Since your trip to Japan, you can't stop thinking about the delicious food there? Or are you still dreaming of getting on the plane, but want to bring the taste of Japanese cuisine home with you? Whether it's ramen, sushi, yakisoba or miso soup - you can easily cook many Japanese dishes yourself at home. Under the motto "Japanese cooking for beginners", today we want to give you all the important basics you need for your first attempts at cooking udon and co. From the most important ingredients of Japanese cuisine to the most important basic principles of a Japanese meal. We'll give you tips and tricks on how to cook perfect rice, bring the real Japanese flavor to your dishes and also have a recipe for authentic miso soup for you to start with, also in a vegan-vegetarian version.
The most important ingredients in Japanese cuisine
Perhaps you know the feeling: when you leaf through the cookbook of another country's cuisine, you immediately get the feeling that you have to buy a bunch of new ingredients for every recipe. Thankfully, this is not the case with Japanese cuisine. With a manageable basic stock of groceries, combined with fresh meat, fish and vegetables, you can cook your first simple Japanese recipes.
Shopping list of basic Japanese ingredients:
- soy sauce
- cooking sake
- instant dashi or kombu seaweed
- miso paste
- wakame seaweed
- nori seaweed
- rice vinegar
- sesame oil
- bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
- sesame seeds
- pickled ginger
With these ingredients, you are well equipped to try out many traditional Japanese recipes. In our store, you will find lots more information about the different types of soy sauce and seaweed, for example, and which ones are best suited for what. If you are unsure, it is best to get one of our starter sets or take a look at the "Basic ingredients" category.
Japanese kitchen appliances and utensils you need
If you're just starting to learn Japanese cooking, you may feel like you need a lot of special kitchen gadgets in addition to a slew of exotic ingredients. But honestly, for your first steps in this culinary adventure, a few normal pots and pans, bowls, a colander and a sharp knife will suffice.
However, if you enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine and would like to incorporate Japanese recipes into your everyday life more often, we recommend buying a rice cooker, a really good knife and a mortar and pestle. Other kitchen utensils that will bring you joy when cooking Japanese food are a tamagoyaki omelette pan, chopsticks and a yukihira pot.
The finishing touch to your meal is, of course, original Japanese tableware. Pottery soup bowls, ramen spoons or a wooden sake cup, anyone?
Traditional Japanese cooking - the principle of ichiju sansai
Now it's time to answer the question "Japanese cooking for beginners, but what exactly?" A basic principle of traditional Japanese cooking is called ichiju sansai, which means "one soup and three side dishes". This simple rule helps you to put together a traditional Japanese meal to suit your taste, which also contributes to a balanced diet.
This is what ichiju sansai looks like in practice: As the German translation suggests, your meal should consist of a soup and three side dishes. The soup can be a clear dashi or miso soup, for example (we have recipes for you below). For the side dishes, you can use crispy sautéed or steamed vegetables and spice them up with a Japanese sauce and grill a piece of fish, for example. A chilled piece of firm tofu garnished with bonito flakes and soy sauce is also an easy and delicious addition to your meal, especially in summer.
Not included in the ichiju sansai wording, but also a must for a complete Japanese meal, is a bowl of rice and a small portion of pickled tsukemono vegetables. (You can buy tsukemono ready-made or make your own if you prefer).
The combination of different colors, textures and preparation methods is what makes Japanese cuisine so special and ensures a varied taste experience.
Japanese cooking: it's all about the rice
Not all rice is the same. For Japanese recipes, you always need round to medium-grain rice. To start with, you can pick up round grain rice known as "pudding rice" when you go shopping for the week. However, once you've acquired a taste for original Japanese rice, you won't want to go back to German supermarket rice. When prepared correctly, Japanese rice has a unique flavor and the perfect mix of fluffy and sticky to eat with chopsticks.
The easiest and best way to make your rice is to use a rice cooker. If this investment is too high for your first Japanese cooking attempts, you can of course also prepare the rice for Japanese dishes in a regular pot with a lid. However, regardless of whether you use a rice cooker or cook the rice on the stove, there are a few things to bear in mind:
- You should wash the rice thoroughly in cold water before cooking so that excess starch is removed. Then pour off the water and repeat the process until the water in the pot runs clear (approx. three times).
- After washing, soak the rice in water for 30 minutes, then drain.
- Then cook the rice according to the instructions on the packet. You will need roughly the same amount of water as rice, but with rice cookers the ratio is sometimes 1:1.25. Be sure to check the instructions. You can calculate with a quantity of 70-100 grams of dry rice per person.
- If you are using a pot, bring the rice and water to the boil and then reduce the heat so that it only simmers very gently with the lid closed. Leave the lid closed and allow the rice to simmer until the water has been completely absorbed.
- After cooking, turn off the heat or a rice cooker will automatically switch to keep warm mode. Leave the rice to stand for a further 10 minutes with the lid closed before carefully fluffing it up.
Japanese recipes for every day: how to prepare the perfect miso soup
As we have learned, a Japanese meal is simply not complete without a bowl of steaming soup. The standard soup in Japanese households is miso soup. It is based on a dashi broth and is mixed with miso, a paste made from fermented soybeans. Depending on your taste, you can also add ingredients such as wakame seaweed, spring onions and tofu to your soup.
To make the perfect miso soup, you should first prepare dashi, a hearty Japanese broth, and then add miso paste.
Basic dashi recipe
What you need for 1 liter of dashi:
- a piece of kombu seaweed about the size of a postcard
- 10 grams of katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
- 1 liter of water
- Take the kombu seaweed and cut it several times on one side with scissors (as if you were making cuts for a tear-off slip).
- Put the unwashed (!) seaweed in a pot with the water and let it soak for 10-30 minutes.
- Heat the water. Just before it boils, remove the kombu seaweed. This is important so that your dashi does not become bitter.
- If you are vegan or vegetarian, your dashi is already ready.
- For a more intense flavor, add the katsuobushi to the water, bring to the boil and then simmer for another five minutes before pouring the liquid into a container using a fine sieve or kitchen towel.
- The homemade dashi will stay fresh in the fridge for about five days.
Basic recipe for miso soup
What you need per person:
- 250 ml dashi
- 1/2 tbsp miso paste
- 1 spring onion
- 1/2 tsp dried wakame seaweed, if desired
- Tofu cut into small cubes as desired
- Put the dashi in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
- Meanwhile, cut the spring onions into fine rings.
- As soon as the dashi boils, turn off the heat.
- Now add the miso paste to the liquid. To ensure that it dissolves well, stir it in through a small, fine sieve that you hold in the pan so that part of it is below the surface of the water.
- Add wakame seaweed and tofu to the broth as desired and leave everything to infuse for 5 minutes to allow the seaweed to develop.
- Divide the soup into small bowls.
- Itadakimasu! (which means "bon appétit" in Japanese, with the difference that you say it to yourself and not to another person)
Tips and tricks for an authentic Japanese taste experience
To take your Japanese dishes to the next level, there are a few tricks you should keep in mind. For example, use dashi, a traditional Japanese broth, to give your dishes an umami-rich flavor, or experiment with different sauces such as ponzu or tonkatsu sauce to give your dishes an extra touch of flavor. Pay attention to the presentation of your dishes too, as aesthetics play just as important a role as taste in Japanese cuisine.
But if you only take one tip with you, it should be this: get high-quality, original Japanese ingredients. It makes all the difference in the world whether your soy sauce comes from Japan or not, for example. The production method and therefore the taste are completely different depending on the country. So if you want to cook authentic Japanese food, original ingredients are a must.
With these tips and recipes, you'll be well equipped to conjure up your own Japanese cuisine at home. So grab your apron and immerse yourself in the fascinating world of Japanese cuisine! From simple dishes such as miso soup to elaborate sushi rolls - with a little practice and experimentation, you can feel like a real master chef in no time at all.