What do you need to cook Japanese food at home?

Many people ask me what they need to cook Japanese food successfully at home.

Here’s the secret. If you want to cook Japanese food, you may want to invest in a few key Japanese seasonings. Don’t worry, they are not that expensive – and you can use them for other kinds of food, and they last for a while. Most large supermarkets in major cosmopolitan areas have these things. If not, try an Asian market near your house. They are most likely to have them for a cheaper price and often more variety.

  • Soy Sauce: Japanese kind is preferred. Kikkoman is readily available in most supermarkets.
  • Mirin: Sweet cooking wine, also called Hon-Mirin (hon means “authentic” or “real”). Aji-Mirin are not real mirin, OK as a substitute, but if there are both, get the real one.
  • Sake: Japanese rice wine. Yes, similar to the one you drink at Sushi restaurant, but for cooking, the left over and/or cheap variety which you may not want to drink is fine. Do not get cooking-wine. Can be substituted with dry white wine in a pinch.
  • Sesame oil: dark kind is preferred.
  • Rice vinegar: Japanese kind is preferred. Mizkan is readily available. Those from Philippine etc. taste significantly different.
  • Dashi: Japanese fish stock. There are powdered kinds and liquid kinds (see photo). Or you can buy bonito flakes and make it on your own. If you are vegetarian/vegan, you can use kombu (sea kelp) stock.
  • Sesame seeds: There are white and black kind, roasted whole, ground kind etc. Start with the roasted, white one.
  • Miso Paste: not as important, but if you love miso soup, it’s a must! (And you can eat it every day!!!) There are types that already have dashi in it.  For a typical non-Japanese house-hold, you may find this more convenient. Red ones (Aka-miso) are favored in North and Eastern Japan: saltier and more flavorful (in my opinion), white version (Shiro-miso) are used more often in the Western Japan. Sweeter and more subtle. They also have mixed that are called “Awase-miso” (meaning mixed miso), which you may want to start with.
  • Wasabi: I like the tube kind better than the powder. If you don’t like that kind of spiciness that comes straight to your nose, skip it.
  • Fresh ginger: I really prefer fresh kind to powdered. Totally different flavors. You can peel the skin and freeze it in the freezer, grate frozen one, if you rarely use it.
  • Extra: Men-tsuyu: Japanese noodle soup base. You can make a lot tastier version of this with soy sauce, mirin, sugar and dashi. However, men-tsuyu is convenient if you don’t have time. Many Japanese in Japan use it not just for noodles, but in many dishes like Japanese style omelets, soups and stews like oden, nimono, as well as salads, and even Japanese savory egg custard which all Americans seem to love. I think this is busy cooks’ (and non-purists’) friend.

As a start these will do!  As you increase your repertoire of Japanese cuisine, you can begin to add more to your pantry.

Later this week, I will post a secret to make miso soup easily at home… If you love miso-soup, or you have ever bought those expensive freeze dried kind from a store, this is a must read!!!  Be sure to subscribe from the top right so that you will not miss it.

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment!

L ot R: Bottled Dashi, Rice vinegars, Miso, Sesame oil, Mirin
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