When in the kitchen, the ingredients matter… but even if you have a recipe, sometimes it’s not too clear! Katsuobushi? Aonori? Gari?? What is all this stuff, anyways??
This page will hopefully help you to navigate the grocery aisles and locate exactly what the recipe calls for (or at least a close approximate!), and will be updated as I think of more items…
The list is in alphabetical order.
Aburage is basically thinly sliced tofu that, when deep-fried, created a pouch. It can be simmered in a sweet soy sauce mixture and then stuffed with sushi rice to make inari-zushi. It can also be added to miso soup or udon, or stuffed with natto.
Anko, or sweet red bean paste, is made by cooking azuki beans into a paste and sweetening it with sugar. Anko is available in a can in some Asian grocery stores, but homemade anko tastes much better! Find the recipe here!
Aonori is powdered seaweed that is commonly sprinkled on top of a variety of dishes as a condiment. In some cases, if you can’t find aonori, you can also use kizami nori, which is dried seaweed (nori) cut into thin strips. It is sold in a container, or you could always cut your own from a sheet of nori. If you cut it yourself, make sure to crisp up your nori on the stove or over an open flame (such as on a gas stove), and cut the nori thinly, a little thicker than the width of a matchstick, and about as long.
Beni shouga is pickled ginger that is julienned (cut like short matchsticks) and is a bright red in color. It can be found in many Asian grocery stores, and comes in a jar, with the beni shouga submerged in a vinegary solution.
Bonito flakes or katsuobushi is made from dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna (referred to as bonito). The flakes are airy and very thin, and are placed on top of dishes such as okonomiyaki as a garnish or mixed into dishes. The taste is slightly salty and smoky.
Dashi is Japanese fish stock. It commonly comes in the form of powder or granules, dissolving once wet. Used in a variety of recipes, from tamago-yaki to udon. Very useful to have on hand.
Gari is thinly sliced ginger that has been pickled. It is pink in color, and is a common accompaniment to a sushi dinner. It can be found in many Asian grocery stores, and comes in a jar, submerged in a vinegary solution.
Ichimitogarashi (meaning “one flavour chilli pepper”) is a common type of ground chilli powder found in Japan that is used more as a condiment than a spice to make a dish spicy. It can be found in Asian grocery stores, and select grocery stores.
Japanese mayonnaise is thinner than its Western equivalent, and is used widely across Japan in sushi, as a dipping sauce, in salads, and drizzled atop a variety of dishes. It comes in a convenient squeeze bottle, and I generally use the popular brand, Kewpie. Japanese mayonnaise tastes different than Western mayonnaise, so I wouldn’t recommend using it as a substitute (might work in a pinch, though I’ve never tried it).
Katsuobushi is another word for bonito flakes, which is made from dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna (referred to as bonito). The flakes are airy and very thin, and are placed on top of dishes such as okonomiyaki as a garnish or mixed into dishes. The taste is slightly salty and smoky.
Kizami nori is dried seaweed (nori) cut into thin strips. It is sold in a container, or you could always cut your own from a sheet of nori. If you cut it yourself, make sure to crisp up your nori on the stove or over an open flame (such as on a gas stove), and cut the nori thinly, a little thicker than the width of a matchstick, and about as long. Sometimes it can be used as a substitute for aonori, which is powdered seaweed that is commonly sprinkled on top of a variety of dishes as a condiment.
Matcha is a finely powdered green tea that is traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies. It dissolves into liquids easily, and does not need to be strained like regular teas. It can be found in some grocery stores and Asian grocery stores. It is also often sold in specialty stores. Matcha might be shelved in a variety of locations in a store, including the Asian/international food section, tea and coffee aisle, or vitamins/supplements department.
Mirin is a kind of rice wine mixed with sugar, to create a very sweet condiment. It is used in many Japanese recipes, such as sushi rice, and teriyaki sauce. Quite useful to have on hand.
Miso is a thick and salty Japanese seasoning that is typically made by fermenting soybeans. It is available is most Asian grocery stores. There are three main types of miso: aka miso (aka meaning red), shiromiso (shiro meaning white), and awasemiso (awase meaning mixed), which is a mix of aka and shiromiso. Each type is slightly different than the next in terms of both appearance, smell, texture, and taste, with different varieties preferred depending on the region of Japan. If you’re not too sure about which miso to use, try out awasemiso, which is a nice medium between the more robust akamiso and the mild shiromiso.
Nagaimo is a type of yam that is light beige on the outside, and white on the inside. It can be found in Japanese grocery stores, such as Mitsuwa. Generally, the nagaimo is grated using the larger holes on a standard grater. Once grated, this ingredient turns very gooey and sticky. Peel the nagaimo before grating, and make sure to avoid contact with the white surface beneath because it is known to cause an allergic reaction for some people.
Nori is edible seaweed, and comes in the form of thin sheets. It can be found in many grocery stores, and is most commonly found wrapping sushi rolls in restaurants. It is also used to wrap onigiri (rice balls), for decoration, and as a garnish. If using un-toasted nori, toast the nori before serving by drifting it over the low and open flames of a glass stove. I usually hold onto a corner of the nori sheet using a pair of chopsticks or tongs. Drift the nori sheet over the flames a couple times per side. Doing this, crisps up the nori and gives it a toasted flavour.
Okonomiyaki sauce, as it’s name implies, is used with okonomiyaki. It is slightly sweet, with a tangy taste similar to Worcestershire sauce. If you cannot find it in your local grocery story, you can also use tonkatsu sauce as a substitute.
Panko refers to Japanese breadcrumbs. The word is derived from a combination of pan meaning bread (a word borrowed from the Portugese word for bread) and ko, which is the ending for the word flour in Japanese. Unlike regular breadcrumbs, which are fine in texture and include the crusts of the bread, panko is shredded into larger flakes and does not include bread crusts. This larger crumb allows for a crispier coating when breading, as well as a lighter and airier texture because it doesn’t absorb as much oil when fried. Panko can be found in most grocery stores these days, but if you don’t have any in your pantry, you can always use regular homemade or store-bought breadcrumbs, though the texture will not be as nice.
Rice vinegar is more mild than standard white vinegar, and is a pale yellow or clear color. It is used in many dishes including those that include simmered dishes, for pickling or sour type dishes (sunomono), and to mitigate the strong smell of some fish and meats.
Sesame seeds is a great ingredient to add to many dishes. I like sprinkling them on my rice before eating, or over yakisoba. It’s often used as a garnish as well as in many baked goods.
Sesame seed oil (roasted) (East Asian variety) is a very fragrant and dark brown coloured oil that is primarily drizzled on top of food just before serving. It is not generally used as a cooking oil due to its low smoke point. It is widely available in many grocery stores, and should not be substituted with cold-pressed sesame oil (a light yellow/clear oil), or Indian sesame oil (a golden coloured oil).
Shichimi togarashi (or nanairo togarashi) is a Japanese 7 flavour chili pepper (shi and nana both mean “7” in Japanese). It is a blend of various spices and ingredients, of which the main ingredient is chili pepper. It is often used in soups, or sprinkled on noodles and dishes like gyu-don.
A typical blend might include: coarsely ground red chili pepper, ground sansho (Sichuan pepper), roasted orange peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, hemp seed, ground ginger, nori or aonori
Shitake mushrooms can be bought either fresh or dried. I generally prefer dried because they’re easy to store, and last for a long time, unlike fresh mushrooms. To rehydrate dried mushrooms, break off the stems, and then simply submerge them in boiling water and cover. After about 15 minutes, they should be soft and ready to use. Squeeze the excess water from the mushrooms, and then use according to the recipe.
Soy sauce from Japan is quite different from Chinese soy sauce. It is lighter and slightly sweet.
Teriyaki sauce is a marinade that is based on a combination of mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. It is salty and sweet, and is used to many dishes including meats, fish, and vegetables. It’s a very useful item to have in your fridge, and it is very easy to make.
Tonkatsu sauce a dipping sauce used for a Japanese dish of deep fried pork cutlets (tonkatsu), but can also be used as a substitute for other sauces as well. It is often easier to find than something like okonomiyaki sauce, which has a similar taste. It’s similar to Worcestershire sauce, except slightly sweet and of a thicker texture. I like to use store-bought sauce (specifically the Bulldog brand), and it’s available in most Asian grocery stores. If you can’t find tonkatsu sauce in your local grocery store, you can make your own by mixing ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.
Wakame is an edible seaweed that is often served in soups and salads. It comes cut into small pieces and dried, and rehydrates on contact with liquid. It is most commonly seen in miso soup.