Japanese dishes

For quintessential Japanese dishes, these are the condiments and spices your pantry needs

Japanese cooking may seem daunting but with these condiments and spices in your arsenal, no dish will be out of your reach.

Japanese cuisine is full of bold flavors and complexity on a level that has intimidated many who try to replicate it. You could say that Japanese cuisine is one of the most intimidating cuisines to tackle even though, at its core, its ingredients are simple and healthy. Preparation is key when recreating an authentic Japanese dish, as skill in knife work, protein, and vegetables are all required to carry out the tradition as it is meant to be with locals. Japan’s most sacred meals.

Related: The art of mochi, a traditional Japanese dessert made from rice flour (it’s also super cute)

The other half of this culinary equation, however, involves the right condiments and spices. Japan is a world full of flavors and it is not one that can be seen through black and white glasses; Pink glasses will make it easy for anyone at home to replicate their favorite dishes. In some cases, there are multiple paths to achieve a flavor profile, while other routes will take a culinary adventurer down a road that offers paths with a myriad of spices instead of just one. With an arsenal like this in your pantry and spice cabinet, there won’t be many forbidden Japanese dishes in your kitchen at home.

Shoyu or soy sauce

shoyu sauce
via Shutterstock

These two aren’t the same thing, but if you’re going for something that shares a similar umami to this, it should be one of these two. Everyone has seen (and used) Kikkoman soy sauce in Japanese restaurants and it’s just as important to have it at home, as soy sauce is a staple in Japanese cuisine. Shoyu is a fancier version of soy sauce and is slightly more expensive, but definitely worth it for the boost in flavor and depth it provides. So, for an affordable option, opt for soy sauce. If you’re looking to cook a lot of Japanese dishes and really get into cooking, go for Shoyu.


miso paste and miso soup
via Shutterstock

Miso is fairly easy to find now, and when you buy it, it often comes in fairly large jars that can be stored in the refrigerator after being opened. Miso is a fermented soybean paste and comes in three distinct types and flavors: yellow, white, and red. For starters, yellow miso is most beginner-friendly while still providing a bold flavor that won’t overwhelm a dish or be off-putting. It’s also gentle enough to be versatile for a variety of dishes, which is also useful.


via Shutterstock

Also known as Japanese sweet rice wine, mirin is the source of that flavor that many of us taste in sauces and say, “it’s slightly sweet…but very complex.” It’s amazing what a small amount of mirin can do to alter the flavors of a dish while bringing out other flavors and balancing them out. It is also essential when making any teriyaki dish and comes in syrup form. The thing to note about mirin is that it’s not easy to substitute – sugar and sake are a good start but won’t offer quite the same flavor profile, so mirin is really essential.

rice vinegar

rice vinegar and sushi rice
via Shutterstock

Speaking of hard-to-replace condiments, rice vinegar is another condiment that cannot be replaced with anything else. Rice vinegar, in particular, is made from rice and therefore offers a milder flavor and does not have the same bold, acidic bite found in white vinegar, balsamic vinegar or vinegar. of red wine. It is essential in dishes such as sushi and in many salads.


nori seaweed sheets
via Shutterstock

Nori is now readily available at the grocery store, which makes it quite easy to find. Although commonly eaten as a snack these days, nori is also widely used in Japanese soups and in sushi, making it another essential (and very healthy) ingredient. It’s not a spice or condiment, but it’s something worth mentioning as a staple for anyone looking to understand Japanese cuisine.


panko breadcrumbs
via Shutterstock

Panko breadcrumbs cannot be substituted for regular or Italian breadcrumbs, and for good reason. Panko flakes are lighter and provide much more crunch than other types of breading, which is why fried foods – like pork cutlets and shrimp – have such an incredible texture. Panko also allows certain foods to hold sauces and seasonings better than the average breadcrumbs, essential to many Japanese dishes.


sansho berries
via Shutterstock

Sometimes the pepper flavor we taste in Japanese dishes is actually sansho and not fresh peppercorns. The flavor is also similar to lemongrass but with a spicier delivery, and it is found in a spice called shichimi togarashi which is actually a blend of seven Japanese spices. While shichimi togarashi is commonly used in soups and as a finishing spice, sansho is very versatile in a variety of dishes and protein to add that little extra kick.

Next: The home cooking tips you need in your arsenal, as told by culinary students

Hawa Mahal in India

Meet the Hawa Mahal: the magnificent palace of Indian princesses

About the Author