For many years the Japanese kitchen remained a mystery to many people, and it was only until Sushi restaurants began to appear, did the concept of eating Japanese food begin to capture the imagination of an increasing number of people, simply because Japanese food has its own distinctive tastes and appearance, is healthy and basically easy to prepare.
Japanese food is mostly rice based, and can be spicy but not overly so, with lots of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices being the principal ingredients.
There a number of basic ingredients that you will need to have on hand when you set off to cook a typical Japanese meal. Here is a list of the top five.
Surprising though it may seem, the most popular ingredient of any Japanese dish is rice. But not just any rice- Japanese rice. Most home cooks when they think of rice almost always connect up with either Persian rice, Jasmin rice or some of the other common brands of Thai rice. However Japanese cuisine lends itself much more to rice that is basically tasteless as well as being capable of absorbing and retaining lots of water which is highly important in the preparation of Sushi.
Japanese food is characterized by its many subtle flavours, with a lot of the nuances being provided by the adding of Soy Sauce to herbs and vegetables. Once again it is important for the sake of authenticity to find a genuine Japanese Soy sauce with the most popular Japanese brands, which can be found in most leading supermarkets or oriental food stores coming from the Kikkoman Company. Kikkoman produce two types of soy sauce, the first Koikuchi which stands out for its black, deep colour and Usukuchi which is lighter in colour but has a saltier taste. An experienced Japanese chef will know exactly where to add each of these varieties of this essential ingredient.
Rice wine is another must on the list of essential ingredients in Japanese food, with Sake being the best known, while Mirin also carries out the same role in flavoring rice, although it comes with considerably lower alcohol content. By adding rice wine, the rice will not only taste better but will have a shiny appearance and be less inclined to stick to the cooking pan.
Good Quality Raw Fish
As the bulk of the Japanese menu is based around raw fish, it’s possible to understand why a good fish stock powder is a very common ingredient in Japanese cooking. Other flavorings that will need to figure near the top of any Japanese shopping list are Ponzu which adds lemon flavoring to Japanese dishes and also mayonnaise, but only that made in Japan.
Add to that list lots of fresh vegetables, particularly peppers as well as raw fish especially salmon as well as edible seaweed known as “Nori” which is used to bind the “maki-zushi” variety of Sushi.
Cooking Japanese food can be an invigorating challenge for any competent cook. However the chances of success will be that much higher if the proper ingredients are used.
Andrew is a specialist in Japanese food. Over the last 4 years, Andrew has been distributing equipment for Japanese restaurants including conveyor sushi belts and rice cookers. Allan is also a regular blogger and forum contributor.