Ingredients, dishes and drinks from Japan by Ad Blankestijn

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Sliced and pickled ginger. べにしょうが。

Ginger (shoga) is cut into thin strips and then pickled in first salt and later vinegar. The color naturally turns red, which may be made more vivid by using plum vinegar with red shiso leaves. Unfortunately, also products with chemical colorings are on the market.

Served with beef bowl (gyudon), okonomiyaki and yakisoba.

[Photo Wikipedia]

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


"Mixed tempura." かき揚げ。

Tempura made with different ingredients that are mixed together in tempura batter and formed into a sort of "tempura ball" before deep-frying. This results in delicious, hearty fritters.

Various vegetables, mushrooms, and seafood can be used. The vegetables, such as onion, carrot and burdock, are cut into small strips. As seafood, small shrimps and clams are popular.

Kakiage is used in both soba and udon, and is also eaten over a bowl rice as "kakiage-don."


Thursday, November 15, 2012


Chinese cabbage. Brassica rapa Pekinensis. ハクサイ、白菜。

Also called "nappa cabbage" or "celery cabbage." "Hakusai" literally means "white vegetable," while "nappa" means "leaf vegetable."

Large cylindrical head vegetable available from autumn to spring. Green at the top and white at the stem. Has crinkled leaves and thick stalks. Mild and almost sweet taste.

Only since the twentieth century used in Japan, when soldiers after the Japan-China War in 1895 brought back suitable seeds. In China the vegetable was known for thousands of years - hakusai goes back to the North China variant. Now very popular and as regards the quantity produced, the third vegetable after daikon and cabbage.

Used in one pot dishes (nabemono), simmered dishes (nimono) and soups; also used for pickling (tsukemono).

[Photo Wikipedia]


Rice cracker. せんべい。

A form of grilled confectionery, coming in various shapes, sizes and flavors. Usually eaten as a casual snack with green tea; may also be offered to visitors.

There are two types of senbei depending on the ingredients used:
  • Wheat flour with egg and sugar. This type is popular in the Kansai and goes back to sweets made in China under the Tang-dynasty (7th-9th c. - in Japan the name "senbei" occurs for the first time in the year 737). Examples are kawara-senbei (in the shape of a mini roof tile) and the famous yatsuhashi from Kyoto. These are more like biscuits and have a sweet rather than savory taste.
  • Rice flour. The traditional type in Eastern Japan, where there are many shops (beika senbeiya) grilling and selling these rice crackers in front of the customer. After grilling, dusted with soy sauce and mirin to give them a savory taste. Another popular flavoring is with salt. Senbei may also be wrapped in nori. Made with ordinary rice (uruchimai). In the Kansai, glutinous rice is used and there another, general name for this type of confectionery is "okaki." Due to the different type of rice used, senbei from Eastern Japan are more crunchy while those from Western Japan are more delicate in texture.
Rice crackers wrapped in nori
[Rice crackers wrapped in nori. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Deep-fried, thinly sliced tofu. あぶらあげ、油揚げ

A block of tofu is cut unto slices and these are deep-fried. Other names are "usu-age," "inari-age" and "sushi-age." To be distinguished from atsu-age, where the slice is very thick with on the inside still the fresh tofu.

The heat may make the slices puff up so that inside, a hollow space comes into existence. Such pouches of abura-age are used for making inarizushi.

Fine strips of abura-age can be used in miso soup, udon, soba and all kinds of other dishes. The vegetable oil remaining in the fried tofu gives an interesting heartiness to this product; the taste can best be described as "salty sweetness."

Udon with abura-age is called Kitsune-udon or "Fox udon" because foxes are supposed to be fond of deep-fried tofu. There is also "Kitsune-soba." Kitsune-udon is a dish developed in Osaka. When used for kitsune-udon or kitsune-soba, the abura-age is not cut into strips, but a large slice is used as on the picture below.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012


"Squid rice," simmered squid stuffed with rice. いかめし、イカ飯。

Mini-squid filled with rice and simmered in a soy-based stock. The squid is gutted and cleaned, head and tentacles are removed. The rice is usually glutinous rice, or a mix of glutinous and non-glutinous. The rice may be mixed with aburaage, sliced bamboo shoots, minced carrots etc. Thanks to long simmering, the squid becomes tender and is perfumed with the flavor of the stock.

A local dish from the Oshima area in Hokkaido, devised in 1941 by a bento vendor of Mori Station on the Hakodate Main Line. The company still exists and is now called Ikameshi Abe Shoten. When in the mid-1960s the Keio Department Store in Shinjuku started "ekiben competitions" - bringing the popular ones to Tokyo - "ikameshi" immediately entered the top of most popular ekiben and has since remained there.

[Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Monday, November 12, 2012


Chinese-style wheat noodles. ラーメン.

Also called Chuka-soba (中華そば). Ramen is a form of the Japanese-Chinese (Chuka) cuisine, as this dish does not originally exist in China. A type of ramen was first sold in Japan from around the 1900s, both in restaurants and food stalls. After WWII, the popularity of ramen soared as cheap wheat became available from the U.S. In 1958, instant ramen was invented by Ando Momofuku. It became a popular food among students, salarymen living away from their families on tanshin funin basis, as well as harried housewives. In the 1980s a veritable ramen boom started, making this noodle the king of the B-Gourmet scene. There are countless magazines and books devoted to ramen and ramen restaurants, as well as manga and films.

Ramen noodles contain four ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui (an alkaline mixture) or eggs, lending the noodles a yellowish hue and a firm texture. Ramen noodles are kneaded, left to sit, then stretched with both hands - this is also the probable origin of the name, as "ramen" literally means "stretched" or "pulled" noodles.

Ramen noodles are served in a hot soup based on stock from chicken or pork, plus a choice of other ingredients as kelp (konbu), bonito flakes (katsuobushi), dried baby sardines (niboshi), shiitake mushrooms, salt, miso and soy sauce.

Based on the soup, four basic types of ramen are distinguished:
  • Shio-ramen. Light and clear soup. Made with salt and any combination of chicken, vegetables and seaweed. From Hokkaido.
  • Shoyu-ramen. Clear brown soup. Based on a chicken and vegetable stock with plenty of soy sauce added. Savory, yet light. Originally from Tokyo. 
  • Tonkotsu-ramen. Cloudy, white colored soup. Made with pork bones (tonkotsu). Hearty  flavor and creamy consistency. A specialty of Kyushu, particularly Hakata in Fukuoka.
  • Miso-ramen. Thick soup based on miso with chicken or fish broth. Robust and hearty soup. developed in Sapporo (Hokkaido) and nationally popular from around the mid-1960s.
The quality of the soup determines the quality of the whole ramen dish.

Popular toppings include sliced pork (chashu), bean sprouts, spring onion, nori, kamaboko (often in the form of Naruto-maki, thinly sliced fish-cake with a pink inset resembling a whirlpool - named after the whirlpools of Naruto in Tokushima) and brownish shinachiku (lactic fermented pickles of bamboo shoots). Other possibilities, especially for tonkotsu-ramen, are boiled egg, cloud-ear fungus (kikurage) and red pickled ginger (benishoga). A popular seasoning is black pepper.

There are many regional styles (Sapporo, Kitakata, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Wakayama, Hakata/Kyushu, etc.) as is already clear from the above.

Related types of noodles are: Nagasaki champon, tsukementantan-men, wantan-men and reimen.

Ramen noodles are central to Itami Juzo's great film Tampopo, which has been called a "ramen Western."

And talking about national dishes... in Japan ramen is more popular than sushi...

[Miso-ramen. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Herring roe. 数の子.

Herring eggs are very small, but they stick together: the roe forms a single, cohesive mass (10 by 2 cm), with a firm, rubbery texture. The color is usually yellow. The roe is dried and then pickled in salt. It is rather expensive, but a fixed item in the New Year kitchen (osechi-ryori).

Herring also leave there eggs on kelp (konbu); this is called komochi konbu ("konbu with children") and is used as a very exclusive topping for sushi.

Kazunoko is first mentioned in documents of the 16th century, when it was offered as a present to the then shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru.

Because "kazunoko" means "numerous offspring," it became a typical New Year food with a lucky name.

Auspicious food for New Year
[Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


A variety of stir-fried vegetables. 野菜炒め。

Staple dish in Japanese Chuka (Chinese) restaurants. The vegetables usually consist of cabbage, carrots, mushrooms (kikurage, a rubbery, ear-shaped mushroom), green peppers and bean sprouts.

"Yasai" means "vegetables." "Itameru" is the word for Chinese-style stir-frying. In Japan usually flat-bottomed frying pans are used, with very little oil.

[Photo Ad Blankestijn]


"Sour pork." 酢豚。

Fried pieces of pork mixed with onions, carrots, bell peppers, and sometimes bamboo shoots and pine apple, seasoned with a thick sauce based on rice vinegar and soy sauce. The sauce is amber colored.

Staple dish of the Japanese Chinese (Chuka) kitchen. Although it looks like "sweet and sour pork," the sauce and therefore the taste is different in Japan.

[Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Deep-fried pork cutlet. とんかつ, 豚カツ, トンカツ。

A breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet one to two centimeters thick and sliced into bite-sized pieces, generally served with finely shredded raw cabbage, rice in a bowl, miso soup and tsukemono. Either a pork fillet (ヒレ, hire) or pork loin (ロース, rosu) cut may be used; the meat is coated with panko (bread crumbs) before being deep fried (furai).

"Ton" means "pork" and "katsu" is short for "katsuretsu," "cutlet."

Tonkatsu is eaten with a thick dark sauce (called sosu), which is a Japanese version of Worcester sauce. In other words, it is not pungent but sweet and contains pureed apples as its main ingredient. Usually, a dab of Japanese mustard is also served on the side. Each restaurant (chain) has its own "secret sauce."

Although formally Yoshoku, tonkatsu has traveled back to the Japanese cuisine, as is shown by the fact that the rice is not served on a plate, as was originally the case, but in a rice bowl with pickles and miso soup. Neither is it eaten with knife and fork (or a spoon, like that other perennial Yoshoku, curry rice), but with chopsticks.

Tonkatsu restaurants are popular in Japan - especially among students because "katsu" also means "wining" (for example, in the examinations). Moreover, most restaurants offer free extra helpings of rice, shredded cabbage and miso soup. Besides the basic "hire" and "rosu" mentioned above, the menu of such restaurants offers various kinds of tonkatsu, for example: with cheese, with a shiso leaf, with ume paste, with minced meat, with daikon-oroshi (in which case it is eaten with ponzu sauce), or with other types of furai as large shrimps and oysters, etc. Sometimes especially expensive pork is on the menu as an extra option, that of black pigs (kurobuta) from Kagoshima.

Besides being served as a meal set (teishoku), tonkatsu meat is also used as a topping for curry rice (katsu-kare), and a sandwich filling (katsu-sando).

Tonkatsu bento
[Tonkatsu Bento. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Yuzu. Citros junos. ユズ、柚子。

Japanese type of citron with a distinctive aroma and tarty flavor. Yuzu has been cultivated in Japan at least since the 7th century. It is believed to be a hybrid of the sour mandarin and Ichang papeda, and probably originated in China. Yuzu grows on small trees which contain many thorns. Yuzu trees are planted at high elevations on mountain sides, as the cold at night makes the fruit sweeter. Harvest is from late October through November. The largest yuzu cultivation takes place in Kochi Prefecture; but yuzu also come from Kyoto, Yamanashi and Tochigi.

Yuzu tree
[Photo Ad Blankestijn]

The fruit resembles a small grapefruit with an uneven skin, usually between 5.5 and 7.5 cm in diameter. It can be either green or yellow, depending on ripeness. Although there are subtle differences in size and flavor, yuzu resembles the sudachi, another Japanese citrus fruit.

Besides the yuzu used in the Japanese cuisine (called hon-yuzu, or "true yuzu"), there are two other types of yuzu: shishi-yuzu, with a knobby skin, and hana-yuzu. This last variety is purely ornamental and only grown for its flowers.

[Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Uses in the Japanese kitchen (yuzu is seldom eaten as such):
  • Aromatic yuzu peel (the outer rind) is used to garnish soups (suimono) and other dishes such as chawan-mushi.
  • Yuzu and yuzu peel are added to miso to create yuzu-miso.
  • Yuzu juice is used as a seasoning (like lemon in other cuisines). One way of using it is in ponzu sauce, a combination of yuzu juice with dashi, vinegar and mirin. Another product is yuzu vinegar, rice vinegar flavored with yuzu juice.
  • Yuzu is combined with honey to make yuzu-hachimitsu. Yuzu-hachimitsu is used to make yuzu tea, or cocktails as "yuzu sour." There is also yuzu wine.
  • Yuzu is also used to make jam or marmelade.
  • Yuzu can be used as a flavoring for sweets, as yuzu cake.
  • Yuzu pepper (yuzu kosho) is a combination of green and yellow yuzu rinds with cili peppers and salt.
  • Yuzu juice is now a popular drink (often with honey mixed in).
In winter, yuzu is also sometimes added to the bath water (yuzuburo), especially on winter solstice day. This is said to guard against colds, rough skin and warm and relax the body. It is a custom that goes back to the 18th c. The yuzu can be floated whole in the bath (sometimes in a cloth bag), or cut in half.