce (and cheap!) — nice selection of both Japanese and non-Asian produce. Has the usual variety of foodstuffs and snacks. Some fresh fish but the main thing is the produce. Oh, and they sell locally made tofu by the San Jose Tofu company. Probably the best tofu you can get in the Bay Area." -(Greg Wittel)
Japantown shopping mall complex
Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
English web site
A small shopping mall and tourist attraction, with mostly Japanese stores, located within the tiny Japan Town (Nihonmachi) area in San Francisco. (There's a connected building which has mostly Korean stores.) The last time I was here (2005) I found it a little bit disappointing - it's really a shadow of what it must have been once. It looked a bit run down. (If they've renovated since then, let me know!) Still, it has a decent selection of stores, restaurants, plus a Kinokuniya bookstore and gift shop. (maki)
Within Japantown:
Ichiban Kan Japantown
1625 Post St, Miyako Mall 22 Peace Plz, Ste 540
San Francisco, CA 94115
Tel: (415) 409-0472
Mailorder site (continental USA shipping only), blog
Modelled after a 100 yen shop in Japan. Sells bento supplies, cheap and interesting kitchen ware, etc.
Marukai Market Cupertino
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
Comments: "Coming soon to Cupertino. It will be in the shopping center across the street from Imhara’s." -(Greg Wittel)
Mitsuwa Marketplace San Jose
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
675 Saratoga Avenue
San Jose, CA 95129
(408) 255-6699
Comments: "Good for food; large but weak selection of housewares" -(anon)
"The Kinokuniya moved out of the store into a building in the same parking lot. The store is larger and carries a few character bento boxes. -(Sandy Wambold)"
Nijiya Mountain View
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
143 E. El Camino Real
Mountain View, CA 94040
Tel: (650) 691-1600
Nijiya San Francisco
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
1737 Post St. (Japan Town)
San Francisco, CA 94115
Tel: (415) 563-1901



Nijiya San Mateo
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
1956 S. El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94403
Tel: (650) 212-7398

Nijiya San Jose
Part of a statewide chain. See general listing at top of page
240 Jackson St.
San Jose, CA 95112
Tel- (408) 275-6916
Santo Market
245 Taylor Street
San Jose, CA 95112
Comments: "A tiny family run market that’s been around for over 50 years." -(Linda Y)
Super Mira
1790 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94115
Comments: "Has a great little bakery." -(Linda Y)
Suruki Supermarket
71 E 4th Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401
Comments: "A busy market on a busy corner of San Mateo. Has a pretty decent deli section (1/2 off after 6 PM), and a great fish counter. Kaz Grill next door is pretty good, and Ichiban Kan is a block away." -(Linda Y)
Takahashi Market
221 South Claremont St.
San Mateo, CA 94401
Comments: "This was the only Japanese market around for many years. Now, it has mostly Hawaiian goods, but still has quite a bit of older Japanese brands. Great plate lunches, and very nice staff." -(Linda Y)
Tokyo Fish market
1220 San Pablo Avenue
Albany, CA 94709
Tel. 510.524.7243
Comments: "I’ve been going here since I was a wee one. They originally opened in the 60’s in a tiny storefront and they expanded into a regular size supermarket. Their old location, on the same lot, is a non-food Japanese product store, lots of bamboo kitchenware and typical teapot and cup sets. Tokyo Fish has loads of grocery items, as well as a fresh fish counter and pre-made deli foods. They have an excellent selection of Japanese beer, sake and various ramen brands for noodle freaks like me. Alas, no web site, so no on-line ordering, but it’s more fun to actually go in person anyway if you’re local. Check ‘em out!" -(Maryb)
Uoki Sakai
656 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Comments: "Excellent fish section." -(Linda Y)

(Last updated April 8, 2008)

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in the New York - New Jersey - Connecticut area

(Updated January 2011)

This page lists stores in New York, North New Jersey and Connecticut - the NYC Tristate area, plus upstate New York. South NJ area stores are listed on the main USA page.

General New York area notes: The Japanese-American population of the area is quite small, but there is a fair sized expat commmunity. The main areas where they live are in some suburbs of Westchester and Northen New Jersey, in lower Manhattan around the East Village, and near Columbia University. (There used to be a fairly big expat community in Queens around Flushing, but no longer.)

I've also included some bakeries and takeout places (since this is New York after all) and bookstores.

Also see this post which reviews some NYC area groceries.

Note: The stores that I (Maki) have personally visited and recommend are bolded.

Is your favorite grocery store missing? Leave the details in the comments! (Once the info in a comment is incorporated into the main article, the comment will be deleted.)

Statewide chains

Banzai 99 Cent Store
English web site
A general Asian (oriented towards Chinese products) dollar store modelled after 100 yen shops in Japan. Several stores around the state, mostly at the moment in Queens.
Beard Papa
English web site
Actually nationwide at this point. A Japanese cream puff (shuu kureemu) chain. 4 2 locations in the NYC area.

H Mart
English/Korean web site
H Mart is a Korean supermarket chain. There are several branches of this nationwide Korean grocery store in the New York-New Jersey area. Listings on their web site.
Comments about H Mart: Their stock is about 60% Korean food, 20% general groceries, 20% other Asian including Japanese food. Note that a lot of Japanese ingredients and such are used in Korean cooking, so you can pick up stuff like Japanese soy sauce, sake, mirin, miso, etc. at H Mart. When I'm visiting my father who lives on Long Island, I go to the H Mart in Williston Park quite a bit. Their fresh produce area has things like gobo (burdock root) and things that are hard to come by at regular supermarkets and greengrocer's. Their meat section is really good. I kind of wish their frozen food and fresh fish sections didn't smell so 'off' though.

New York City


(I don't really hear about Japanese groceries in Brooklyn, and I don't make it to Brooklyn much when I'm in the NYC area. Anyone?)


No Japanese stores in the Bronx that I know of. Try Manhattan or Westchester.


Manhattan eating tip: Japanese restaurants abound in the Midtown area around 41st street up to about 55th Street, in all price ranges. Look for the lunch specials aimed lure in the Japanese businessmen who work in the area. There is also a fairly concentrated Japanese expat population (mostly students and other young people) around Columbia University and the East Village. You'll find Japanese bookstores and hair salons and the like besides grocery stores and restaurants.

Asia Market Corporation
71 1/2 Mulberry St. (bet. Canal & Bayard Sts., Chinatown)
Tel: 212-962-2028/2020
8:00am〜7:00pm (Mon - Sat), 8:15am〜7:00pm (Sun)
General Asian (Chinese focus) grocery store.
Beard Papa
Astor Place (NYU/East Village) - closed?
740 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
(212) 353-8888
Also at
2167 Broadway (Upper West Side)
New York, NY 10024
(212) 799-3770
Also at
5 Carmine St. (West Village) - closed?
New York, NY 10014
(212) 255-4675
Beard Papa sells Japanese-style cream puffs. I am not a big fan (don't like that fried-pastry layer over the choux pastry) but many people love them. Check their website for current locations. (maki)
Book Off
49 W 45th NY Store (Midtown West)
New York, NY 10036
10:00 - 20:00 7 days
Tel. 212-685-1410
Web site
New York branch of a Japanese used bookstore chain. Book bargains abound here, though the selection varies.

Cafe Zaiya
18 E 41st St (bet. 5th and 6th Aves. Midtown East)
New York, NY 10003
Tel: (212) 779-0600
Also at
69 Cooper Square (bet. St. Marks Pl & 7th St., East Village)
New York, NY 10079
Tel. 212-253-9700
Also a branch at Kinokuniya off Bryant Park (see below)
A Japanese-style bread bakery and cafeteria and takeout place with a mainly Japanese menu of fare. Get your Melon pan, curry pan and other Japanese baked goodies here. Midtown location is larger, and also has Beard Papa cream puffs. But East Village location has items not available at the midtown store. (maki)
Chez Noah
600 Washington St. (at Leroy St., Meatpacking district)
Tel: 212-675-2649
8:00am〜8:00pm (Mon - Sat)
English web site
The web site makes it looks like just another multi-cultural boutique-style food store (a la Dean & DeLuca) but it is listed on a Japanese page as being a Japanese grocery. Maybe worth a look if you're in the neighborhood.
JAS Mart
35 St. Marks Pl. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves., East Village)
New York, NY 10003
Tel: 212-420-6370
11:00am〜11:00pm (Sun - Thu), 11:00am〜12:00am (Fri and Sat)
Japanese-style coffee shop upstairs, grocery downstairs.
Other branches are closed as of Oct. 2009.
Mini-chain of grocery stores around Manhattan. The grocery part is a fairly typical small Japanese grocery. UWS store was very friendly when I visited back in 2006 - it didn't have a coffee shop. See my review here (maki)

224 E. 59th St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves., Midtown East)
New York, NY
Tel: 212-755-3566
10:00am〜8:00pm (7 Days) (groceries part); 10:00am〜7:00pm (7 Days) (housewares part)
English and Japanese website
The oldest Japanese grocery store in New York - in business since 1939. Has fresh and packaged foods, housewares, takeout bentos, etc. The place where a Japanese food novice is most likely to get friendly help from Japanese shoppers in NY. Website says they ship worldwide (maki).

Kinokuniya Bookstore New York
1073 Avenue of the Americas (next to Bryant Park)
New York, NY 10018
212-869-1700, 212-869-1703
New location for Kinokuniya. Has a Cafe Zaiya inside (upstairs). Besides books, stocks giftwares, craft items, kitchen things and the like. A must-stop if you are a Japanophile and can't get to Tokyo (maki). Their bento box selection has been increased several times over compared to just a few years ago (as of 2011).

57 Warren Street
New York, NY 10007
800-626-2172 / 212-587-7021
Hours: 10am-6pm Monday through Saturday
Showroom and store for a restaurant supply company. Restaurant-quality tableware and knives. If you buy a Korin brand knife here you can get them sharpened here. Also does mail order; ships internationally. Note that the bento boxes they carry are restaurant-type ones suitable as tableware, not lightweight portables.
55 3rd Ave. (bet. 10th and 11th Sts.)
Tel: 212-353-2698
8:00am〜12:00am (7 Days
Korean grocery store with a lot of Japanese products. If you're in the area you might as well hit JAS Mart, Sunrise and here (maki).
56 E 45th St (between Lexington and Third Aves., Midtown East)
Tel: 212-922-9788
Mon–Fri 8am–7:30pm; Sat 11:30am–5pm
English web site
A tiny onigiri (omusubi) takeout place, with about 4 tables should you want to eat there (maki).

Sunrise Mart
494 Broome Street (SoHo)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 219-0033
also at
29 3rd Ave - 2nd floor (East Village)
(between 10th St & 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 598-3040
See my review here (maki)
Comments: "Both have a good selection of food stuff (vegetables, frozen foods, staples, fish), kitchen ware, cosmetics, etc. All Japanese goods. The Bro ome Street location has a fresh hot food counter as well and more selection of lunch goods." - (Clarice) A bit scruffy sometimes, but well stocked and a must-stop for Japanese people and Japanophiles if you are in the area (maki).

Tongin Market
91 Mulberry St. (bet. Walker & Bayard Sts., Civic Center area)
Tel: 212-962-6622
9:00am〜8:00pm (7 Days)
Chinese/general Asian grocieries, gifts and sundries, medicines; takeout sushi
Comments: "A nifty place to shop for packaged and frozen foods, as well as some Japanese dishware and candy." -(Ami) (See also Ami's review here)
24 E. 41st St. (bet. Madison & 5th Aves., Midtown East)
Tel: 212-679-3777
11:00am〜8:00pm (Mon - Sun)
Hole in the wall restaurant with takeout bentos, onigiri, and such, plus a small grocery store.

See also Ami's reviews of bento suppliers and some groceries in the NYC area.


Family Mart
29-15 Broadway, Astoria (Queens)
Tel: 718-956-7925
10:00am- 1:00am (7 Days)
General Asian store. Fresh and packaged foods, some housewares, video rentals

Long Island

Nara Japanese Foods (actually formally Shin Nara Japanese Foods but everyone calls it Nara)
169A Main St.
Port Washington, NY (Nassau County, North Shore)
Tel: 516-883-1836
10:00am〜7:00pm (Sun, Tue - Fri), 9:00am〜7:00pm (Sat)
Small but well stocked Japanese grocery store. The store is cramped but impeccable. Food including fresh fish and meat, fresh vegetables, housewares, video rentals. Friendly lady runs the place.(maki)
This was where I used to shop when my family lived on Long Island. I was here last in February 2012, and they're still going strong! (maki).

Shin Nippon-Do Corp
63 Mineola Ave.
Roslyn Heights, NY (Nassau County, North Shore)
Tel: 516-625-1814
Japanese web site
Tue-Sun 10:00 - 19:00 or 18:30, depending on the time of year
Another small yet well stocked Japanese grocery store. A bit bigger and a bit better selection than Nara. Has things like kasuzuke (fish marinated in sakekasu or sake lees), koji for making amazake, and more. Checked out in Jan. 2011. In Nassau County this is the best Japanese grocery shopping option you have I think. (maki).
Note: This store is now part of the Fuji Mart group.

Westchester/Rockland Counties

816 White Plains Rd. Scarsdale NY 10583
Tel: (914)472-1468
Fax: (914)472-1459
Japanese web site
Tue-Sun 10:00 - 19:00 or 18:30, depending on the time of year
Small yet comprehensive Japanese grocery store. Mini-chain of three stores (in Scarsdale, NY, Greenwich, CT and Shin Nippondo in Roslyn Heights, Long Island.)
Kinokuniya Bookstore
3360 Palisades Center Dr (inside the Palisades Center mall)
Third level (floor plan)
West Nyack,NY 10994
Tel 845)353-6600 Fax: 845)353-0407
Nijiya Hartsdale
18 North Central Ave.
Hartsdale, NY 10530
(914) 949-2178
Mon - Sun 10:00am- 7:00pm
English/Japanese website
Part of chain of Japanese grocery stores mostly in California.
Nippan Daido, Inc
522 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605
Tel: 914-683-6735 Fax: 914-683-6737
English and Japanese web site
Japanese mini-chain with stores in White Plains NY and Houston TX. Food, housewares, kitchen appliances, video rentals. White Plains store also carries alcohol. Daido is an old store that has moved around a bit over the years (they used to have a store in Flushing, Queens, once a major Japanese enclave. Their Fort Lee, NJ store has also closed.)


1212 Putnum Ave. Old Greenwich CT 06878
Tel: (203)698-2107
Fax: (203)698-2105
Japanese web site
Tue-Sun 10:00 - 19:00 or 18:30, depending on the time of year
Small yet comprehensive Japanese grocery store.

Northern New Jersey

Mitsuwa New Jersey
595 River Road
Edgewater, NJ 07020
Tel: (201) 941-9113; Fax: (201) 941-5437
E-mail: newjersey [at] mitsuwa [dot] com
English website; Japanese website
Mitsuwa in Edgewater NJ is about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic, from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. The fare is $3 per adult, less for kids. Shuttle bus schedule from Feb. 1 2008. Large supermarket, mostly Japanese products, small regular American products section. Indoor side mall (food stalls, cafeteria style restaurant) plus outdoor side mall.
In the side mall: Sanseido bookstore is smaller than Kinokuniya but well stocked, has loyalty program (buy $200 worth of stuff, get stamps on card, get gift certificate). Utsuwaya tableware and gift store and Mars NY toy, housewares and gift store are connected (not sure if they are related or if it's just a convenience thing). If you are looking for bento boxes, Mars has a limited selection of the cute/kawaii kind. Utsuwaya only has restaurant-type or shokado bento boxes. There is also a Japanese run beauty salon.

My review from 2006.
"Over 2 hours from Philadelphia, so it’s not really close, but my parents and I will often make the excursion to this Mitsuwa because of its wide selection of goods." - (yoko)

Nippan Daido, Inc
Fort Lee store is no longer, but the White Plains, NY store remains. (See above.)
Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in Canada

General Canada notes: Vancouver has a large Asian population.

T & T Supermarket is a nationwide Chinese/Asian supermarket chain.


T & T Supermarket
Chinese and English web site
See store locations and hours for Alberta stores here.

British Columbia (Vancouver, Victoria, etc.)

Fujiya Japanese Foods
912 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC (604) 251-3711
112 1050 W. Pender St., Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604.608.1050
English web site
Also at
113-3086 St. Edwards Dr.
Richmond, BC
Tel: 604.270.3715
Also at
3624 Shelbourne Street
Victoria, BC
Tel: 250.598.3711
They say they deliver orders over $100 for free in the downtown core, and for a fee elsewhere. However you have to call them to order: 1.877.8.FUJIYA (385492)
Comments: "I can’t personally vouch for the Richmond and Victoria locations, but the Vancouver locations always have what I’m looking for and more. Many of our grocery stores have Asian sections but the products are always more reasonably priced at Fujiya than anywhere else. Besides packaged products, they have a fresh fish section and a counter making sushi which is extremely fresh and cheap. (Because we’re on the coast?) I was a little reluctant to give out the downtown location address because it is my favourite place for take-out sushi (not that I eat it every day) but it is super busy every lunch hour. They get twice daily deliveries from the main store of freshly made sushi and the line-up is out the door every day starting around 11:30 and doesn’t thin out until after 1PM. Crazy! -(julie)
"Lots of Japanese groceries that are hard to find anywhere else. Here’s the website" -(Maria)
Komatsu Japanese Market
140-1855 Kirschner Road
Kelowna BC Canada V1Y 4N7
Tel: 250 862-9338
Comments: "A small Japanese grocery store, Komatsu has many basic Japanese ingredients and has a freezer section with specialty ingredients such as thinly sliced beef, fish, gyoza, and daifuku. There are no fresh vegetable/fruit items, but they do have pickled daikon, sushi ginger, miso paste, konnyaku noodles, and other fridge items. They also have a sushi kitchen in the back; the store has some pre-made sushi meals in their fridge unit or you can order sushi made for you fresh. They also have some older manga and video tapes all in Japanese only. Prices are relatively good, slightly on the higher side." -(Nat)
Oriental Supermarket
2575 HWY 97 N
Tel: 250-762-2395
Annoying Flash-only auto-music-playing web site in English
Mon-Sat: 9:30am-6:00pm Sun: 10:30am-5:00am
Comments: "Recently moved and renovated, the Oriental Supermarket has tons of ethnic food items! Mexican, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese. Large freezer section, a good sized fresh grocery department, lots of dry goods and a sushi bar that makes the only good bubble tea available in Kelowna (that I know of). I blew over $60 the first time I visited the store after their renovations. One warning, however-ALWAYS check the expiration date on food products from this store-I have, on more than one occasion, unpacked my goods at home only to realize that I have to throw one or two things away. Prices at this store are considerably lower than Komatsu, but the products are most likely not as fresh, so keep a sharp eye." -(Nat)
T & T Supermarket
Chinese and English web site
See store locations and hours for B.C. stores here.


Korean Food Market
16 Parkdale Avenue North
Hamilton, Ontario
Tel: (905) 312-8989
Comments: "they offer a very large number of Japanese items." -(Valerie)

Toronto area

PAT Spring Garden Market
63 Spring Garden Av (off Yonge St, just North of Sheppard Av)
North York, ON M2N 3G1
Tel 416-226-5522
Comments: "Korean market with a good selection of sushi fixings" -(ghamina)
Galleria Supermarket
7171 Yonge St (North of Steeles Av)
Thornhill, ON L3T 2A9
Tel 905-771-1474
English and Korean web site
Comments: "Another Korean market with a good selection of sushi fixings, including sashimi" -(ghamina)
MITS Toronto
585 Yonge St
Toronto, ON
Tel: (416) 962-4860, Fax: (416) 962-4868
Japanese web site
Groceries, manga, video rentals, used Japanese books, manga _kissa_ (a cafe where you can sit and read manga...) with wireless intenet, package delivery service center for sending stuff to Japan via Kuroneko Yamato
Sanko Japanese Foods and Gifts
730 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario
Tel 416-703-4550
Mon, Wed-Sat 10:00am - 7:00pm, Sun 11:00am - 6:00pm, closed Tue
English and Japanese web site
Comments: "Great little store. They sell tea sets, rice cookers, dried foods, frozen foods, fresh foods. Lots of variety. It’s in a very busy area. There is street parking, but there are also two or three spaces especially for the store." -(kelly)
T & T Supermarket
Chinese and English web site
See store locations and hours for Ontario stores here.

Toronto also has a Japantown (J-Town) mall.


Asian Variety Store
159 Water Street, St. John’s, Newfoundland
Tel: 709-726-1698
Comments: "Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indonesia items, food as well as a small selection of decorative items and fresh sushi on certain days." -(Izumi)

Nova Scotia

Heiwa Oriental Market
7018 Chebucto Road
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Tel: 902-455-8383
Comments: "Primarily Korean, with some Japanese food, too." -(anon)


Montreal area

Ja Mae
2116 Boulevard Décarie
Montreal, Quebec
Tel: 514-489-9777
Comments: "Korean, with many Japanese products" -(anon)
382 Victoria
Montreal, Quebec
Tel 514-481-1952
English and French web site

Is your favorite store not listed? Let us know the details in the comments! (When the information from a comment is incporated into the main article the comment is deleted, to keep things neat and all.)

(Last updated on Feb. 9 2008)

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in Central/South America/Caribbean

(placeholder for the moment)

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in Europe

So far we have listings for Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

General notes on Europe: Japanese expat populations are the largest in London, Paris, and the business centers of Germany, especially Düsseldorf.

Let us know about your favorite stores, or comment on the ones already listed! (When the information in a comment is incorporated into the main article, the comment is deleted to avoid huuuge page syndrome.)


Tagawa Superstore
Chaussée de Vleurgat 119
1050 Brussels
Recommended by Cacahuete


Fiolstræde 32
DK-1171 Copenhagen
Danish web page
Japanese grocery
Den Kinesiske Købmand
Nørre Voldgade 54
DK-1358 Copenhagen K
Danish web site
Japanese grocery


See the France page.


Also see the Greece-Japan.com site. (In Greek and Japanese mostly.)

Soya Athens
Apollonos 33-35 Plaka
10556 Athens
email: info [at] soyaathens.gr
English, Japanese, Greek web site
Google Maps
Food, gift items, tableware, etc.


See the Germany page.


Japans & Koreaanse Delicatessen Shilla
Gelderlandplein 32-34
1082 LB Amsterdam
Tel:+31 20-6428423 Fax:+31 20-4422361
Comments: "My choice. What the name suggests. Stocks frozen, packaged and a limited variety of fresh products. Also has a small prepared food section. Friendly folks. Their website is not operational, however, here one can view an ipx and opening times" : link -(Basak)
Dutch, English and Japanese web site
Online only shop ("Takuhai" means "home delivery"). Delivers in the Netherlands and to other countries - contact them and ask if they will deliver to your location. Payment is by bank transfer only.
Comments: "I’ve ordered from them several times and haven’t had a problem." -(anon)
Yama Food
In the Shopping Arcade of Hotel Okura
Hotel Okura Amsterdam
Ferdinand Bolstraat 333
1072 LH Amsterdam
Dutch web site
Comments: "It is a very small shop; a bit difficult to navigate. Also pricier. Very helpful owner,though. They claim to stock over 1000 products imported by them." -(Basak)


Japantorget [CLOSED]
Arbos gate 2
0368 Oslo
Bernt Ankersgate 4
0183 Oslo
Tel: +47 22 60 40 54
Facebook page (Norwegian)
Comments: This is a new store run by the same people who operated Japantorget. It seems to be a readymade bento takeout/readymade food store (with both Japanese and Thai foods) with a small grocery section. Some photos on a Japanese blog here. (maki)


General notes on Portugal: Intermarché, a French supermarket chain, has a growing Asian food section -(Ana)

R. Navegantes, n.º 368-A
2750-444 Cascais (área da Grande Lisboa)
Tel.: 214 849 450/4 Fax: 214 849 459
E-Mail: yasuragi [at] mail [dot] telepac [dot] pt
Comments: "All products have a portuguese translation, which is nice because even in supermarkets you don’t have a translation on some products." -(Ana)


Seoul Plaza Slovakia
02 4437 3900
Submitted by Alice


General Spain notes: There seems to be a growing Japanese expat community in Spain, especially of retirees.

If you read Japanese there is a terrific forum for Japanese expats living in Spain, here. (スペイン探偵局)

There is a Japonica rice that is grown in Spain, called "Minori", produced by Okura Y Asociados Products, S.A. Web site. (But it has no contact info! Geez.)


Calle. Comte Borrell, 334-336
 08029 Barcelona
Tel: 93 439 30 40   Fax: 93 419 9539
Mon-Sat 10:00-14:00, 17:00-20:00. closed Sundays and holidays.
Bus: Pl. Francesc Macia, 6,7,15,27,32,33,34,41,59,63,66,67,68.
Japanese website, Spanish website
The site says it has fresh and frozen foods, folk art, housewares, sushi, onigiri and prepared foods. They will deliver.


Avda. Presidente Carmona, 9
28020 Madrid
Tel: 91 579 23 11   Fax: 91 570 7174
Mon-Sat 10:00-14:00, 16:00-20:00. closed Sundays and holidays.
Also at
Calle. Jorge Juan, 75
28001 Madrid
TEL: 91 575 0556
Mon-Sat 10:00-14:00, 17:00-20:00. closed Sundays and holidays.
Metro: 2 and 4 lines to GOYA
Japanese website, Spanish website
The site says it has fresh and frozen foods, folk art, housewares, sushi, onigiri and prepared foods. They will deliver.


Sun Ai
Tegnérgatan 15
11140 Stockholm
Japanese and Swedish web site
Groceries, housewares, books, sundries (including Hello Kitty stuff). Will deliver to Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.
Japan Food & Kitchen (JFK)
Swedenborgsgatan 28
11827 Stockholm
Japanese, Swedish, English web site
Food, kitchen appliances, etc. Sells restaurant supplies too (like a sushi robot).


General Switzerland notes: The biggest Japanese expat community is in Geneva. You can also increasingly buy some Japanese ingredients at the department stores (esp. Globus). Migros and Coop both carry a few Japanese/Asian (mostly Thai) products.

In the last 5-6 years, there has been an explosion (well in Swiss terms) of "Asian" restaurants in the major cities. Quality and authenticity varies. Most serve some form of sushi.

This page on the Laughing Lemon site (they offer highly regarded cooking classes in English and German, as well as catering) lists what's in season in Switzerland. See this page for dates and times of the markets in the major Swiss cities.


Gueterstrasse 138 (near the south entrance to the Basel Hbf)
4053 Basel
061 363 00 00
German web site
Bento lunch takeout, sushi catering. Not a grocery store. (Note: Closed? Web site is still up though, so maybe call before going.)

Genève (Geneva) and Lausanne

Alimentation Japonaise Miyai (CLOSED)
45,Rue de Zurich
1201 Genève
Tel 022-731-4862 Fax 022-731-6781
French and Japaneseweb site
Besides groceries, has bento and sushi that can be pre-ordered.
Rue de l'Ancien Port-9
1201 Genève
Tel. 022 732 47 74, Fax 022 738 87 97
Tue-Fri 09:00 - 18:30, Sat 09:00 - 18:00, closed Sunday and Monday
Email: info at mikado-food dot ch
French, Japanese and Korean web site
In recent years, Mikado seems to be concentrating more on the restaurant/catering side of things. Selection of groceries is a bit limited, though adequate for basic needs. Takeout sushi etc. are not bad. Delivers anywhere within Switzerland. (maki)
Rue Ferrier 13-15
1202 Genève
Tel: 022 731 26 01 Fax: 022 738 52 16
geneve at uchitomi dot ch
Mon - Fri 9:00 - 18:30, Sat 09:00 - 17:00, closed Sun (no sushi or comestibles on Mon)
French web site
also at
Ruelle Grand-Saint-Jean 5
1003 Lausanne
Tel. 021 312 40 01 Fax 021 312 40 02
Email lausanne at uchitomi dot ch
Mon - Fri 10:00 - 19:00, Sat 09:00 - 17:00, closed Monday and Sunday
A review here.

Also see moshi moshi, a site that lists Japanese restaurants in the Genève area in a tiny, tiny font.


General Zürich notes: There are quite a few Thai grocery stores. Migros City's fish department is pretty good for fresh fish. Increasingly, the morning markets are carrying Asian vegetables - in particular the Helvetiaplatz market and the Bürkliplatz market. At the latter, I've spotted things like shiso plants and fresh yuzu!

Aggarwal Indian Food
Langstrasse 62
8004 Zurich
(right near Helvetiaplatz)
Also stores in Basel, Bern, Langenthal
Tel: 044 241 28 79
Fax: 044 241 93 67
Monday - Friday 8 am to 8 pm, Saturday 8 am to 4 pm
German, French and English web site
An Indian/South Asian store, but has many produce items that are used in Japanese cooking like taro roots, okra, bitter gourd, etc. and a few Japanese ingredients like miso.
Lian Hua Asiatische Lebensmittel
Birmensdorferstrasse 94
8003 Zürich
(Tram lines 9 and 14, several buses, or any S-Bahn that stops at Bahnhof Wiedikon)
also at
Schaffhauserstrasse 269
8057 Zürich
(Tram lines 10 and 14 to Berninaplatz).
This is mainly a Chinese store but has Thai, Korean and a small amount of Japanese items too. Fresh vegetables used in Asian cooking are available here like garlic chives (nira), winter melon, gourd, lotus root, etc. 15% off all food items on Saturdays. A wordier review. (maki)
New Asia Market
Feldstrasse 24
Tel. 044 241 80 00
Trams 2, 3 or Bus 32 to Kalkbreite
General Asian store; not many Japanese ingredients but still useful. Has a few things Lian Hua doesn't. (maki)
Nishi's Japan Shop
Schaffhauserstr. 120
8057 Zürich (Tram lines 7 and 14, stop Guggachstrasse, or lines 7, 9, 10, 14 stop Milchbuch)
Tel. 044 363 11 63, Fax 044 363 28 92
Email: info at nishishop dot ch
Monday 13:30 - 18:30, Tue - Fri 09:00 - 18:30, Sat 09:00 - 16:00, closed Sun
Japanese, German and English web site
Maki's local! Small store with a surprisingly comprehensive selection. Sometimes runs out of stock of popular items like tofu, especially on weekends. See a wordier review. (maki)
Thanh Hung Import + Export AG
Wehntalerstr. 280
8046 Zürich
Tel. 044 371 38 77, Fax 044 371 39 55
General Asian grocery store.
Schützengasse 7
8001 Zürich
Just off the Bahnhofstrasse, a couple of blocks from the main train station
Tel: 044-750 51 61 Fax: 044-211 57 59
Korean grocery store with a lot of Japanese ingredients, plus of course Korean goodies. Prices comparable to Nishi's. See a wordier review. Also has a small eat-in counter and takeout. (maki)

Also see this page.

United Kingdom/Ireland

See UK and Ireland page.

Europe-only mail order sites

Many places with web sites listed will ship to you within Europe, or at least within the same country. Visit the sites and find out!

  • Japan Centre ships all over Europe. This page lists the countries to which they will ship food. Shipping is free within the UK over £30 worth of merchandise. They ship non-comestibles worldwide. In my experience, their shipping is expensive but very fast. Excellent service. In Switzerland at least the price including shipping is about the same as buying locally, so it's handy for stuff that the local stores don't stock.(maki)
  • Japan Food Hall ships all over Europe. A fairly new store (opened in 2014 I believe), located in Surrey, UK. This page lists the countries they ship to with tariffs. Prices are competitive with Japan Centre. I have bought from them a couple of times already and have been happy with the service. (maki)
  • Ja-Mart is based in Germany and also states on their web site (which is in German, English and Japanese) that they ship to various countries in Europe. Besides food, they sell kitchenware, tableware, etc. including some 220V electrical appliances such as Zojirushi rice cookers.
  • Wai yee Hong is a Chinese supermarket in Bristol, UK. They will ship all over Europe.

Let us know about your favorite stores, or comment on the ones already listed! (When the information in a comment is incorporated into the main article, the comment is deleted to avoid huuuge page syndrome.)

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in France

General France notes

Many of the large supermarkets, especially in and around the big cities, carry a small selection of Japanese ingredients like 'sushi rice', instant miso soup, rice vinegar and the like. Japanese food seems to be trendy.

Paristore is an Asian supermarket chain with stores in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg and Toulouse. Has a very limited selection of Japanese food supplies, but an extensive variety of Chinese/Taiwanese foods and other Asian foods, e.g. Indian.

If you are in an area with no Japanese stores, look for the 'does mailorder' indication of some Paris stores.

Natto du Dragon is a natto maker in Provence. Strong tasting but very nice natto. They do mailorder, but you may need to poke the guy a few times before he ships to you. See my review here.

This April 2009 article in Le Monde (French) indicates that the popularity of Japanese cuisine in France may lead to more Japanese groceries opening up. (Hopefully!)

General notes on Japanese food shopping in southern France from Maki

Since we moved to Provence in southern France a couple of years ago, I've had time to assess the Japanese food shopping situation here. The closest Japanese grocery store to us is in Lyon (see below), but the selection is very small so we've ended making an occasional trip to Uchitomi in Geneva (see the Switzerland section on the Europe page) for perishables. Geneva is about 4 hours away from us, so it's a day trip, but if we have business there anyway it's not a big deal.

For non-perishables, I usually buy by mailorder from Japan Centre in London. Even if it's from the UK and figuring in the extra shipping costs, I find their prices and selection are better than the Paris stores. Their website is really easy to navigate, which helps a lot. I have bought the occasional extra special thing from Workshop Issé (see listing below under Paris).

I don't actually get to Paris that often - it's a 7 hour drive from here, and parking is a nightmare, and if we go by TGV we can't carry much. Geneva is much closer to us.

Regular French "gourmet" food sites like Bien Manger have started carrying a variety of Japanese foodstuffs, but the prices are pretty outrageous compared to Japan Centre or even Kioko.

We can get very good fresh fish, even sashimi-grade, from our local fishmonger. Go and visit your local fishmonger to see what they have! We also saw some fantastic fresh fish in Brittany.


29 avenue Monclar
84000 Avignon
04 32 76 32 80
Comments: "An Asian store, but with some japanese supplies." -(Céline)
"Very tiny, nice people." (maki)
45 avenue Monclar
84000 Avignon
04 90 85 17 71
Monday - Saturday, 8:30–12:00/14:00–19:30
Comments: "Again, an asian store with a few Japanese products." -(Céline)
"Very tiny, again nice people." -(maki)


Comments: "The frenchbento blog and the blog of another japanese expat in Bordeaux ; blog no longer updated, as she got a job, but lovely for homemade food anyway)often refer to these stores." -(Céline)

La Maison du Japon
28 rue de Cheverus, Bordeaux
French web site
rue du Parlement Sainte Catherine, Bordeaux
Eurasie Bordeaux


General comments: "And some precisions about the store I mentioned : Kazuki and Kimchi (real mirin, for instance, not the corn-syrup based one) and have some dashi, umeboshi, katsuobushi and kombu ; Whereas Paristore don’t sell these basic products (not to my knowing anyway). consequently Paristore is obviously cheaper, but often run short of some supplies in the japanese section." -(Céline)

See this an in-depth look at Japanese food shopping in Lyon.

Japon Store
35, cours Gambetta 69003 Lyon (Métro Saxe Gambetta-Ligne B ou D)
Mon-Tue, Thu-Sat 9:30 - 13:00,14:30 - 19:00; Sunday and Holidays 9:30 - 12:00. Closed Wed
Japanese web site (a little French)
Comments: "The only store in Lyon with only Japanese groceries. Tiny but helpful, with a fairly large range of products ; the owner also sells bento on weekend, pre-order required -(Céline)
21 avenue Félix Faure 69003 Lyon(Métro Saxe Gambetta-Ligne B ou D)
04 78 62 75 30
Tue-Sat 09:00 - 19:00, Sun 15:00 - 19:00, closed Mondays
French and Korean web site
Comments: "A Japanese-Korean grocery store, alike to Kazuki." -(Céline
8 bld Joliot-Curie à VENISSIEUX ( bus 36, stop at Etats-unis-Viviani); also on the new Tram 4 line)
Comments: A big asian supermarket, with a wide range of supplies, some fresh vegetables, frozen food, and a Japanese department. -(Céline)
Comments: Not much in the way of Japanese products when I was there. I found it rather depressing and scruffy. In Lyon, I think you are better off shopping at Kazuki, Kimchi and Supermarket Asie, all of which are within walking distance of each other. (maki)
Supermarché Asie
12, Rue Passet
69007 Lyon
Métro or tram - Guillotière
Tel : 04 78 58 92 65
Comment: It's general asian store, but it has by far the largest selection of japanese items in Lyon for a reasonable price- A lot of their japanese stuff come from Kyoko (paris) or Kazuki. Shopping there from now on ! ^^ (Céline)
Comment: I got the impression that this is place is owned by Taiwanese people, since I saw a lot of Taiwan-specific things here. Has a better range of Japanese products than Paristore. (maki)


61 boulevard Plombière
Groceries, a general Asian 'all you can eat' buffet, housewares, etc.


Naturel et Bio
Rue d'Italie
84100 Orange, France
Tel: 04 90 34 43 03
French web site
Natural/bio grocery store
Comments: "What I spotted after a quick trip : A large section dedicated to brown rice ( several brands of thai long grain brown rice and round grain rice, but also glutinous brown rice!), albeit no japanese rice ; Azuki beans and azuki bean flakes, nori, wakame, kuzu,arrow-root and kanten powder, shoyu, tamari, various sesame seeds products, green tea of course, umeboshi, umeboshi paste and several kinds of tofu. I was pleased to see they had a good selection of brown rice - however I was a bit disapointed with the tofu products : they all had the typical rubbery texture of european-manufactured tofu. ^^p But overall it was a nice discovery!" (Céline)

Paris and environs

See A Frugal Eats Japanese blitz through Paris and Bento sightseeing in Paris.

There are two major shopping areas for Asian food: The Chinatown area, which is in the 13th arrondissement, and the 1st and 2nd arrondissements (Métro: Pyramides, Opéra, or Quatre-Septembre), which have a concentration of Japanese stores and restaurants. There are also a few stores in the 15th arrondissement (Métro: Charles Michels).

Ace Mart
63, rue Saint-Anne
75002 Paris
Tel: 01 42 97 56 80
Metro: Pyramides or Quatre-Septembre
Mon - Sat 10:00-20:00, closed Sun
Korean grocery store
Carries a lot of Japanese groceries (as is the case with most Korean groceries). Prices a tad cheaper than area Japanese grocery stores. Doesn't seem to be affiliated with Ace Opera, but rather with Hi Mart (see listing below).(maki)
Ace Opéra
43, rue Saint-Augustin
75002 Paris
Tel: 01 40 07 93 57
Metro: Pyramides or Opera or Quatre-Septembre
Mon - Sat 10:00-20:00, closed Sun
Korean grocery store
Carries a lot of Japanese groceries (as is the case with most Korean groceries). Prices a tad cheaper than area Japanese grocery stores. Doesn't seem to be affiliated with Ace Mart.(maki)
Big Store
81 avenue d'Ivry (Paris 13ème)
Wed - Sun 10:00-19:30, closed Mon, Tue
Large Asian supermarket in the Chinatown area.
According to a couple of Japanese blogs, this Chinatown store has the best selection of Japanese ingredients, followed by Paristore. Their "Pearl Rice" (_Shinju-mai_) from California is recommended.
Fast Don
52, rue des Petits-Champs (opposite Kioko)
75001 Paris
Tel: 01 4296 8624
Metro: Pyramides or Opera
Open 7 days (?) 12:00 - 15:00 for lunch; 17:00 - 23:00
At lunchtime this is a 'Japanese fast food' place that serves donburi (rice bowls) and such; also has takeout prepared food (osouzai) and bentos. At night time it turns into an izakaya.
Hi Mart
71-bis, rue Saint-Charles
75015 Paris
Tel: 01 45 75 37 44
Metro: Charles Michels
Mon - Sat 10:00-20:00, closed Sun
Korean grocery store
Carries a lot of Japanese groceries (as is the case with most Korean groceries). Prices a tad cheaper than area Japanese grocery stores. (maki)
83 Av Emile Zola, 75015 Paris
French and Japanese web site
Métro: Charles Michels
Tue-Sun: 10:30 - 20:00; Closed Mon.
Japanese grocery store. Does mailorder within France.
Comments: "The shop is off the beaten path of the 13th and the usual suspect of shops by the Opéra, thus less deleriously busy. Kanae has a great selection of fresh, packaged and frozen japanese products. The staff is always congenial and helpful. I highly recommend. (Jool)
46 rue des Petits Champs, Paris 75002
French and Japanese website
Tel: 01 42 61 33 65
Tue-Sat: 10:00 - 20:00; Sun: 11:00 - 19:00; Closed Mon.
Metro: Pyramides or Opera or Quatre-Septembre
Japanese grocery store. Does mailorder within France.
A Japanese grocery store, with a fairly comprehensive selection of Japanese products. Downstairs they have refrigerated and frozen goods, snacks, condiments and alcohol. Upstairs they have dried goods, dinnerware, instant noodles, and a small selection of bento boxes. Be sure to pick up their free paper (available at the entrance) if you speak Japanese. (maki)
46 rue Sainte-Anne
75002 Paris
Tel: 01 42 86 02 22
Metro: Pyramides
Open 10:00 - 22:00 every day except Sunday, when it closes at 21:00.
Sells prepared foods (osouzai), bento sets for eating in or takeout. Small grocery store section in back.
68 Passage Choiseul
75002 Paris
Tél: 01 4296 4837
French and Japanese website
Open M-F, 12-14:30; closed holidays
A tonkatsu and fried stuff (korokke etc.) restaurant that offers takeout bentos; bento menu is fixed and changes every day. Delivers within Paris. Operated by the same people who own Workshop Issé (see below).
Paris 13ème
Another large Asian supermarket in the Chinatown area.
Tang Frères
168, avenue de Choisy
Paris 13ème
Tel: +33 1 44 24 06 72
Another large Asian supermarket in the Chinatown area.
Comments: "To me it’s the best Asian store in France!" -(a big store in paris)
Toraya à Paris
10, Rue St-Florentin
75001 Paris
Tél : 01 42 60 13 00 Fax : 01 42 61 59 53
E-Mail : f-toraya [at] toraya-group.co.jp
Métro : Concorde (ligne 1, 8, 12) ou Madeleine (ligne 8, 12, 14)
Open Mon-Sat, closed Sundays and holidays.
Toraya is arguably the best regarded wagashi maker (with a nationwide presence) in Japan. Their yokan (sweet bean jelly block) is a surefire hit as a gift in Japan. The Paris location has a store and a small tea room where you can enjoy their sweets and green tea. (They used to have a NYC location which closed some years ago.)
Workshop Issé
11 rue Saint Augustin (Paris 2)
Tel: 01 4296 2674
Mon - Sun 11:00 - 19:30; closed on national holidays
French and Japanese website. Does mailorder within France and throughout Europe.
Purveyor of high end artisanal Japanese ingredients and alcoholic beverages. Mailorder and small satellite store.
Full report


27 Faubourg de Saverne
67000 Strasbourg
03 88 22 69 20
Super Asie Tien Hung
4 rue Charles Peguy
03 88 28 37 97
15 rue La Fayette
67000 Strasbourg
French web site
03 88 40 12 20
Also at
211 avenue de Colmar
67000 Strasbourg
03 88 40 05 18
A Thai store, obviously, but looks worth checking out.
Village Coréen
10 rue Ste Catherine
03 88 35 55 52
A small Korean grocery store.


Asia Delice
8, Rue Austerlitz
31000 Toulouse
05 61 12 00 90
Comment: "a little store which sells as much food as ustensils. The owner is not Japanese but knows well what he sells and answers your questions." -(Nolwenn)
Paristore - Asia Center
13 Rue Paul Gauguin
31100 Toulouse (Le Mirail)
05 62 11 53 50
Comment: "this Paristore is centered on selling to restaurants’ owners but everybody can buy. It is not a Japanese grocery, but they have a range of japanese supplies." -(Nolwenn)

Also see the excellent FrenchBento blog (French). She doesn't know of any bento suppliers in France...and if anyone would know, she would I think!

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian stores as sources for Japanese food


This is a continuation of my series on Japanese food shopping, and frugal eating, in Europe. Previously I visited Paris and Düsseldorf's Japantown.

Lyon, the third largest city in France and arguably the second most important one after Paris, does not have a large Japanese expat or immigrant population. However, there are some Japanese corporations that have factories or offices in the area, not to mention a large university population. So in terms of the availability of Japanese groceries in France, it ranks second to Paris, although it trails behind by a large margin.

The main reason I've been interested in Lyon as a source for Japanese food is that we are seriously considering getting a house in the Provence. Lyon is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from the Haut-Provence (northern Provence), the area we're looking at, so it would be my closest source. (Marseille, which has a Paristore but no Japanese groceries, is about the same distance away, and Avignon, about a 45 minute drive, has two tiny Chinese groceries.) I could order non-perishables from the stores in Paris such as Workshop Issé, or from Japan Centre and so on, not to mention have stuff sent over or bring them back from Japan, but that doesn't work for things like tofu, konnyaku, produce and frozen foods.

It also gives me a chance to talk a bit about where exactly you can find the Japanese ingredients that are mentioned here, regardless of the town you're in, because the shopping options in Lyon are limited yet straightforward.

Option 1 - Kazuki: The Japanese-owned Japanese grocery store

Kazuki (storefront pictured above) is a tiny, jewel-like boutique. In terms of presentation, it has a lot in common with Workshop Issé, but where Workshop Issé is selling high-end food and alcohol, Kazuki is at its heart just a regular Japanese grocery store. Things like cans of wasabi peas, ochazuke packets and run-of-the-mill furikake which only cost a few euros at most are displayed as if they were Hermés scarfs on sleek shelves. This is the Japanese aesthetic and penchant for neatness gone to the extreme.

Everything about Kazuki is beautiful and well presented, even their takeout bentos, which are neatly wrapped up in ribbon:


With a few exceptions, Japanese grocery stores tend to be rather neat and tidy places (though I've never seen one as pretty as Kazuki). They also tend not to carry any other Asian ingredients, though they may have a few Korean items.

Obviously a Japanese grocery store should be the first place to look for Japanese ingredients. If you want things like Japanese soy sauce from Japan, real mirin (hon mirin) rather than mirin-flavored cooking liquid (mirin fuumi choumiryou), go to a Japanese store, However, they can be a bit more expensive than other options, and because many Japanese grocery stores are small, the selection can be limited, especially when it comes to fresh produce.

Option 2 - Kimchi: The Korean-owned Korean grocery store


Kimchi, which is just a few blocks away from Kazuki, is a tiny yet fairly typical Korean grocery store. Korean stores always carry a large amount of Japanese items; usually the selection runs around 50/50 Korean/Japanese. Older Korean people often speak some Japanese.

I really liked Kimchi, because it also carries some 'biologique' items such as nigari (used to make tofu) and kuzu or kudzu powder (used to make kuzumochi, goma dofu and other things).

If you are lucky enough to have a large Korean market near you, it may be your first stop in a quest for Japanese foodstuffs, since they are likely to have most of the fresh produce used in Japanese cooking too. (Kimchi is too small to have any fresh produce unfortunately.)

Option 3 - Supermarché Asie: A Chinese owned Chinese grocery store

In terms of larger Asian grocery stores, there are ones that try to cover all of eastern and southern Asia, and ones that just concentrate on a particular region. Supermarché Asie, which is in the same general neighborhood as Kazuki and Kimchi, clearly concentrates on east Asia: China, Korea and Japan. And, although I don't speak a word of Chinese I can sort of tell apart Cantonese vs. Mandarin and different dialects/pronounciations (well, just aa bit), and I did get the impression that the store is owned by people from Taiwan. Taiwan has much stronger ties to Japan than mainland China, so a Taiwanese-owned store is much more likely to stock Japanese things.Of course, it's difficult to tell apart a Taiwanese store from any other kind of Chinese store just by reading labels, so you'll just have to look around.

The good thing from the standpoint of someone interested in East Asian cooking in general, is that a store like this can be a one-stop shopping destination.

Option 4 - Paristore: A general Asian/Exotic Food grocery store

Paristore is a chain of Asian supermarkets that has stores throughout France. I've only been to the one in Lyon so far, so my impressions are of this store.

Paristore is ostensibly a Chinese supermarket, but it also carries many other 'exotic' foodstuffs, from African to Middle Easten to Indian, Thai and so on. This does mean that the selection of Japanese products is quite small. While I did see Japanese-style rice (from Spain, Italy and California) and a few Japanese condiments, there were little else. However, many Chinese ingredients can be used in Japanese cooking, so it's not a total waste of time to go to a store like this.

What you have to look out for (and this holds true of Supermarché Asie too) are products that may look Japanese, with Japanese writing on them, which really aren't Japanese at all. For example, canned green tea is never sold with sugar in it in Japan, but it seems that green tea meant for the southeast Asian market often is. I also spotted some Chinese snacks (manufactured in Taiwan) with fake Japanese writing on them, in the way that many Japanese products have fake English, or Engrish, on them!

From the standpoint of Japanese ingredient availability, I think you can categorize most Asian markets in European and North American areas into these four categories. Three other categories are: Chinese stores catering to people who came from mainland China or Hong Kong (they carry very little if any Japanese food items); Thai/Malaysian Southeast Asian stores (these also carry very little if any specifically Japanese things); and south Asian/Indian stores (again not many Japanese ingredients if any at all, but may have vegetables that are used in Japanese cooking such as okra, taro root/satoimo, bitter gourd and sweet potatoes.) There are stores fitting all of these categories in Zürich, incidentally.

Special thanks to Céline, who has been great about keeping the Lyon and Provence sections of the Japanese Grocery Stores in France listing so up-to-date! That page is where you will find all the addresses and other pertinent information for the stores described below.

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping france

Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food and sake in the heart of Paris


From the outside, Workshop Issé looks like just another unassuming little Japanese grocery and gift store. There are quite a few stores of this nature scattered about Europe these days. But inside this little boutique in the heart of the Japanese quarter in Paris, you can experience something quite special: A crash course on top quality artisanal Japanese food and drink.

Inside the tiny store, sleek modern shelves are filled with what, to the untrained eye, might seem like the normal Japanese cooking ingredients - soy sauce, vinegar, spices, sake and other alcoholic beverages. Look closer though, and you soon see that these are no ordinary products. There's a soy sauce that's been aged for 2 years in ancient barrels; a pitch-black sweet miso that's been aged for 3 full years; finely sliced and dried battera konbu seaweed for making marinated mackerel. There are salted cherry blossoms that have been matured for six months, so no trace of bitterness remains. There are gardenia seeds (kuchinashi no mi), used as a natural yellow colorant - I've never seen these for sale outside of Japan, anywhere. There are what seem like dozens of fine sakes and shouchuus, and vinegars of all flavors and colors. This is a store with some seriously high end foodstuffs for sale.


The variety and quality of the selection is a little overwhelming, even for someone like me who at least knows what the products are. This store would be quite intimidating to someone not familiar with Japanese cuisine. But the Workshop part of Workshop Issé's name is a clue to their selling approach. Here, you can do a sampling of products, a degustation in fact (the method normally used to by a wine maker or merchant to sell wines), gently guided by a knowledgeable staff member, at least one of whom is a sake sommelier.

I had a chance to sit down and chat with with Monsieur Toshiro Kuroda, the owner and president of Workshop Issé. Having owned and run a Japanese restaurant in Paris for nearly 4 decades, he started Workshop Issé two years ago. His main reason, he said, was simply because he couldn't get a hold of the high quality ingredients he wanted from Japan through existing channels, so he decided to import them himself. There are no mass produced products here. All are of the highest artisanal quality; a typical supplier has 20 employees or less, and has been in business for more than 200 years. Here's M. Kuroda with his dog Pii-chan.


Besides selling via their web site and the boutique directly to customers, they also supply some of the best professional kitchens in France. For instance, if you've had the yuzu-flavored macaroons from Pierre Hermé, the yuzu juice and powder came from Workshop Issé. They also sell to the Michelin three star restaurant Troisgros.

I asked M. Kuroda about his marketing approach. He said that his mainly French customers take very well to the concept, since they are after all used to buying wine this way. They also don't blink an eye at the prices for their Grand Cru equivalent sakes, which can cost up to €250 per bottle and more.

It's obvious that M. Kuroda, not to mention his staff, take great pride in what they are doing. And no wonder - their product lineup would be impressive even in Tokyo. I don't know of a store like it anywhere, certainly not outside of Japan.

My budget that day was not up to buying a Grand Cru sake, so I picked up a few things that intrigued me. Here are a bottle of ume vinegar, and aged soy sauce. I love the classic labels, and the simple list of ingredients - for the soy sauce, just soy beans, salt, wheat. The ume vinegar is made from organic ume plums.


And here's some stone ground yuzu powder. Now I usually have this sent to me from Japan (or I buy it there), but it's nice to know it's available on this side of the world. The fragrance of this slightly coarse powder is wonderful, and the slightly bitter citrusy taste is addictive.


Is Workshop Issé worth a detour in Paris, even if you go to Tokyo regularly? I would say absolutely yes, unless you are thoroughly familiar with Japanese cuisine, speak and read Japanese fluently, or have a Japanese gourmet guide at your side. The combination of the carefully selected range of products and the knowledgeable staff, who speak Japanese, French and English, make this store a real winner. And if you aren't going to Tokyo on a regular basis and live anywhere near Paris or are visiting, and love Japanese food and cooking, it's a must stop.

I guess the only negative things about Workshop Issé are: They don't really have much in the way of fresh ingredients. There is a small refrigerated section with a limited supply of things like tofu and vegetables, plus real grated wasabi in a tube (€15, but worth it). Also, their prices are not cheap by any means, but you are paying for top quality.


Workshop Issé
11 rue Saint Augustin (Paris 2)
Tel: 01 4296 2674
Open 7 days, 11:00 - 19:30 with no lunch break. Closed on national holidays.
French and Japanese website. Mailorder within France and throughout Europe (but verify if they can ship something to your destination first).
Besides food and alcoholic drinks, they also have a small selection of dinnerware and gift items (they did have a couple of nice bento boxes).

You may also want to check out the rest of the Issé & cie. Japan-in-Paris mini empire: Bizan, a high end kaiseki restaurant; Issé, a 'tempura and tapas' restaurant; Momonoki, a tonkatsu and obento restaurant; and O-bento, a bento delivery service. All are described on this page (French). You can buy some readymade foods (osouzai) from the last three establishments at Workshop Issé too.

For a look at cheap Japanese eats in Paris, see A Frugal Eats mostly Japanese blitz through Paris.

(Merci beaucoup to Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini for telling me about Workshop Issé!)

Filed under:  food travel japanese ingredients shopping france paris

Japanese grocery stores in Germany

General notes on Germany: The biggest Japanese expat community is in the Düsseldorf area.

Updated May 2009.

Mailorder company based in Germany

Ja-Mart is based in Germany and also states on their web site (which is in German, English and Japanese) that they ship to various countries in Europe. Besides food, they sell kitchenware, tableware, etc. including some 220V electrical appliances such as Zojirushi rice cookers.
Comments on Ja-Mart: They tend to be rather slow in responding, though they do eventually ship! They sell some unusual items such as _natto kinase_ (natto spores) for making their own natto! For Swiss shoppers, they do ship to Switzerland though it's not listed in their dropdown menu of countries. (maki)


Daruma Japan Food
Uhlandstr. 61
10719 Berlin
TEL: 030 8736131


See my in-depth report on Düsseldorf's Japanese quarter around Innermanstrasse. Also see this article which described Düsseldorf as "Little Tokyo on the Rhine".

Bakery My Heart
Marienstr. 26
40210 Duesseldorf
TEL: 0211 5504760
Mon-Fri 8:00-19:00, Sat 9:00-18:00; closed Sun
Japanese-style breads, baked goods and sweets. Has a sleek modern cafe area for eating in.
Bakery Taka
40210 Duesseldorf
TEL: 0211 350374
Mon-Fri 7:30-19:00, Sat 7:30-18:00; closed Sun
Japanese-style breads, baked goods and sweets. Has a few tables for eating on the spot. (maki)
Dae-Yang Asiatische Lebensmittel/Taiyo Shokuhin
Immermannstr. 21
40210 Duesseldorf
TEL: 0211 357227
Mon-Sat 9:00-20:00; closed Sun
Korean grocery store with a large number of Japanese foodstuffs (about 50/50). Dinnerware, cookware to the left of the store. Fresh fish counter. (One of the two grocery stores to target on Innermanstrasse - maki)
Kim's Asia Center
Stresemannstr. 27
40210 Duesseldorf
TEL: 0211 369922
Korean/Asian market with Japanese products.
Several locations
Annoying Flash only site in German
A Japanese deli. Bento boxes, readymade foods (osouzai) and sushi etc. to go. Also does catering. (Was not overly impressed by the quality - maki)
Rewe Nahkauf
Luetticherstr. 17
40547 Duesseldorf
TEL: 0211 588432
Shochiku Im-Export GmbH
Immermannstr. 15, 40210 Duesseldorf
Tel: 0211 365959
Mon-Sat 8:00-20:00; closed Sun
Japanese grocery store, also has Korean foodstuffs (about 60/40 Japanese/Korean). Nice looking fresh fish and meat counter, a small fresh produce area. Narrow aisles, crowded. (One of the main grocery stores on Innermanstrasse. I liked their takeout sushi better than Maruyasu's. -maki)


Akebono Catering
Hausenerweg 23
60489 Frankfurt
Tel: 069 7894530
Himawari Handel
Closed, according to a recent comment.
Mori Craft GmbH
Schlossstr. 24
60486 Frankfurt/M
Tel: 069 9520 8542


E-Shin Shopping
Grete-Nevermann-Weg 22-24
22559 Hamburg
TEL: 040 810925
Heng Who
Gotenstr. 3
20097 Hamburg
TEL: 040 230036
Sakai Shoten seit 1953
Grindelberg 41
20144 Hamburg
TEL: 040 4221914
German and Japanese web site
Vinh Loi
Klosterwall 2a
20095 Hamburg
TEL: 040 325889

Köln (Cologne)

Heng Long Asia Supermarkt
Aachener Str. 201-209
50931 Koeln
TEL: 0221 2828800

München (Munich)

Munich also has several general Asian food stores. See this page for a big list.

Frischmarkt Sano
Frauenstr. 11
80469 Muenchen
TEL: 089 23685941
Part of the Sushi Sano group, which does have a working website (in German), but they seem to have let the domain frischsano-markt.de expire.
Y. Suzuki - Japanische Feinkost
Rumfordstr. 40
80469 München
S-Bahn - Isartor
TEL: 089-2166 9555
Fax:089-2166 9554
ysuzuki at t-online.de
Japanese and German web site
Japan Shop
Westenriederstr. 47
80331 München
S-Bahn - Isartor
Tel.: 089 226663
Fax: 089 2904779
Färbergraben 10
80331 München
U-Bahn/S-Bahn - Marienplatz
Tel.: 089/26 03 343
Japanese web site

Two non-food stores:

Herzogstr. 7
80803 München
U-Bahn - Münchner Freiheit
Tel.: 089/34 94 54
Fax.: 089/39 56 85
German web site
Non-food. "Japanese lifestyle" goods: furniture and fixtures, ceramics, handmade kitchenware, etc.
Ohmstrasse 3
80802 Munich
Tel.: 089 33019644
Mon-Fri 11am - 7pm, Sat 11am - 4pm
Main store web site in German; Mailorder web site in English and German.
Non-food. "Japanese lifestyle" goods: books, manga, CDs, DVDs, Hello Kitty. Where Japanalia pushes traditional goods, Japansalon sells 'hip' and 'cute' stuff.
Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in the UK and Ireland


We do have some listings for Ireland in the comments below...I'll incorporate them in here soon!


General UK notes: Obviously the vast majority of Japanese and Asian groceries are located in and around London!

London and environs

Arigato Japanese Supermarket
48 Brewer Street
London W1F 9TG
020 7287 1722
Comments: "A nicely laid out mini-supermarket with a prepared food/bento section. Prices are generally a little higher here than at the Rice Wine Shop." -(Loretta)
Centre Point Food Store
20-21 St. Giles High Street
London WC2H 8LN
Tel: 020 7836 9860 Fax: 020 7240 1702
Korean and English web site
Comments: "Japanese and Korean store. Conveniently situated near Tottenham Court Road station, this good sized grocery stocks most of the common Japanese staples. Staff are friendly and very helpful with any Korean food questions you might have." -(Loretta)
Japan Centre
19 Shaftesbury Ave.
London W1D 7ED UK
Tel: Multiple: See website
English and Japanese web site
e-mail: foodshop [at] japancentre [dot] com
Comments: The same company also operates a Japanese/Asian food cash and carry. They also run their own Japanese bakery, a ramen shop, and a lot more! See their website for more. This is where I get most of my mail-orderable Japanese groceries, since shopping from them is cheaper even if I add the shipping cost from the UK to France. (maki)
Japan Food Hall
Unit B Alpha House, 158 Garth Road, Morden Surrey, SM4 4TQ
Note: This is a mailorder only operation
English andJapanese website
Email: sales [at japanfoodhall.com
A fairly new store (opened in 2014 I believe). This page lists the countries they ship to in Europe with tariffs. Next day delivery on the UK Mainland. Prices are competitive with Japan Centre. I have bought from them a couple of times already and have been happy with the service. (maki)
Oriental City (CLOSED)
Rice Wine Shop
82 Brewer Street
Japanese web site
Comments: "I feel great loyalty to this store. Although small it has an excellent selection of groceries and consistently good prices. Can be accessed with a wheelchair (a squeeze but possible)" -(Loretta)
According to the site they will delivery to the UK mainland (though their site is all in Japanese...)
Seoul Plaza
Seoul Plaza 4
136 Golders Green Road
London, NW11 8HB
020 8731 7999
Several other locations
Korean and English web site
Comments: "Not Japanese, but Seoul Plaza in Golders Green has a decent range of Japanese stuff. And looking at their website there are 3 branches in New Malden, one in Cambridge, and one in Bratislava (!). Not been to any of the others but I expect they also stock Japanese food." -(Alice)

(below is still unformatted - working on it!)

Oriental Delight Fairly pricey, but centrally-located and has a bigger range of Japanese food than the Chinese supermarkets nearby.

14 Gerrard St, London W1D 5PT 020 7439 1183

Wing Yip

Chinese but has a seperate Japanese section, as well as a decent selection of fresh produce. Prices are about as good as you’ll get in London, especially if buying in bulk. Haven’t been since they finished the remodelling of the Cricklewood store, and never been to the others. I usually visit every couple of months to stock up on basics in bulk, much easier to drive there (plenty of free parking) than to try and lug 5kg bags of rice back on the bus!

Wing Yip http://www.wingyip.com Chinese supermarket chain

395 Edgware Road Cricklewood London NW2 6LN Tel: 020 8450 0422 Fax: 020 8452 1478

544 Purley Way Croydon CR0 4NZ Tel: 020 8688 4880 Fax: 020 8688 8786

375 Nechells Park Road Nechells Birmingham B7 5NT Tel: 0121 327 6618 Fax: 0121 327 6612

Oldham Road Ancoats Manchester M4 5HU Tel: 0161 832 3215 Fax: 0161 833 2798

Hoo Hing Comments: "Same deal as Wing Yip. Only been to the Park Royal store, didn’t like it as much as Wing Yip so only been the once. Can’t remember how much Japanese stuff it actually had either but there was some!"

Hoo Hing

A406 North Circular Rd Near Hangar Lane Park Royal London NW10 7TN

Lockfield Avenue Off Mollison Avenue Brimsdown Enfield Middlesex EN3 7QE

Dorma Trading Park Staffa Road London E10 7QX

Bond Road Off Western Road Mitcham Surrey CR4 3EB

Hoo Hing Commercial Centre Freshwater Rd Chadwell Heath Romford Essex RM8 1RX

Others There is also Oriental City, which I’ve never been to and the many Chinese supermarkets in Chinatown which have some Japanese stuff and fresh produce. There used to be a lovely little Japanese shop called Unohana in Golders Green (opposite the tube station), it closed for renovation according to the sign in the window but now seems to have closed for good. It was quite expensive and didn’t have a huge range but did sell ‘sushi-quality’ fish and decent ready-made sushi and bento boxes. If it ever reopens I will post about it.

Alice | 25 January, 2008 - 17:29

Oriental City - Colindale (North London - UK)

Name: Natural Natural Address: 20 Station Parade, Uxbridge Road, Ealing Common W5 3LD 1 Goldhurst Terrace, Finchley Road NW6 3HX Website: http://www.natural-natural.co.uk/naturalnatural/indexe.html http://www.natural-natural.co.uk/naturalnatural/indexj.html

Not London

(Not formated yet!)

Wai Yee Hong Wai Yee Hong Eastgate Oriental City, Eastgate Road, Eastville, Bristol, BS5 6XX

Tel:0845 873 3388

Fax:0845 872 2288

web site in English

Korea Foods Mart Unit 5 Wyvern Industrial Estate, Beverley Way,New Malden, Surrey, KT3 4PH 020 8949 2238

Seoul Plaza 1 36 High Street, New Malden, Surrey, KT3 4HE 020 8949 4329

Seoul Plaza 2 126 Malden Road, New Malden, Surrey, KT3 6DD 020 8942 9552

Seoul Plaza 3 91-93 Mill Road, Cambridge, CB1 2AW 012 2330 3610


Besides Wing Yip (see above)

There is a small Korean grocery on Bristol Rd., near Selly Oak station, which also carries Chinese and Japanese groceries.

Day-In Supermarket Chinese supermarket


Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in Australia, New Zealand, Pacific

Japanese grocery stores (or stores that stock Japanese food products) in Australia and New Zealand. If your favorite stores aren't listed, let us know the details in the comments!


Adelaide (South Australia) area

Little Tokyo! Japanese Food, Fashion & Culture
2a Victoria Square, Adelaide SA 5000
(08) 8231 2255
Comments: "A small shop, but stocks a small but varied range of food items, homewares, tableware, DVDs & books. They regularly stock the Urara, Putifresh & Clickety Click bento boxes, but usually only in sets, containing a box, bento bag & chopstick set. They also occasionally have cutters, sauce bottles, onigiri moulds & picks, the range depending what they can import, I suppose! This is the only place in Adelaide that I can reliably find bento supplies. The food range is great - all the items have a ticket on the shelf with both the Japanese & English name, which is a great boon to those who can’t read Japanese! You can get difficult to find items such as sakura denbu and tarako spaghetti sauce. There is a frozen range with croquettes, kamaboko etc, and tofu, noodles etc in the fridge. The staff are quietly helpful, and I’m sure would be happy to advise on how to prepare a particular ingredient." -(alioc)

Brisbane (Queensland) area

102 Mary St, Brisbane
Comments: "Mostly Chinese but a good Japanese section. Reasonable prices and sometimes good sales." -(sherd)



Koz Market
85 Elizabeth St, Brisbane
Tel: (07) 3220 2677
Comments: "Has a good range of Japanese & Korean food, reasonable prices. Not very big." -(sherd)

Melbourne area

Perth (Western Australia) area

Nippon Fare
Crossways Shopping Centre
Crnr Rokeby Rd and Bagot Rd
Comments: "They don’t carry any fresh veggies, herbs etc, but they have a massive range of frozen, dried, bottled, packaged etc. goods."-(Hayley)

Sydney (NSW) area

Asian City
Shop 2
369 Victoria Ave.(in Victoria Plaza)
Chatswood, NSW
(02) 9419 8088
Comments: "Mostly Chinese goods, but they have a pretty large Japanese selection. Really, really good prices."-(Dina)
Jusco Asian Supermarket & Butcher
Level 6, Westfield Chatswood
1 Anderson St, Chatswood
Korean, Japanese, Asian groceries. See this page.
VPlus Supermarket
Shop 10-14
Campsie Centre
14-28 Amy Street
Tel: (612) 9718 8699 Fax: (612) 9718 6670
Open 7 days (check web site for hours)
Chinese and English web site
Also at
Shop 1008-1010
Westfield Shopping Centre
Cnr Bathurst Street and Elizabeth Street
Tel: (612) 9602 8688 Fax: (612) 9600 8300
Also at
Shop 42
Metro Shopping Centre
34 Victoria Road
Tel: (612) 9550 3877 Fax: (612) 9550 5022
Also at
Shop 217
Gosford Town Centre
Cnr. Henry Parry Drive & Donnison Street
Tel: (612) 4322 8699 Fax: (612) 4322 3099
Comments: "I use the one at Liverpool regularly, They have a decent range of Japanese food items but you will have to often search through the isles for what you want as the staff don’t know the Japanese names of things as the store tends to cater more towards chinese." (Becki)

New Zealand

(none listed yet!)

Japanese grocery stores (or stores that stock Japanese food products) in Australia and New Zealand. If your favorite stores aren't listed, let us know the details in the comments! (Once the information in a comment is incorporated into the main article, the comment is deleted.)

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in Asia (other than Japan)

I need to update this section soon! In the meantime, take a look through the addresses listed in the comments.

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Japanese grocery stores in other places

Middle East, Africa, and other places.

(placeholder for now)

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

Food related shopping places in Japan you should visit

Please limit your suggestions to stores and places that are food-related: edibles, supplies, equipment, etc.

Precce Premium - Tokyo

Comments: "In a city where food presentation is elevated into an artform, this store peddles food pornography of the most sordid and explicit kind. I'm surprised the wheels of my chair didn't go rusty from the dribble trailing from my open mouth. From the displays of unbearably beautifully fruit to the softly cascading clouds of dry ice that caressed impeccably fresh fish in dream-like soft-focus, this store is nothing but a delectable series of temptations." -(Loretta) Link, Map.

All the 100 yen shops you could ever want to visit

...are all listed on this Guide to 100 yen shops by region (Japanese only unfortunately, but it's a start!)

See these articles on Just Hungry and Just Bento:

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping japan equipment and supplies

Mailorder merchants that ship Japanese goods worldwide

These Japanese-food-goods oriented companies ship worldwide.

See also Overseas Shipping Services on this page.

Mailorder sources

Sites that I've tried myself are marked with a (maki).

General stores

These mailorder stores carry a wide variety of products, edible and otherwise.

  • J-List: Food is limited to snacks and so on. Also carries lots of bento supplies, dinnerware, utensils, cookbooks. Carries a lot of NSFW products (mainly manga, anime of a hentai bent) but has age check. (To go directly to the SFW section without the hentai DVDs and such, go to JBox.com - same company, PG rated.) Prompt service, website is a bit cumbersome, but a big selection of things to browse through. (Note that Just Hungry is a J-List affiliate; by clicking on the link to make your purchases you help to support the site at no cost to you.) (maki)
  • Japan Centre: food only within Europe, but equipment and books worldwide. Very prompt service, easy to use website. (maki)
  • Japonmania is a site in French and English. They list several bento boxes and such.
  • Katagiri: Their web site states they ship worldwide, though I suspect that policy applies to the non-edible housewares. They do ship food all over the U.S.

Bento suppliers

See this comprehensive page on our sister site, Just Bento: Where to buy bento boxes and equipment.


  • Evergreen Seeds: Japanese and other Asian vegetable and herb seeds. My favorite source for Japanese seeds, other than my mom! (maki)
  • Hibiki-an: A tea farm near Kyoto.
  • Korin: Knives, tableware, kitchen ware. Also has a showroom/store in NYC.
  • Zensuke: Kitchenware, tableware, gifts from Japan. A nice selection.
  • O-cha.com: A green tea seller. I like their matcha-green tea mix iced tea bags. (maki)

Overseas shipping services

These companies act as your 'friend who lives in Japan', for a fee of course. You have things shipped to them from merchants who don't ship overseas, which they will then send it to you. The commission is usually around 10%, but it pays to compare their service fee structures (some require a flat service fee on top of the percentage.)

The following 3 services frequently offer 3,000 yen off if you purchase more than a certain amount from Rakuten and some other shopping sites.

  • Tenso may be the biggest shipping service. Their web site is in English, Japanese, Mandarin and Cantonese. They charge a 10% fee for receiving and shipping your package to you. They can also consolidate multiple package for you before shipping them out to you, for an additional fee. Comments: I've used them a couple of times, and they are fairly reliable, although they are very slow sometimes responding to questions. (maki)
  • Goyokikiya is my packing shipping service of choice at the moment. However, they don't seem to have an English explanation page - although they do have an English login option. They are very fast, respond to questions in a timely manner, and don't charge extra for consolidating packages. (maki)
  • Baggage Forward Com is a service based in Osaka. They charge similar fees to the two above. Because they are based in Osaka, their packages tend to leave a day or so later than the ones leaving from Narita, in my experience.

  • DankeDanke (English and Japanese site) Comments: "I have used dankedanke a couple of times, with no problems. Shipping was very fast." -(anon.)

  • i-TM4u (English only site), but their blog (English) makes me think they are Japanese. Note: as of November 2014 they seem to be out of business? Comments: "I use i-tm4u for anything I want to buy from Japan, especially when the company does not ship OS. I've bought a few Bento boxes as well as other non Bento items through them and they have always been well packaged and arrive quickly. Their commission is low and shipping is very reasonable." -(Becki)

"Today i received my work-of-art lunchbox and can say that i-TM4U [...] is a very good and reliable shopping agent. It is very difficult to communicate with Japanese companies in English so i was glad to rely on their help with payment, shipping etc. i-TM4U was very accurate with all the info, the box was very well packed as i asked and the pricing is reasonable, too." -(Anna from Russia)

  • Japan to Door (English only site) - offers similar services.
  • Rinkya. Comments: "I’ve used Rinkya a few times, and they’re pretty reliable." -(anon)

If you know of other places, let us know in the comments!

Filed under:  japanese ingredients shopping equipment and supplies

The Japanese Food and Cooking Lexicon

This handbook leads to articles about Japanese food and cooking terminology. I think that it may be even more necessary now that Japanese food has become popular outside of Japan.

Filed under:  japanese ingredients terminology

The Mystery of Japanese "Sauce"

Bulldog sauce bottles

Miso, soy sauce, bonito flakes...these are the kinds of ingredients you'd expect to be used in Japanese recipes. But there's another ingredient that appears very often, and it's usually just called "sauce" or so-su (ソース). What is this "sauce" anyway?

This is the most popular brand of Japanese "sauce", although there are several other makers. It features a picture of a Bulldog. Some people call all "sauce" Bull-Dog sauce.


On the English version of the Cookpad site, it was decided early on to call it "Japanese Worcestershire-style sauce". It does indeed taste like that classic English sauce made with mystery ingredients including anchovies, but it's a lot thicker, sweeter, browner. "Sauce" appears on all kinds of foods, from Japanese hamburgers (which are more like 'hamburger steaks' rather than American burgers)...


...to okonomiyaki...


...and a lot more. Besides being used as, well, a sauce, it's also used to add flavor to stews and soups, in marinades, and a lot more.

So what is this "sauce" anyway? While there are variations, called tonkatsu sauce (used on tonkatsu or breaded deep fried pork cutlets); chuunou sauce (pictured above) which just means 'medium-thick' sauce, usta- sauce, which is the Japanified version of Worcestershire (but usta- sauce is nothing like original Worcestershire sauce); okonomiyaki sauce, and so on. There's little difference between them though, except in the degree of sweetness, and a slight difference in fruitiness and viscosity. Most "sauces" list "vegetables, fruit and spices" as their ingredients, plus amino acids (umami), sweeteners, caramel coloring and other things depending on the type.

"Sauce" apparently made its debut in the late 19th century in Japan, when it was sold as a different kind of soy sauce. This didn't work out well, since it tasted so different from well, real soy sauce. "Sauce" really only took off in the post-World War II era, along with the rapid growth in popularity of westernized or yohshoku (yoshoku) cooking, which had previously been limited to the big cities.

While it's still associated with yoshoku, as its use on things like okonomiyaki and takoyaki shows it's now used as a flavoring ingredient for all kinds of cooking. For example the Japanese version of stir fried noodles, yakisoba, is flavored with "sauce", unlike the Chinese version (lo mein) which is flavored with a soy sauce base.

焼きそば(きじ本店, 新梅田食堂街) Kiji(Okonomiyaki, Umeda)

So do you need "sauce" in your Japanese cooking pantry?

Well..it all depends on how much it costs for you. If you live near a Japanese, Korean or general-Asian grocery store, and it's fairly inexpensive, then by all means have a bottle around. You can use any brand you like, although Bull-Dog brand is quite reliable. (Bull-Dog sauce apparently used to be called "Inu-jirushi So-su", which means "Dog Brand Sauce". I think the name change was a good idea...)

"Sauce" can be used for things other than Japanese food - on all kinds of meaty or deep fried dishes, in stir fries, and so on.

As I mentioned above, I don't think there's a big enough difference between the "sauce" types to require stocking up on all of them, unless you want to of course or can spare the cash and space. Okonomiyaki sauce is sweeter and thinner than chuuno sauce for example, but there's not a big difference. See below for ideas for doctoring any kind of "sauce". For what it's worth, right now I have one bottle of chuuno sauce in my fridge.

Reasonable substitutes for "sauce"

If you don't have a Japanese/Asian grocery store near you, you can substitute other brown sauces. Traditional British Worcestershire sauce (such as the one from Lea and Perrins) is a great sauce and flavoring ingredient to have around anyway, but it's not really a good substitute for Japanese "sauce".

For that purpose I have at various times used A-1 Steak Sauce in the U.S., and HP Sauce in Europe. (Here in France, the latter is sold in our local supermarché in the "ethnic" food section.)

Both are a lot tangier than Japanese "sauce" though, so you need to temper it a bit. Adding sugar works, but molasses or golden syrup may work better. You can try adding some grated apple (a sweet variety, not a sour cooking variety) too. For okonomiyaki, you may need to add sugar or other sweetener in a 1:2 ratio of sweetener to sauce to come close to commercial okonomiyaku sauce. Or, if you like your okonomiyaki with mayonnaise too, add a bit more mayo to neutralize the sauce's tanginess. Of course if you like tangy sauce anyway, you can just use one of those sauces straight.

I have seen a few recipes suggesting oyster sauce as a "sauce" substitute, but to me the flavor profile is quite different, so I recommend one of those sauces mentioned above instead.

[By the way, I'm boosting up my 'Japanese ingredients explained' section. If you need a Japanese ingredient explained in detail, and you can't find an explaination here yet, just let me know and I'll see what I can do.]

Filed under:  japanese ingredients yohshoku