Tofu's mild taste makes it very versatile. Abura-age is thinly sliced momendofu, fried in oil until it swells fully, and then again at a higher temperature. This keeps the tofu's original texture on the inside while the outer skin stays crisps. It is popularly used in miso soup and noodle soup or used to make inarizushi (sweetened and cooked aburaage filled with sushi rice). Atsuage is the name for deep-fried tofu block, while ganmodoki is a fried tofu dumpling made with vegetables and sesame seeds.
An is made from azuki beans and sugar, and is used in traditional Japanese confectionery. The two main types of an are tsubu an (made from a lightly mashed paste so the beans retain their shape) and koshi an (smooth, thoroughly blended an). Azuki is highly nutritious, containing linolenic acid, which helps to lower cholesterol, anti-ageing vitamin E, protein and calcium. It is full of fibre and in spite of its sweetness, an actually contains much less fat than confectionary made with cream.
Aonori is a variety of aromatic seaweed used as a garnish or for seasoning in many Japanese dishes, usually sprinkled in dried flake form over hot food such as yakisoba (fried noodles), o-konomiyaki (savoury pancake), or added to tempura batter. Protein rich, it also contains beneficial minerals such as calcium, magnesium and amino acids. Aonori occurs naturally in the calm, warm water of the bays of the south of Japan, where its cultivation is a major industry.
The thin Japanese chive asatsuki has been used for centuries in Japanese cuisine. It is high in nutrients with a lot of protein, vitamins and calcium. Its leaves have a pleasantly hot, spicy flavour which has long made them prized for use in seasoning dishes. Like negi (welsh onion), it has a strong aroma and a flavour not dissimilar to garlic, and can be used to reduce the odour of raw fish and meat. Asatsuki is also often used as a garnish for hiyayakko (chilled tofu).
Awamori is an alcoholic beverage produced in the southern islands of Okinawa. Although made from rice, it differs from sake in that it is distilled not brewed, and uses Thai Indica rice rather than short-grained Japonica rice. The method for distilling Awamori was first introduced to Okinawa from Thailand in the 15th century, and was refined using a unique white koji mould indigenous to Okinawa. Awamori is an extremely robust drink, and can be 60% proof, with its alcohol content rising further as it ages.
Bancha is a grade of sencha made from tea leaves harvested towards the end of the growing season. As the leaves used are coarser than those used for other sencha, it is regarded as being of slightly lower grade, but its sweetness and smooth taste make it the most commonly drunk type of sencha. Bancha has a high concentration of polyphenols giving bancha powerful antioxidant properties, and it is believed to strengthen the immune system. It has a milder flavour compared to other sencha and goes well with food.
Beer was first test-brewed in Japan in 1853, following a Dutch recipe. The country's first brewery was established in the 1870s and beer, especially lager, has since become very popular as an accompaniment to Japanese food. Japanese beer drinkers consider a beer's kire (literally “cutting”), or ability to cleanse the palate, as being particularly important and major Japanese beers are brewed for a sharp, clean finish. In 1994, it has become easier for smaller breweries to gain brewing licences and the variety of original, regional beers has greatly increased.
Benishoga is one of the most popular types of pickled ginger in Japan, along with gari. Instantly recognisable due to its bright red colour which it gets from the red perilla leaf, it is pickled in a solution left over from the production of umeboshi pickled apricots. It is then usually shredded, and sprinkled on a wide range of popular dishes including o-konomiyaki (savoury pancakes), yakisoba (stir-fried noodles) and gyudon (beef and rice bowl), to which it adds an invigoratingly sharp flavour.
A yellow fruit with large seeds, similar to small plums in size and shape, biwa have a succulent, juicy flesh which combines a delicately sweet taste with a distinctive acidity. Biwa are known for their health-giving properties and are particularly rich in vitamins C, B1 and B2. Biwa can be eaten either raw or processed to make various types of jellied confectionery or used to make delicious jam. They can even be used to produce a sweet liqueur.
Chikuwa, which literally means “bamboo ring”, is so called because it resembles the cut end of a bamboo stalk. Seasoned white fish paste is skewered on bamboo or metal spits, then grilled or steamed, although the former is more common nowadays. Usually eaten chilled as a side dish, often dipped in soy sauce or used to accompany beer or sake, chikuwa makes a good low-fat source of protein. It can also be used in o-den or grilled and eaten hot.
Invented in the 1940s, the popular drink chuhai derives its name from an abbreviation of gshochu highballh. In the lean post-war years, the average person could not afford the mix of whisky and soda in a highball, and so shochu was used as a more affordable alternative, often flavoured with grape or plum. There is now a huge range of chuhai available, mixed with everything from soft drinks to green tea. Often sold in cans, chuhai is popular for its relatively low alcohol content.
Chukamen noodles are made from wheat flour kneaded together with egg, salt and a special kind of carbonated water. The noodles come in different styles, the most common being long and cylindrical, but there are also curled and flattened varieties. Chukamen are most commonly served in soup in the hugely popular dish ramen, which has three basic flavours: soy sauce, salt and miso. Ingredients such as pork, fried vegetables and seaweed are often added. Chinese noodles are also served cold in summer in a dish called hiyashi chuka.
Sake is traditionally sold in large bottles known as issho-bin (with a volume of approximately 1.8 litres). In the 1960s, as part of an effort to make sake more appealing to a younger generation, the concept of cup sake was introduced. The small handy-sized glass cups have proved extremely popular and a huge range of cup sake is now available. Sold in a wide-range of places such as convenience stores and train stations, the convenience of cup sake makes it ideal for the famous hanami cherry-blossom viewing.
Introduced to the country by British traders in the 19th century, curry and rice has become a firm favourite in Japan. It is usually made by frying and boiling the meat and vegetables then adding a premixed curry roux. There are many varieties of roux, ranging from mild to very spicy. Two kinds of roux can be mixed in order to get the desired flavour. Pre-cooked vacuum-packed curries with meat and vegetables are an even easier option. Similarly, there are roux for stews, as well as convenient pre-cooked packet forms.
Literally meaning 'cheap sweets', dagashi are assorted traditional confectionery. Their unrefined shapes and old-fashioned flavours still appeal to Japanese people today. Varieties of dagashi include: karinto, made from wheat and sugar, fried and coated with melted brown sugar; boro, biscuits made from wheat, buckwheat or potato starch and egg which were brought to Japan from Portugal around 450 years ago; and mamegashi, which come in many varieties, are made from soy beans, peanuts and other beans or nuts coated with wheat or sugar, and are crispy and puffy in texture.
This distinctive large carrot-shaped white radish is rich in vitamins and fibre, with a crisp, peppery taste. The leaf and stem contain more vitamin C, calcium and iron than the root. Daikon is eaten in a variety of ways including simmered dishes, salads and hotpot dishes. It can also be eaten either grated (daikon oroshi) or as pickles (takuan). Grated daikon with soy sauce is a common garnish on grilled fish, steaks or hamburgers, and is a common ingredient in salads. Kaiware (daikon sprouts) are a common garnish for sushi and salads.
Dashi is one of the stocks which form the basis of almost all Japanese cooking. Dashi is commonly made by heating katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), konbu (kelp), shiitake mushroom or iriko (sardine) and draining off the resultant broth. It is used for flavouring dishes such as soups, nabe (hot pots), sauces and rice dishes. Dashi in easy-to-mix powdered form is very popular as it can be used to produce authentic-tasting Japanese cuisine without the effort that making stock from scratch entails.
Japanese cuisine is full of examples of new great-tasting foods that have been invented by adapting the food of other nations. Japanese salad dressings are particularly good examples of this. Made from ingredients such as soy sauce, sesame oil and seeds, shiso, umeboshi, yuzu, and dashi, these dressings perfectly complement salads containing Japanese ingredients such as tofu, seaweed, konnyaku, daikon radish and sashimi.
Edamame are special varieties of green soy beans harvested while they are still young, before they harden. Once picked, edamame are most commonly boiled and seasoned with salt, for a perfect accompaniment to beer in bars and Japanese restaurants. They can also be frozen after boiling. The beans are served still in their pods, which are picked up and squeezed directly into the mouth. Edamame are healthy, and serve as a good source of proteins, carbohydrates, calcium and other nutrients.
Enoki dake is one of the most widely-consumed mushrooms in Japan. It is easily recognisable, composed of bunches of small mushrooms on very thin stalks. As the wild variety of enoki dake resists cold well, and can thrive even in snowy conditions, it is also known as yuki-no-shita (“under the snow”) or winter mushrooms. Its light, subtle savoury flavour makes it a highly-adaptable ingredient that can be used in many dishes, but it is most commonly found in miso soup, nabe hotpots and sukiyaki.
Made from dried wheat gluten, fu is a highly digestible spongy dough and is available in various forms, including fresh (nama fu) or roasted (yaki fu). Originating in China, fu has been produced in Japan for hundreds of years. It is used in a number of Japanese dishes such as miso and o-suimono soups and sukiyaki (a beef and vegetable dish). It has been recognised as a valuable source of protein in classic Japanese kaiseki ryori (formal cuisine) and shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine).
Along with rakkyo, fukujinzuke is one of the most popular of Japanese pickled accompaniments, particularly with curry. Made from various finely-chopped vegetables such as radish, aubergine, cucumber, lotus root and shiso buds, it is pickled in soy sauce, sugar or mirin and a range of other spices. The pickles are named after the traditional Shinto Seven Gods of Fortune (Shichi Fukujin). The savoury taste, subtle sweetness and pleasingly crunchy texture mean that fukujinzuke are also appreciated as a popular accompaniment to white rice.
Furikake is a savoury condiment that comes in powder or flake form in shakers, bags or in individual sachets. It is used as a topping to add both taste and nutritional value to boiled rice, as well as fulfilling a decorative function. There are many different varieties of furikake, made from dried fish, seaweed, shiso, ume, egg and sesame seeds. To make salmon furikake, for example, salmon is first cooked then dried and ground into small flakes. Other ingredients such as sesame seeds and nori flakes are then added.
Gari is prepared by taking thin slivers of ginger root and then pickling them in plum vinegar, giving it a slightly sweet taste, striking pink colour and a pungent aroma. It is most commonly eaten with sushi, for which it is an essential accompaniment. This is not only because of its antibacterial qualities, which make it ideal for eating with raw fish, but also for its effectiveness in cleansing and refreshing the palate between dishes allowing the taste of the fish to be fully appreciated.
Genmai is unpolished brown rice with the husks removed but the bran and germ intact. Slightly nutty tasting and more “chewy” than hakumai, genmai is both delicious and extremely nutritious, containing four times the vitamin B1 and E, three times the fibre and twice the vitamin B2 and iron of hakumai. Going well with almost any ingredient, genmai can be used as a substitute for hakumai. It contains an element that naturally stimulates the metabolism, helping reduce the signs of aging, and improving the condition of hair and skin.
Roasted brown rice is added to green tea to produce genmaicha which is light brown in colour. As some of the grains of rice pop during roasting, the tea has a distinct popcorn flavour, and is also referred to as “popcorn tea”. The addition of brown rice results in a tea that is low in caffeine and bitterness. Today, it is universally popular due to its mild flavour and the pleasant nutty taste of the roasted rice.
The edible nuts of the gingko tree, native to China, ginnan have white shells and firm, yellow flesh. As they spoil quite quickly, they are most commonly sold in cans, pre-shelled and parboiled, or dried. They are added to chawan mushi (savoury egg custard) and as one of the ingredients cooked with rice to make takikomi gohan. Ginnan can also be enjoyed roasted, often as an accompaniment to beer, and are highly nutritious, rich in vitamin C and carotene.
A thick brown root with a distinctive earthy flavour, gobo is extremely low in calories and has a high dietary fibre content that can help lower cholesterol. It is so healthy that it is thought of as a medicine rather than a vegetable in China. In Japan, it is often eaten after soaking it in vinegar to remove the bitter taste. Kinpira gobo is a popular dish made from thin slices of gobo, cooked with carrots. It also goes well with pork in miso soup (tonjiru).
Sesame oil is used in stir-fries and fried dishes as well as for seasoning. It has a delicious aroma and a rich, nutty flavour, and has the effect of reducing gbadh cholesterol. Extracting the oil from toasted seeds gives the oil a strong aroma and a dark brown colour. If fresh seeds are used, the oil tastes richer and its colour is lighter. A special oil is available for frying tempura, the lightly-battered fish and vegetable dish which is hugely popular in Japan.
Pale green in colour and meaning gdew droph in English, gyokuro has long been considered the very finest of Japan's green teas. Made using the earliest leaves of the spring harvest and grown under a shade cover, cultivating gyokuro takes great skill. There is a strict selection of only the finest leaves, which are then lightly steamed to prevent oxidation. Gyokuro's delicacy means that it should be brewed at a low tempereture over a long period of time to reveal the best flavour.
Hakumai (white rice) generally refers to polished short-grain Japonica rice and has been a staple of the Japanese diet since ancient times. Forming part of the traditional Japanese meal combination along with miso soup and tsukemono, hakumai is a highly nutritious source of protein, fibre, vitamin B, calcium and iron. As well as being easier to digest than genmai, hakumai's glutinous texture means that it is easy to pick up with chopsticks and its mild taste makes it a perfect accompaniment to almost any food.
Many varieties of green vegetables are cultivated in Japan from winter to spring, as they are vulnerable to the intense heat of summer. Hakusai contains an abundance of carotene and vitamin C, and is said to provide protection from the flu. Often used in stir fries or boiled in soup, because hakusai loses a lot of volume when it is cooked, meaning that a whole multitude of vitamins can be taken in by eating a lot in a single meal.
A traditional fish paste product made from white fish, often mixed with yamaimo (Japanese yam) and believed to date from the Edo period. It is white with a soft, spongy texture and mild taste. It is one of the most common ingredients in o-den, a popular winter dish which consists of various ingredients stewed in a light dashi broth. It can also be fried with butter. Hanpen is low in fat, high in protein and a rich source of calcium.
Harusame are translucent, thin noodles, originally made in China from the starch of ryokuto (green mung beans). The Japanese adapted the main ingredient to create noodles from potato and sweet potato starch. This method became widespread during the post-war period and remains popular in Japan today. Harusame noodles are available in dried form and need to be soaked in water before using. They have a naturally tender texture that lends itself to a variety of dishes including soups and salads.
Hatsuga genmai is unpolished brown Japonica rice that has been allowed to germinate. This makes it more palatable that ungerminated genmai, as well as increasing the levels of nutrients it contains. Hatusga genmai is rich in vitamins and minerals and includes gamma-aminobutyric acid which functions to reduce blood pressure. With all the health-giving benefits of brown rice, germinated brown rice has a softer texture and a pleasing aroma. It can be used as a base to make delicious zosui rice porridge.
Hijiki is a porous, black seaweed with a surface that is less viscous but has more texture than other seaweeds. It is normally sold dried and should be reconstituted with water before use. Hijiki contains a lot of calcium and fibre. It also contains a high level of iron. Hijiki is normally simmered with chopped vegetables such as carrots, fried tofu and beans, and seasoned with soy sauce and mirin, and served as a tasty side dish.
Himono literally means “dried things”, but it commonly refers to dried seafood, which generally contains more calcium, phosphorous, iron and potassium than raw seafood. Popular himono includes sardine, horse mackerel and especially squid, which is known as surume. There are numerous ways to make himono: maruboshi refers to fish that are dried after being soaked in salt water. Mirinboshi refers to seafood that is dried after being soaked in mirin. Himono is served as a popular traditional breakfast.
Hojicha, roasted green tea, was first produced in the Kyoto region in the early twentieth century, and has become extremely popular. Made by roasting large bancha leaves and twigs over charcoal, it has a strong, nutty flavour mixed with the grassy taste of the green tea leaves. The nature of the roasting process reduces the amount of caffeine and tannins compared to other teas. Hojicha is easy to drink, thanks to its low caffeine and lack of bitterness.
As well as the regular flavours familiar in the West, Japanese ice creams are also available in some flavours specific to the country's culinary tradition. Matcha ice cream, made from the thick bright green tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony, is an extremely popular dessert. Ice cream can also be made using an, the sweet red bean paste which is a mainstay of Japanese confectionery and desserts. Delicious ice creams can also be made from kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) and kuri (chestnut).
With a dark green skin and sweet orange flesh, kabocha is often simmered in soy sauce to make a tender and delicious side-dish. It is also a popular vegetable at summer barbecues, as it is delicious when lightly toasted, and it is a common ingredient in vegetable tempura. Not only tasty, but healthy as well, kabocha is rich in beta carotene, iron and vitamin C. Most delicious when enjoyed in early autumn, its taste is associated in Japan with the change of seasons.
The most common Japanese turnip is the small white, globe-shaped kabu, which has a tender texture, sweet flavour and is ideal for salads, soups, stir-fries or pickling. The leaves and stalks of certain varieties of kabu, in particular the green, leafy nozawana turnip, are also harvested for pickling or for use in cooking. There are also a number of varieties of red-skinned kabu, which retain their deep, rich colour even after cooking. Kabu is rich in both protein and calcium.
A wide variety of seaweed products is eaten in Japan. Some of the most commonly used include mozuku, a dark brown, viscous seaweed which is often eaten with rice vinegar as a starter or palate-refresher between courses. Mekabu, the flowering sprout of wakame seaweed, has a strong, salty flavour and contains many minerals beneficial to the health. Arame kelp has a delicate, sweet flavour, thick serrated leaves and it is also harvested as a source of alginate and iodine.
Orange or red-skinned, with several large seeds, kaki can be broadly divided into sweet amagaki and astringent shibugaki varieties. Amagaki is a Japanese speciality and has a bitter taste until fully ripe, after which it becomes much sweeter and more pleasant to eat. Shibugaki is too bitter to be eaten raw due to high quantities of tannin, but can be processed to make it sweeter. Kaki is an extremely healthy fruit, possessing a good balance of proteins. Dried kaki, called hoshigaki, makes a popular snack or dessert.
Kamaboko is produced by putting highly nutritious fish paste known as surimi, made from puréed white fish, on a small wooden board and steaming it. Sold in small semi-circular loaves, kamaboko is a convenient way of getting all the goodness of fish, without having to go to the trouble of preparing it. Pink and white slices of kamaboko are served chilled with soy sauce and wasabi or are placed in bowls of udon or ramen soup. Kamaboko is increasingly popular outside Japan.
Kanpyo is a unique traditional food made from gourds which have been shaved into ribbons then dried. With large amounts of iron, phosphorous and calcium, kanpyo is a nutritionally well-balanced food. In order to prepare it, kanpyo should be washed, rubbed and softened with a spoonful of salt, then soaked in fresh water for a few minutes. It should then be boiled for several minutes or simmered in stock to add flavour. It is used in many dishes including makizushi (rolled sushi).
Kanten is a flavourless dried seaweed available in blocks, strands or powdered form, which acts as a gelling agent. It is an ideal gelatin substitute for vegetarians. Delicious jellies can be made using fruit juice or milk and are popular in Japan as a healthy treat. High in fibre, kanten is good for treating constipation and reducing cholesterol levels. Tokoroten, the natural gel form of kanten, is usually cut into thin strips and eaten cold with sweet or savoury dressings such as soy sauce and rice vinegar.
Made from the seeds of the karashina plant, karashi was used in ancient times as a medicine as well as a food. Bright yellow in colour, karashi is available in both paste and powder forms, and is used to add spiciness and flavour to natto, shumai (Chinese dumplings), o-den (a kind of Japanese hot pot) and salad dressings. Karashi is similar in nature to wasabi, meaning the intensity of its flavour is greater than that of Western mustard, and it is therefore used in very small quantities.
Kashi pan is the name given to unique Japanese filled or topped breads (kashi means sweet and pan means bread). An pan is a sweet bread created over 130 years ago, filled with an (red bean paste). Another variety, kare pan is deep fried and contains curry paste. Melon pan combines both the flavour and shape of a melon, and has a sweet crunchy surface. Mushi pan is a kind of steamed cake that comes in several different flavours such as cheese and green tea.
Taken from the dogtooth violet plant, katakuriko is a white powder without any taste or smell, used to thicken soups and sauces. Another way of utilising katakuriko is to mix it with spices and lightly sprinkle it over pieces of chicken or other ingredients before frying them. A very versatile foodstuff, katakuriko helps keep the nutrients and the taste of the ingredients in the food. Nowadays, potato starch or cornstarch are often used as a substitute for katakuriko, since natural dogtooth violet starch has become very expensive.
To make katsuobushi, bonito fish fillets are salted and left to ferment and dry for four to six months before being shaved into fine flakes. Katsuobushi is often used to make dashi. Konbu is heated in water on a medium heat then removed just before boiling. Katsuobushi is then added to the stock, which is brought to the boil and strained. Katsuobushi is also used as a topping for salads, tofu and cooked vegetables. There are varieties of finely sliced katsuobushi made especially to be used as garnishes.
Commonly found in drug stores and convenience stores in an array of small bottles, there is a vast market in Japan for drinks which can give you a burst of energy for those long working days or for recovering after a night of drinking. An aging population and increasing health awareness has driven the boom in health drinks. Varieties include those with added royal jelly and vitamin C. Recently, fruit-flavoured drinking vinegar has become popular because of its perceived health properties.
Kinako is finely-ground flour made from soy beans, which is light brownish-yellow in colour and has a slightly nutty flavour. Kinako contains twice the protein of wheat flour and is very low in carbohydrates. It is abundant in fibre, iron, calcium, vitamins and minerals, and is therefore very effective in preventing many ailments such as high cholesterol. It is not eaten on its own, but is mainly used in confectionery, such as kinako mochi (sweet rice cakes covered in kinako).
Daikon is the large white root vegetable which is indispensable to the traditional Japanese diet. Kiriboshi daikon is its dried form and can be easily made at home. After peeling off the skin and cutting it into long strips, it should be dried in the sun for a day or two. It can then be used throughout the year, after being reconstituted with water. Kiriboshi daikon can be used in various ways, for example in tsukemono pickles or with soy sauce and mirin or sugar in nimono (simmered dishes).
A green vegetable, which contains five times the level of calcium of normal spinach, komatsuna is a valuable source of vitamins and minerals. Although it can be grown throughout the year, komatsuna is commonly eaten in winter, and is said to strengthen the body's resistance to colds and flu. The flavour of the leaves grows stronger and hotter the longer they are allowed to mature. Komatsuna can be used in soups, o-hitashi (cooked, dressed leave), aemono (cooked salad) or stir-fries.
Finely powdered komeko helps ingredients retain their moisture and is used almost exclusively for Japanese sweets. The extremely fine joshinko is a pure-white rice powder made from uruchimai (regular Japonica white rice). The rice is washed with water and then milled with a roller. It is used for many kinds of Japanese sweets including dango (dumpling cake) and mochigashi (rice cake sweets). Shiratamako is made from milled mochi rice and can be used to make shiratama dango.
Konbu is one of the main basic dashi ingredients. To make good stock, simply soak konbu in water, or heat gently in water and remove just before boiling. To make dashi konbu, kelp is washed with seawater and dried in the sun for one to two days. Konbu is rich in vitamins and minerals such as iodine. Konbu is also used in a variety of dishes such as nabe (hotpot), kobumaki (rolled konbu) and tsukudani (salted and sweetened preserved foods).
Konnyaku is a hard jelly made from the root of the devil's tongue plant. Consisting of 97% water, konnyaku is rich in minerals such as calcium and potassium and is an excellent source of dietary fibre. With no distinctive taste of its own, konnyaku absorbs the flavour and taste of other ingredients it is cooked with. As it has next to no calories, it is an ideal food for those who are watching their weight.
Koyadofu takes its name from a Buddhist temple on the sacred Mount Koya in Wakayama prefecture, where it is said to have originated. The freezing process aided the preservation of tofu during the long, harsh winters. Tofu is quickly frozen at -15°C, enabling the preservation of all the nutritious value of the tofu. Koyadofu is also referred to as koridofu (frozen tofu) because of this freezing method. Once rehydrated, the tofu has a coarse, meaty texture and absorbs tastes more than standard tofu.
Believed to be among the first fruits to be cultivated in Japan, kuri form an integral part of many Japanese dishes, both sweet and savoury. Kuri is often used in Japanese cakes and sweets either whole, in chunks or as a paste. Kuri gohan (chestnuts cooked with rice) is a particular favourite in autumn, strongly associated with the changing of the seasons. Rich in fibre, calcium, iron and vitamins B1 and C, kuri has long been known for its health-giving properties.
Maitake mushrooms have a distinctive aroma and a thick, woody flavour. They are quite meaty in texture and are highly-valued as being among the mushrooms most beneficial to the health. Rich in vitamins including B1, B2, and D, as well as minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium, maitake has been shown to effectively boost the strength of the immune system. Maitake can be sauted in butter, added to soups or used to enrich any recipe that calls for mushrooms taste richer.
Matcha is made from tencha leaves that have been steamed and dried before being ground to a fine, bright green powder. Matcha is the tea used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and has had ritual significance for centuries. Most famously produced in the Uji region of Kyoto, the highest grade matcha has a rich flavour and pronounced sweetness. Matcha powder can also be used as an ingredient in ice cream, soba noodles and wagashi (Japanese sweets).
A mushroom long-prized as an autumn luxury food, matsutake has a wonderfully rich aroma and subtle taste. It grows most commonly under Japanese red pine trees that are more than 25 years old. It is therefore difficult to gather matsutake, this rarity adding to the price. Matsutake can be enjoyed in soup, cooked with rice, grilled or stuffed. Not only delicious, matsutake is low in fat, high in protein and rich in vitamins B1, B2, and D.
Although originally introduced to Japan from China, it was contact with Japan that introduced this fruit to the West, explaining why it is known by the name Satsuma, the historic name for one of the areas it is grown. Usually seedless and with a very loose skin that makes it easy to peel, mikan grow in great abundance in Japan. Mikan can be sweet, but often have a refreshing tartness and are classically enjoyed in autumn and winter seasons.
The demand for mineral water in Japan has increased rapidly in recent years and although it does not yet export a significant amount, Japan has a number of fine varieties. Japanese mineral water tends to be soft, with limited amounts of calcium and magnesium. Water filtered through the volcanic rock so common in Japan's mountain ranges is imbued with a rich blend of minerals and is naturally purified. Fresh water bubbling from the ocean bottom also sells well, as it is believed to be particularly pure.
A sweet, syrupy liquid, mirin is one of Japan's principal condiments. It has an alcohol content of about 13-14%, which is often burnt off during cooking. Mirin has a subtle natural sweetness, and its balanced flavour make it a very versatile condiment. Mirin is used for dishes such as nimono (simmered dishes), for marinating and glazing, and in teriyaki sauce. As well as hon mirin or 'real mirin', cheaper mirin style condiments with salt or other ingredients added, and generally less alcohol, are also available.
Many Japanese swear by the old saying that, “a bowl of miso soup a day keeps the doctor away”. Miso is made from soy beans and usually rice or barley, which are steamed, mixed with koji (a fermentation starter) and left to ferment for six months to five years. The longer the fermentation, the darker and richer the miso. Modern analysis shows that miso is an extremely nourishing and well-balanced food containing protein, vitamins and essential amino acids. Most famously used in soups, it can add flavour to many dishes.
Mitsuba is a woodland plant which has pleasantly fragrant leaves and seedlings similar to cress. Known as Japanese wild chervil or trefoil, its stems and leaves are chopped, and are used to flavour many dishes such as suimono (clear soup), don-mono (rice dish with toppings in a bowl) and nabe (hot pot). Another way to enjoy mitsuba is in o-hitashi, boiled greens with dashi dressing, chilled and topped with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). It is rich in carotene, vitamin C and calcium.
Mochi is a sweet rice cake made by pounding glutinous mochigome rice. It is traditionally grilled and wrapped in nori, or cooked in soup. One such soup is zoni (mochi and vegetables), which is eaten to celebrate New Year. The stickiness of the mochi represents gsticking to your principlesh, making it a good omen for the coming year. It is also used in many wagashi (Japanese sweets).
Mochigome is a variety of rice which has a slightly sweet flavour and a high starch content, which makes it stickier than normal rice. This rice is not boiled like other Japanese rice, but is steamed. Once cooked, the rice is often pounded to make the sticky paste called mochi, and at New Year this is carried out ceremonially using a large wooden mortar and mallet. Mochigome is also used to make sekihan, a special dish of rice and azuki beans traditionally eaten at times of celebration.
Made from roasted barley, mugicha has a clear, dark brown colour and does not contain caffeine or tannin. Recent findings show that mugicha has anti-oxidant qualities that act against aging and illnesses such as cancer and diabetes. It can be served hot, but cold mugicha is particularly good to quench thirst in summer. Cold mugicha can be made simply by steeping tea bags in cold water. However, it is at its best when boiled for at least five minutes and then cooled.
The myoga ginger plant is native to Japan and its unmistakable, sharp taste is found in a wide range of Japanese dishes, particularly in the summer season. Both its shoots and flower buds are edible and are commonly finely sliced and added to season miso soup and sunomono (vinegared dishes). It is also used to add flavour to the refreshing summer dish, somen (chilled noodles). Myoga stimulates the appetite, which makes it ideal for use in starters.
Small and amber-coloured, the nameko mushroom grows in clusters and its cap has a slippery covering of natural gelatin. It has an earthy, woody flavour, a pleasant silky texture and is rich in vitamins. Nameko is usually cut into small pieces and added to other ingredients. Dishes using nameko include miso soup, in which it is a standard ingredient, nameko oroshi (a combination of grated daikon radish and ponzu vinegar or soy sauce) and nameko soba (hot or cold buckwheat noodle soup topped with the mushroom).
Quite distinct from Western pears in both texture and flavour, nashi are large and apple-shaped, with a crisp bite and a light, sweet taste. With a water content of around 90%, nashi are often eaten during the long, hot Japanese summer as a means of combating heat exhaustion. They are often given as a seasonal gift in the summer and autumn. Nashi are a rich source of potassium which means that they can be effective in reducing blood pressure.
Natto is made from fermented soy beans and has a sticky consistency and a strong characteristic 'fermented' smell. An excellent source of protein, vitamin B2, iron and fibre, natto is often mixed with soy sauce and other ingredients and eaten with boiled rice as a traditional and nutritious breakfast food. Natto comes in whole-bean, small-bean and chopped-bean varieties, and contains an amino acid not found in other foods that helps prevent blood clots, which can cause strokes and coronaries.
Negi has a strong garlic-like aroma and flavour, and is a staple of Japanese cuisine, often used to remove the odour of raw fish and meat. Kizami negi (chopped negi) are sprinkled over udon, soba and ramen noodle dishes and are used in nabe hotpot dishes, hiyayakko (chilled tofu) as well in miso soup as a garnish. It is commonly grilled with skewered chicken to make the popular dish, yakitori.
Niboshi, sometimes known as iriko, are small fish such as anchovy and sardine that have been boiled and dried. They are used as a dashi ingredient for miso soup and stewed dishes. To make niboshi dashi, first the heads and internal organs of the niboshi are removed to avoid bitter and fishy-smelling stock. Then, to bring out their taste, the niboshi are split lengthwise, before being soaked in water. The pre-soaked niboshi can then be put into water, boiled for two to three minutes before straining. It is also eaten as a healthy snack.
Stronger in flavour than regular chives, there are a number of varieties of nira commonly used in Japanese cuisine, including green nira (known as garlic chives), yellow nira and hananira, which has a flower bud on top of its stalk. Often used to flavour soup or as a garnish, nira stir-fried with liver is another popular way to enjoy this vegetable. Nira contains high levels of carotene and vitamin E, and also aids the body's absorption of vitamin B1.
Nori, a dried seaweed resembling sheets of black paper, is a very popular ingredient in Japan, particularly for the wrapping of steamed rice to make makizushi (rolled sushi) and o-nigiri (rice balls). Nori is also a very important traditional breakfast food, eaten with rice. Seasoned nori is also popular, and nori and seasoned nori are available in individually wrapped, bite-sized sheets and served at breakfast in the home or at traditional Japanese inns and hotels. It is rich in vitamin B1, which helps combat mental fatigue, and calcium.
Nuka is formed during the process of polishing genmai, and is most commonly used to make tsukemono. It contains protein, fibre, calcium, phosphorous, iron and vitamins A, B1 and B2. Its alkaline quality is effective in the regeneration of new, smooth skin, making it an excellent beauty product. The fibre content can help remove cancer-causing elements by discharging toxins from the body. It is beneficial in treating diabetes, reducing blood cholesterol rates and preventing sclerosis of the arteries.
O-chazuke literally means 'tea poured over' and makes a popular and comforting light meal or snack. The dish traditionally consists of ingredients such as grilled salmon, umeboshi and nori seaweed on a bowl of rice, over which green tea (o-cha) or dashi soup is then poured. Alternatively, a convenient premix can be used: o-chazuke can be made by adding water to a mix of ingredients in powdered and finely-chopped form. These ingredients can include sesame seeds, wasabi, sansai plants and arare rice crackers.
Panko are bread crumbs used with batter to make deep-fried fritters. Fresh panko make the fritters lighter and softer than dried panko, as they contain more moisture which evaporates and forms small air holes when the panko are deep-fried. Lightly moistening dried panko just before cooking makes it more like fresh panko, and it should be applied evenly to the surface of the meat or fish being fried. To ensure freshness, dried panko should be stored in a dry, cool place.
Ponzu is derived from the Dutch word “pons”, which means citrus juice. Ponzu is the juice of fruit such as lemon, sudachi, yuzu and kabosu, sometimes mixed with su (vinegar). It has a refreshing taste and is also a good stimulant, since the acid found in ponzu breaks down fat and lactic acids, which cause fatigue. Ponzu is most commonly used as ponzu shoyu, a mix of ponzu, soy sauce, sugar or mirin and dashi. This can be used as a dipping sauce for nabe (hot pots).
Japanese curry, a milder variation of the Indian dish, is an everyday favourite and is usually served with pickled vegetables such as rakkyo (scallions), which are normally pickled in salt (shiozuke), soy sauce (shoyuzuke) or vinegar and sugar (amazuzuke). Rakkyo has a crisp texture with real bite, and a flavour which is not entirely dissimilar to onion and garlic. Rakkyo's reputation as a vegetable full of healthy properties continues to grow steadily outside of Japan.
Sozai is a term for Japanese everyday side dishes. Often put in bento lunchboxes, typical sozai include tempura, croquettes, meat cutlets, omelettes, spring rolls, fried fish and gyoza and shumai dumplings. Frozen sozai that can be cooked in the microwave or oven are a popular and convenient option for busy working parents who need to prepare lunchboxes for their children. Fried foods such as croquettes, spring rolls and tempura are particularly appreciated as it takes a lot of time and effort to cook them from scratch.
With a reddish-brown skin, white flesh and a satisfying crisp bite, renkon lotus root is an excellent source of vitamin C, with just 100 grams of the vegetable providing the daily recommended amount. Sliced renkon has a distinctive pinwheel shape, with a number of holes in it. These holes are seen as representing a bright future ahead, and renkon therefore features in the special o-sechi ryori eaten at New Year in Japan. Renkon is enjoyed in Japan in winter and early spring.
Ryorishu is a type of sake (rice wine) made especially for cooking. It is often used in marinades for meat and fish to make them more tender, as well as to mask their smell. In cooking, it is often used to add body and flavour to tsuyu (soup stock) and sauces, or to make nimono (simmered dishes) and yakimono (grilled dishes). To enable shops not licensed to sell alcohol to stock it, manufacturers are required by law to add salt (2-3%) to ryorishu to make it unfit for drinking.
Japan's most celebrated alcoholic drink, sake is brewed from fermented rice. Brown rice is polished to remove its husk, producing the smaller white rice grains used to make sake. Sake is categorized according to the degree to which the rice is polished and alcohol content: junmaishu (pure rice sake), honjozo (sake with added brewer's alcohol), ginjoshu (the highest grade of sake) and futsushu (common grades of sake). Sake is clear with a slightly sweet taste and an alcohol content of 14 to 16%. It can be served hot or chilled.
Edible wild plants are widely loved in Japan as they mark the advent of spring. Common examples of sansai include fuki (butterbur), whose scape and leafstalk are used for simmered dishes and soups, and udo, which has a soft edible stalk and belongs to the ginseng family. Two more examples are warabi, the shoot of a kind of fern, and zenmai, another edible fern with distinctive coiled leaves. These vegetables are used in the making of many traditional dishes.
Unique to Japan and China, sansho is unrelated to black pepper or chilli pepper. It has a strong aroma, subtle lemony overtones and creates a pleasant tingling sensation in the mouth. Sansho is widely-used to add a mild spiciness and rich fragrance to noodle dishes and grilled eel. The buds, flowers and seeds of sansho are all used to flavour cooking. The leaves of the sansho plant, known as kinome, are used in spring to add flavour to bamboo shoots and soups.
Satoimo is recognisable for its brown fibrous skin and greyish flesh. It does not have a strong flavour, but has a soft and slightly sticky texture that is pleasant to eat. Satoimo is rich in protein and its stickiness is said to help lower blood pressure and to reduce blood cholesterol levels. It is used in soups, simmered or stewed with meat and fish. Considered lucky, satoimo is often eaten as part of the special New Year o-sechi ryori cuisine.
Satsuma-age is fish cake fried in oil, giving it a rich golden brown colour on the outside. It originates in the area around Kagoshima on the southern island of Kyushu, which was historically known as the Satsuma region. Sometimes the fish paste is mixed with vegetables such as gobo (burdock root), squid or boiled egg before frying. Usually round or semi-circular in shape, with a thickness of around 1-2 cm, Satsuma-age is a popular addition to o-den, or hot udon noodles in soup.
The Japanese use a variety of savoury sauces to pep up their food. Several are inspired by Worcester sauce, which was brought to Japan and adapted. As well as the thin, spicy Worcester sauce, there is a thicker, milder and sweeter tonkatsu sauce, often used with the deep fried pork cutlet dish of the same name. In addition, there is a sauce formulated specifically for serving with o-konomiyaki (savoury pancakes), and a chuno sauce that blends both mild and spicy flavours.
Senbei and arare are traditional snacks consumed in Japan for over 1,200 years. Senbei are crispy crackers made from Japonica rice. They are usually flat in shape, and are fried or traditionally baked over charcoal, giving them their distinctive aroma. Senbei can be salted, flavoured with soy sauce or shrimp, sesame-coated, baked with soy beans or nuts inside, sugar-puffed or wrapped in seaweed (norimaki). Arare are smaller bite-sized versions of senbei, made from glutinous rice. They too come in a variety of flavours and colours.
Sencha, or infused tea, is the most popular type of tea in Japan and accounts for over three quarters of all the green tea produced in Japan. Sencha is steamed, before being dried and pan-fried. The leaves harvested early in the season (around April in the south of Japan) are sweet and high in vitamin content, particularly vitamin C and vitamin B2, while those taken later in the season have a sharper, stronger flavour and a less powerful aroma.
Shichimi togarashi, which means “seven-taste chilli pepper”, is a dried mixture of red chilli flakes, sansho, goma, nori, shiso, dried mandarin or orange peel, hemp and poppy seeds. Popular throughout Japan, the ingredients and balance of the mix varies regionally. It is usually sprinkled on hot udon noodle soup and many other dishes to add flavour, spiciness and aroma. Shichimi togarashi is known to be a remedy for colds and flu, and is also good for the stomach. Ichimi means “one taste”, and ichimi togarashi consists of just chilli pepper.
Japan's most well-known mushroom is the delicious shiitake. This flavoursome, slightly chewy mushroom is believed to have many properties beneficial to the health and contains significant quantities of vitamins B and D. Shiitake is popular fresh and in its dried form, known in Japanese as hoshi shiitake, which must be rehydrated before eating. Some consider this to be richer in flavour than fresh shiitake. The mushroom can be used in clear soup and nimono (simmered dishes), and dried shiitake is used as a base for making vegetarian dashi.
The shimeji is known as one of the most gourmet of all mushrooms, and has delicate straw coloured caps around 1 cm in diameter. Bitter and unpleasant to eat when raw, when cooked they have a mild, sweet and slightly nutty flavour and a light texture. The mushroom grows in clusters, though the base should be removed and discarded. Shimeji can be used in a broad range of recipes, such as stews, soups, stir-fries and sauces or sautéed and served whole.
A popular accompaniment to alcohol, shiokara is made from the meat of a variety of fish and other seafood such as squid, oysters, shrimp and sea urchin roe in a thick brown paste. The paste is made by salting the internal organs of the seafood and fermenting them with malted rice for a month. Shiokara is certainly an acquired taste, with a flavour that packs a potent punch and lingers in the mouth long after eating it.
Shirataki is a form of thin, gelatinous noodle made from shredded konnyaku. Valued more for their texture and than their flavour, because they are so absorbent they make a great accompaniment to other ingredients such as tofu, vegetables and soy sauce, for instance in stir-fries or sukiyaki. With no fat, sugar or starch, they are a very healthy option for anyone counting the calories and are a superb source of natural fibre. Shirataki are normally packaged pre-cooked in liquid.
Shiso, the leaves of the perilla plant, are used to add an aromatic finish to cooked food or soups, and tend to be used more sparingly than herbs are in Western cuisine. This popular herb is available in two types: aojiso (green shiso), also called oba, which is used as a garnish for sushi and sashimi and can also be fried to make tempura; and purple-coloured akajiso (red shiso), which is used in umeboshi or as dried flakes to add a savoury flavour to rice.
Fashionable in Japan in recent years and gaining popularity worldwide, shochu can be made from ingredients such as rice, buckwheat, wheat, sweet potato and corn. As in the making of sake, soy sauce, and miso, during initial fermentation a 'starter' called koji is used. The single distillation method used to make traditional shochu keeps more of the flavour of its ingredients while the multiple distillation method is suited to making cocktails and fruit liquor. Shochu contains no fat or sugar and is good drunk mixed in cocktails or on its own.
A staple of Oriental cuisine, soy sauce adds flavour to many dishes, both in cooking and at the table. Made from soy beans, wheat and salt, and fermented for several months, Japanese soy sauce has a rich aroma and a salty, subtle and complex flavour. Koikuchi shoyu, developed in the east of Japan, is dark coloured with a slightly fruity flavour that reduces fishy and meaty smells in cooking. Usukuchi shoyu, originally favoured in the west of Japan, has a lighter colour and saltier taste than koikuchi.
Rich in minerals and nutrients such as carotene, vitamins B2 and C, iron and calcium, shungiku is notable for its fragrant aroma. Although not widely available in the West, the leaves and stems of the chrysanthemum are a very common addition to a large variety of Japanese cuisine, particularly in winter dishes such as nabe hotpots and sukiyaki. Alternatively, they can be delicately fried in batter to make tempura. The young leaves also make a tasty addition to salads.
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour. As buckwheat contains no gluten, wheat flour is usually added to prevent the noodles from falling apart, although 100% buckwheat varieties are available. Soba comes in fresh and dried form, and can be eaten either hot in soup or chilled and served on a bamboo tray called a zaru, with a dipping sauce called mentsuyu. Chilled soba are often garnished with nori seaweed and eaten with wasabi horseradish to add a sharp, pungent flavour.
In Japan, vending machines can be seen on almost every street. There is a large market for soft drinks, due in part to the extreme heat and humidity of the Japanese summer. In addition to the kind of fizzy drinks also common in the West, a vast range of hugely-popular tea-based drinks exists. These include a variety based on Japanese tea and Chinese tea, which do not contain sugar and therefore go well with food. A range of English tea-based drinks with or without sugar, milk and lemon is also available, and coffee-based drinks are also popular.
Instant noodles are available in single-portion bags (sokuseki fukuromen), packaged with sachets of soup powder and condiments, or in cups or cartons (sokuseki kappumen). The most popular variety of instant noodle is ramen, coming in flavours including miso, pork, and seafood. Cup noodles are also available containing soba and udon noodles. Instant and cup noodles are particularly popular as a light and easy lunch for busy people, and can even make a satisfying main meal when combined with other ingredients.
Gohan (rice) is at the heart of Japanese life and freshly-cooked white rice is the most comforting of foods. But even so, ready-to-eat rice has become quite popular, especially among young people. The most popular form of ready-cooked rice can be stored at room temperature, and is pre-cooked and pre-packaged for microwave heating. Simple o-kayu rice porridge and the risotto-like zosui are available in sachet form, ready to eat after being boiled in the bag for a few minutes.
Instant misoshiru (miso soup), prepared by adding boiling water, is a convenient way of enjoying this nutritious soy bean paste. A pack of instant miso soup usually contains miso paste or powder and separate dried ingredients such as tofu, abura-age, wakame and vegetables. Suimono is a delicate transparent Japanese soup based on dashi; its mild flavour allows the taste and aroma of the ingredients to be appreciated. Popular ingredients include matsutake mushroom, sea bream and egg. Difficult to make from scratch, instant suimono is a popular option.
Made from wheat flour kneaded with salt and water, somen noodles are the thinnest Japanese noodle Š just under 1.3 millimeters thick when uncooked. When they are thicker than this, they are known as hiyamugi. It is thought that somen acquire a better texture when dried and allowed to mature for up to three years. Somen and hiyamugi are commonly eaten cold, especially in summer, together with a dipping sauce and garnishes such as grated ginger and spring onion. They are also eaten hot in broth (nyumen).
Made from rice, this light and mild tasting vinegar is an essential ingredient in sushi rice and sunomono (vinegared salads). With lower acidity than Western vinegars, it has long been associated with youthful-looking skin and longevity. Vinegar increases the potency of vitamin C, which improves complexion, and in the past su was used in cosmetics in Japan. Vinegar is also known for its anti-bacterial properties and this is one reason why su is often used in Japanese dishes that include raw fish, seafood and meat.
Related to the yuzu, though smaller and greener, sudachi is used for its sharp-tasting juice and powerful, fragrant zest which can be finely cut and used to season many dishes. The strong aroma of the sudachi complements Japanese cuisine such as nabe winter hotpot and it is commonly served as a garnish with grilled fish such as sanma (saury), over which it is squeezed just before eating. Higher in calcium and vitamin C than lemons, its juice can be used to flavour drinks.
Premixed sushi rice products are a very convenient and useful way to prepare just the right kind of rice for those who want to make sushi at home. To make authentic sushi rice, all the ingredients added have to be in just the right proportions, so using a pre-prepared mix is a far easier option. It is available in powdered form or as a vacuum-packed liquid. Premixes of gomoku chirashizushi (sushi rice mixed with various vegetables) are also available.
Takenoko (literally, “bamboo child”) are the ivory coloured crisp and tender shoots of bamboo that grow underground. Freshly dug takenoko are sweet in taste, meaning that they can even be eaten raw as takenoko sashimi. However, if they are not absolutely fresh, the bamboo shoots must be boiled to remove their bitter taste. Takenoko is commonly steamed with rice to make takenoko gohan, used to make wakatake soup (soup with wakame seaweed) or kinome ae (with crushed young sansho leaves, miso and vinegar).
One of the most popular ways to enjoy rice is to make takikomi gohan (literally gboiled with riceh), where the rice is cooked along with assorted vegetables and sometimes meat or seafood. Popular ingredients include takenoko (bamboo shoots), kuri chestnuts and matsutake mushrooms. A convenient way of enjoying the dish is to use one of the large variety of premixed takikomi gohan, which are available in dried or vacuum-packed form along with many kinds of added ingredients.
Takuan is made by pickling daikon, the large white Japanese radish, in rice bran. Usually served in small slices, takuan has a satisfyingly crunchy texture and sharp, tangy flavour, and accompanies many Japanese foods, often as one of a number of small dishes along with miso soup and rice. Beneficial to health, takuan is very rich in vitamin B. It is one of the most traditional of Japanese pickles and is named after the Buddhist priest who is said to have introduced the food.
Tamari refers to the protein-rich liquid which comes from fermenting soy beans. Tamari is thicker, richer and darker than soy sauce and is produced mainly in the central Chubu region of Japan. Little or no wheat is used in the production of tamari, which is actually closer to the original recipe for soy sauce, when it was introduced to Japan from China. An ideal, umami-rich accompaniment to sushi and sashimi, tamari has a mellow flavour and is used mainly for dipping, seasoning and for marinades.
There are many dipping sauces used in Japanese dishes. Yakiniku no tare (barbecue sauce) is made from soy sauce, fruits, vegetables, sesame oil, herbs and spices. It can be used both for dipping and also to marinate meat before roasting. Sukiyaki no tare, a mildly sweet sauce, is made from soy sauce, mirin, sugar and dashi, and used to stew sukiyaki ingredients. Shabu shabu no tare, a dipping sauce used for lightly cooked and thinly sliced meats, comes in several varieties such as ponzu sauce and sesame sauce.
Made from wheat flour, baking powder, powdered egg and other ingredients, tempura flour is made into a batter to produce the wonderfully crispy Japanese fritters known as tempura. Since it is difficult to make perfect tempura, it is easier to use a premix. Tempurako gives tempura its unique crispy texture and retains the flavour of the ingredients it coats such as prawns, aubergine and shiitake mushrooms. Although tempurako is made for tempura, it can also be used for o-konomiyaki (savoury pancakes) to add a lighter texture.
Tofu is made from ground soy beans, which are heated, filtered and hardened into evenly-sized squares, with the addition of a gelling agent. Tofu comes in three basic types: kinugoshidofu (silk strained tofu), the original Japanese tofu, fine textured and eaten raw, momendofu (cotton strained tofu), which is rougher in texture; and yosedofu (crumbled tofu), which is not formed into blocks but is mashed in appearance. An extremely nutritious food containing vegetable protein, calcium, iron and vitamin E, tofu is delicious in miso soup, hot pots and stir-fries.
Tororo konbu is kelp that has been soaked in vinegar for a day before being shaved into fine flakes and dried. Adding soy sauce and boiling water to the flakes produces a tasty soup. It is commonly added to vinegared salads, known as sunomono, put in clear soup and is a popular flavouring in o-nigiri rice balls. With zero calories, it is an ideal seasoning for those trying to eat healthily. Tororo konbu can be stored for a long period of time without spoiling.
Tsukemono are a cornerstone of the Japanese diet, usually eaten as a side dish with rice. There are various types depending on the pickling method used. Nukazuke are made from fresh vegetables like cucumbers and Chinese cabbage, pickled in a pot of nuka (rice bran). Other types of pickles include sokusekizuke (quickly prepared pickles), kasuzuke (pickled in sake lees) and kojizuke (pickled in malted rice). Salt used in the pickling process helps the water in the vegetables to seep out, creating the characteristic texture of tsukemono.
Tsukudani is traditionally made from seaweed and possesses a potent flavour. It is usually eaten in small quantities with a bowl of boiled rice. It originates from Tsukudajima Island, Tokyo, where it was first made in the Edo era but is now eaten across Japan. The seaweed is cooked, with soy sauce used in the process along with mirin and dashi which help preserve the ingredients naturally for 2 to 3 months. Nowadays, there are many variations, which are made from small fish and shellfish.
Mentsuyu, the strong, salty soup stock used in soba and udon noodle dishes, and ten-tsuyu, the dipping sauce for tempura, are made from dashi, katsuobushi, soy sauce, mirin and sugar. There are two basic types of mentsuyu: kaketsuyu, which is poured hot over boiled noodles to make noodle soup, and tsuketsuyu, which literally means “dipping soup” and is used as a dip for chilled noodles. Tentsuyu is left to cool before being served, accompanied by grated daikon (white giant radish), with freshly fried tempura.
Thick and chewy, udon noodles are made from wheat flour kneaded with salt and water. Their texture can be adapted according to taste by varying the cooking time, and they are usually served in a hot broth, together with ingredients like prawn tempura, abura-age, raw egg or vegetables. They can also be served cold with a dipping sauce. There is also a flattened variety of udon called kishimen from the Nagoya region. Udon is available in dried, fresh or pre-boiled form.
Umami is a savoury taste that human beings find appealing. One of the principal sources of this taste is glutamate, which occurs naturally in many foodstuffs. Umami seasoning is in fact monosodium glutamate, discovered by a Japanese scientist in the early 20th century. It brings out the flavour of other ingredients in a dish, and is popular as a condiment in Japan, being used in the preparation of meat and fish, and to season soups, sauces and salad dressings.
Sun-dried, salted, then pickled with shiso (red perilla leaves), umeboshi is a common everyday breakfast pickle in Japan, eaten with rice and miso soup. Loved in Japan both for its piquant taste and its medicinal properties, umeboshi is said to be extremely beneficial to the digestive system. Delicious rice balls can be made by enclosing umeboshi in rice and wrapping it in nori seaweed. Umeboshi can also be used in a range of other dishes, in alcoholic drinks, and also as a wonderful palate-cleanser.
Umeshu, with its subtle sweet flavour, has been consumed for over 1,000 years in Japan. This liqueur is made from green ume apricots, shochu and sugar, and is left to mature for between three months and one year. Because of the healthy properties of ume, umeshu is popular not only as a delicious drink, but also as a medicine. Ume apricots are rich in potassium and calcium and fruit acid, which aids digestion, breaks down lactic acid and are said to increase the body's metabolic rate and reduce tiredness.
Wagashi are traditional confectionery, considered delicacies in Japan. The making of wagashi is a fine art, as their shape and design are as important as their taste. An integral part of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, each wagashi often represents one of the seasons or a locality. They contain local and seasonal ingredients such as fruit and vegetables. Wagashi can be steamed, baked and jelly; there are also half-dried and dried varieties, which keep for longer. Using natural ingredients, wagashi are said to be healthier than the average sweet.
This dark green seaweed, with its mild ocean flavour, is one of the most popular seaweeds in Japan. Available in both dry and fresh forms, it is most commonly used in soups and salads. The dried product greatly expands when it's reconstituted either by soaking in water for a few minutes or adding directly to a soup. Since wakame has no calories, it is ideal for those who are watching their weight and is believed to help prevent hair loss.
Wasabi is a root plant with a pleasant aroma and a sharp, fiery flavour. In early 17th century Japan, it became a popular accompaniment to sushi, promoting the spread of its cultivation. Wasabi is available fresh, and can be grated like horseradish, as a paste or in powder form. It is also mixed with soy sauce and used as a condiment with sashimi and sushi. When used for seasoning, wasabi stimulates the appetite and is also known to prevent food poisoning.
While using fundamentally the same ingredients and methods as in the West, Japanese whisky is made to accompany Japanese-style meals. While Scotch whisky, with its smoky flavour and strong peat taste, is better savoured on its own, Japanese whisky goes well with food. Particular importance is attached to the harmonized balance of the basic flavour, which is not diminished when diluted, and a subtlety of taste suited to the Japanese palate that does not mask the delicate flavours of Japanese food.
Wine production only really began in Japan after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 made Japan more open to Western ideas, and the first commercial winery was established in 1877. At first sight, the high humidity and rainfall of Japan's climate and its acidic soil do not make it ideal for viticulture. However, in spite of this vineyards have flourished in areas where conditions have been suitable, such as Yamanashi prefecture. The northern island of Hokkaido has also gained a good reputation for its wines.
Cultivated in Japan since the Stone Age, yamaimo provides high levels of vitamin C and B1. Varieties of yamaimo include nagaimo (Chinese yam), ichoimo (ginkgo yam, so called because the end of the plant spreads out like a ginkgo leaf) and round yamatoimo (Japanese yam). Yamaimo is often grated to make tororo paste, which can be placed on wheat rice to make mugitoro gohan, diced tuna sashimi to make yamakake and soba noodles for yamakake soba.
Common in both China and Japan, yuba is made using the protein-rich skin which forms when soy milk is boiled. This skin is cooled and is then either eaten fresh, or dried. The texture of yuba means that when layers of it are put together, it makes an ideal meat substitute in vegetarian cooking. Yuba is a mainstay of Zen Buddhist shojin ryori (traditional meat-free cuisine) and has had a reputation for centuries for being an extremely healthy and nutritious food.
Yuzu has a strongly aromatic rind, quite distinct from Western citrus fruit like lemon and lime. Its zest is commonly used as a garnish while its juice is used as seasoning. Extremely versatile, it is used in a large number of Japanese dishes. Yuzu juice is an integral ingredient in the citrus-based sauce known as ponzu along with other Japanese citrus fruits such as sudachi, kabosu, and daidai. It can be used in savoury foods, cakes, ice creams and liquor.