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 should 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 should 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. There are fake types as well. Either is fine, but the real one is better of course!
  • Sake: Japanese rice wine. Yes, similar to the one you have at Sushi place, but for cooking, the left over and/or cheap variety which you may not want to drink is fine.
  • 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!!!)
  • Wasabi: I like the tube kind better than the powder. If you don’t like that kind of spiciness, skip it.
  • Fresh ginger: I really prefer fresh kind to powdered. Totally different flavors.
  • 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 convienient if you don’t have time. Many Japanese in Japan use it not just for noodles, but in many dishes like Japanese style omlettes, 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 that should do it!  As you increase your repertoire of Japanese cuisine, you can begin to add more to your pantry.

L to R: Dashi & Mentsuyu; Rice Vinegar; Miso Paste; Sesame Oil, Mirin


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