10 Essential Food Ingredients In Japanese Cuisine

Honestly, I’m a big fan of Japanese foods. I can’t explain how much I get excited while sitting at a Japanese restaurant and waiting for a hot bowl of tasty ramen. Drinking the ramen water remaining in the bowl after I swallow up the last noodle piece, is so satisfying to me.

As I enjoy eating Japanese foods, I wanted to cook Japanese food myself, at home. I found a few Japanese recipes which seemed easy to do. But I was wrong!

First of all, my kitchen lacks almost all the food ingredients in Japanese cuisine, and unfortunately, these ingredients are not very cheap outside of Japan. So, I guess I’ll stick to eating out at a Japanese restaurant.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to the most commonly used ingredients in Japanese cooking, right after recommending you my all-time favorite Japanese foods.


5 Popular Japanese Dishes You Must Try

It was really hard for me to choose only five but here are the top five most delicious Japanese foods you must try when you visit Japan or when you go to a Japanese restaurant nearby.

Sushi – 寿司


When Japanese cuisine is mentioned, probably the first food that comes to mind is sushi. Since Japan is a huge country surrounded by oceans, its cuisine includes various seafood, and no doubt sushi is the best seafood on Earth.

Let me describe how sushi is prepared for those who haven’t tried eating sushi so far; sushi is made from rice combined with raw seafood. The sushi rice is usually seasoned with rice vinegar, and fish or any seafood is placed in the middle of the rice. Lastly, it’s wrapped in seaweed.

Ramen – ラーメン


Even though it is still debated whether ramen originated from China or Japan, ramen is a very popular dish and you can see ramen restaurants almost everywhere in Japan. There are many different types of ramen suitable for people following a special diet.

A typical ramen bowl includes meat, noodles, and various vegetables seasoned with spices.

Okonomiyaki – お好み焼き


Okonomiyaki is one of the most popular street foods in Japan. It has different versions named after cities such as the Hiroshima version and Osaka version. Since each version has different ingredients, their taste is also different from one another. Another popular version is contrary to the typical okonomiyaki recipe.

A typical okonomiyaki is made from a savory pancake, eggs, and chopped cabbage which is the main ingredient.

Onigiri – おにぎり


Onigiri is a very common food in Japan because it is easy to make, a grab n’ go kind of food. Japanese people usually put it in their lunch boxes for lunchtime at school or work.

Onigiris are basically rice balls with a filling inside, but they are molded in a triangular shape. The filling ingredient is flexible, you can change it according to your preference.

Since onigiri is a very quick and easy-to-find food, it is one of the most popular Japanese foods among travelers as well.

Shabu-shabu – しゃぶしゃぶ

shabu shabu

Shabu-shabu is a tasty hotpot dish, in which vegetables and thin slices of meat are boiled in water, then they are dipped into a sauce. It is known as a healthy and refreshing dish since it doesn’t contain any kind of fried ingredient.

One of the reasons why shabu-shabu is popular is that it is a fun activity. You gather around a hot pot and socialize while eating.


What Is The Most Common Ingredient In Japanese Dishes?

Soy sauce is the most essential ingredient and it is added to almost all Japanese dishes. Salt is replaced with soy sauce in Japanese cuisine, so if you want a savory flavor, add soy sauce instead of salt.

Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, and it is also used as a dipping sauce too. Usually, it’s mixed with rice vinegar, mirin, and spring onions to create a base for Japanese dishes.

soy sauce


10 Essential Food Ingredients In Japanese Cuisine

Let’s have a look at other essential Japanese ingredients listed below and make sure to stock your pantry with proper ingredients before trying Japanese cooking at home. Why don’t you use this article as a shopping list when you go to a Japanese market?

1. Soy Sauce – 醤油

As I mentioned before, soy sauce is a must-have ingredient in many Japanese dishes. A good quality soy sauce has a delicate taste and blends easily with other ingredients. It’s also an all-purpose ingredient to keep in your kitchen for stir-fries, or any kind of hotpot dishes.

When buying soy sauce make sure to read the list of ingredients as there are many soy sauce variations containing nasty ingredients.

2. White Rice – ご飯

Japanese white rice is a type of short-grain rice that sticks together easily when cooked, so it’s perfect to eat with chopsticks. Onigiri is made with Japanese white rice that’s why it doesn’t fly to pieces when eating and that makes it easy to eat with chopsticks.

3. Sushi Rice – 米

Sushi rice is a multi-purpose type of rice to have in the kitchen when cooking Japanese food. It is short grain and gets sticky when cooked. Sushi rice is especially perfect for sushi.

The difference between usual white rice and sushi rice is that sushi rice is seasoned with sushi vinegar.

4. Rice Vinegar – 米酢

Rice vinegar is generally used to make sushi rice mentioned above, but it is also used in some Japanese salads and dipping sauces. It has a very delicate taste compared to other common vinegar on the market.

5. Mirin – みりん

Japanese mirin is a sweet rice wine containing a lower alcohol rate compared to sake. It’s used for only cooking in Japan. It is used to add a slight sweetness to Japanese dishes such as soup stocks, and dumpling fillings.

6. Noodles – 麺

As you know, noodle dishes are very popular in Japanese cuisine. The noodles used in Japanese dishes are divided into smaller categories, such as udon noodles and soba noodles, based on their size, texture, and purpose.

7. Sake – 酒

Japanese sake is an alcoholic drink made from rice and it is widely used in Japanese dishes. Japanese people use sake in the same way Europeans use wine in cooking. So, if you don’t drink any alcohol like me, make sure to check the ingredients in Japanese food before you eat it.

8. Tofu – 豆腐

There are different kinds of tofu available in Japanese markets including silken tofu which is perfect for salads and soups, and firm tofu which is generally used in hotpot dishes and stir-fries. Fresh tofu can also be eaten uncooked.

9. Japanese Seven Spice – 七味

It is called Shichimi Togarashi in Japanese. This awesome collection of seven spices adds an interesting dimension to the taste of a dish and also adds extra nutrition as each spice comes with different health benefits.

The seven-spice mix consists of chili, orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, seaweed, Japanese pepper, and ginger.

10. Miso – 味噌

Miso is made from fermented soybeans, salt, rice, and koji. There are different types of miso, which come in different colors; light brown or reddish brown. Usually, the lighter the color is the milder the taste becomes. As you can understand from its name, it is the main ingredient of miso soup.

If you are a fan of Japanese cuisine, I’m sure you’ll also become a fan of the Japanese language and culture. Why don’t you try learning Japanese? Read below to learn how to start learning Japanese!


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