Essentials in cooking Japanese Food

by KK

When you want to cook “exotic” cuisines, there are some essentials that you need to prepare in your kitchen. For Japanese food, some of the main ingredients would be:




-Vegetables, especially green leaves and mushrooms


Today, I would like to focus on seasonings, and make some suggestions of what you should buy in order to start cooking.

Here is a list of basic seasoning necessary in Japanese cooking.

1. Soys sauce: a dark salty looking sauce that  most of you are familiar with. The most basic soy sauce  is made only from 3 ingredients; soybean,  malted rice and salt. You can buy soy sauce in most super markets in Sydney for around $2-$5(250ml). I do have a “special” soy sauce at home, an organic one, which is very expensive ( 😦 ) and used sparingly…

2. Miso : a brown colored paste made from the same ingredient as soy sauce; soybean, malted rice and salt. One day, I would explain the difference between these two, for the time being,  please just note that this paste is necessary when making miso soup! You can but it at large super markets in Sydney, or at most Asian grocery stores for $4-$7(400g). Once open, keep it in a container inside a fridge. They last for a while but be careful that the don’t get too dry.

3. Konbu(dried kelp), Dried Shitake Mushroom,  Dried Sardines, Dried bonito flakes; these “dry” ingredients are necessary to make “broth” that is one of a key factor in Japanese cuisine. An authentic restaurant would have different type of dried kelp to suit the menu they are preparing. Many vegans and microbiotics would cook using kelp and mushroom. I found dried shitake mushroom sold at Woolworths the other day, but unfortunately, kelp and sardines and bonito flakes are only available at Asian grocery shops. They do last for quite a long time, and we do use a lot of it in the cooking, so it may be worth to invest in it and store it in your pantry.

4.Salt and sugar: I prefer and recommend to use mineral salt, finer the better in most Japanese food. By using good quality salt, you will be able to “pull out” the taste of vegetable and make it tastier without using other seasonings. For sugar, instead of using white sugar, we use raw sugar or brown sugar at home. We do use sugar in many of our cooking, but this can be substituted by using Mirin (see below).

5.Sake and Mirin: Sake is Japanese cooking rice wine, and can be  bought at most Asian grocery stores. Mirin is an alcohol made from  glutinous (sweet) rice, and can add the extra sweetness to your dish without using sugar. Mirin also adds gloss to your teriyaki, and although it can be substituted with Sake + Sugar, I recommend having a small bottle in your cupboard somewhere 🙂

6.Sesame oil and other oils: I used to use rapeseed oil when I was in Japan for my basic cooking, and sesame oil to add that extra aroma to my dressing and stir fries. Try to use oils that are organic and cold pressed if possible, it is rich in aroma and tastes good even when the meal gets cold. I do use olive oils and grape seed oils  as well in my cooking. The more variety, the better, but if you just want to stick to the basic, go for sesame oil.

7.Vinegar: one of the things I miss most from Japan is “Yuzu”, a citrus that we often use in cooking. It is sweeter than lemon, but not a fruity sweetness like orange, can’t find a substitute for it yet. I will keep my eyes open! You can buy “Pon-Zu” and “Aji-Pon” at Asian grocery stores, it is a mixture of yuzu and soy sauce, but you can never beat the real fresh thing. Vinegar is used in cooking rice for sushi, and added to a lot of our dressing. I keep apple vinegar (not apple cider vinegar) and rice vinegar at home, white vinegar is fine, but I find it a bit tangy for Japanese food. I will try and find the best mix and recommend it soon…


So, 8-10 items necessary for Japanese food. I don’t know if you consider this too many, but things like salt, sugar, and vinegar must be lying around in your kitchen anyways, so just change those to start with. Soy sauce and sesame oil are used in other Asian cooking as well. If you don’t have Sake(rice wine), you can use dry white wine instead and Mirin can be substituted with Sake(or dry white wine) and raw sugar, so Miso is the only seasoning that you may not be familiar with!

I hope this works as some advice to your next shopping list 🙂 !


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