Ingredients, dishes and drinks from Japan by Ad Blankestijn

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Monaka & Dorayaki

Here we introduce two traditional Japanese sweets, monaka and dorayaki.

Monaka (最中). Stuffed wafer cake. A typical Japanese sweet (wagashi). Rice (mochi) is made into a light, crisp wafer, which is stuffed with bean paste (an). Developed in the early 19th century. The wafers can be pressed into a great variety of shapes and sizes, for example like cherry blossoms, chrysanthemums etc. The filling can also be varied by adding sesame seed, chestnuts, etc. To be eaten with green tea.

Dorayaki (どら焼き, どらやき, 銅鑼焼き, ドラ焼き), also called mikasa (三笠). Stuffed pancake. Another typical Japanese sweet. Two small pancake-like patties made from castella sponge cake are filled with bean paste (an). "Dora" means "gong" and the shape of the sweet indeed resembles this instrument. A totally unreliable legend tells that the famous Benkei once forgot his gong when staying in a farmer's home, and the farmer then used the gong to fry the pancakes. The current shape was developed in the early 20th century.

In the Kansai area, this sweet is called "mikasa" rather than dorayaki. Mikasa is a triple straw hat, and also the nickname of Mt. Wakakusa in Nara (which resembles the shape of such a hat). Local people see the shape of this hill before their eyes when eating a mikasa, and in Nara especially large specimens are sold.

Monaka & Dorayaki
[Japanese sweets from Tsuruya in Kyoto: to the left "monaka" and to the right "mikasa," also called "dorayaki," flavored with green tea. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Mapo doufu. マーボー豆腐、麻婆豆腐。

Small squares of tofu in a mixture containing ground pork seasoned with leeks, ginger, sesame seed oil and soy sauce.

Originally a very hot dish called "mapo doufu" from Sichuan Province in China. The Chinese name is probably gibberish, but literally means something like: "Pockmarked-Face Old Woman's Tofu". Not a very attractive name for a food! It is more probable that the character "ma" refers to the numbing hotness of the original dish, rather then to a "pockmarked face."

In Japan, the dish is called "mabodofu" (マーボー豆腐). It was introduced by one Chen Kenmin who opened the first Sichuanese restaurant in Tokyo in the 1950s (according to Wikipedia). Chen adopted sweet bean paste in the recipe to make the dish less spicy and less oily - and so more to the Japanese taste.

It is one of the most popular Chuka dishes in Japan.

[Mabodofu. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Monday, October 17, 2011


Konjac, taro gelatin. "Devil's tongue." (Amorphophallus konjac). かんにゃく、蒟蒻。

Konjac is the name of a tuberous plant and the product made from its root. The tuber is rinsed, peeled, sliced, dried and ground into a powder. That powder is next mixed with water until it becomes a gelatin-like paste. Then as a coagulating agent lime is added and the paste is formed into firm but elastic blocks and cakes. These are then boiled, and finally cooled in cold water.

Konnyaku roots
[The tuber of konjac. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Konnyaku is grown in Gunma, Tochigi and Fukushima. It grows on mountain slopes and after three years bears a large trumpet-shaped flower. This flower, by the way, led to the English name "devil's tongue" (see photo below). The root is usually dug up after about 3 years, when it is 2.5 kilos heavy.

More than 2,000 years ago konjac was introduced from China as a medicine. From the 13th c. on (Kamakura period) it became a popular vegetarian food among priests at Zen temples. In the 17th c. it became generally popular as a meat substitute in soups among commoners.

Konnyaku is devoid of calories and therefore makes an excellent diet food. Rich in dietary fiber, it helps relieve constipation. Itself tasteless, it takes on the taste of the ingredients with which it is served. It has a chewy character and should always be boiled briefly before eating.

Konjac can have various colors: made from peeled roots it is pale white (its natural look), from unpeeled roots and usually with the addition of hijiki seaweed it takes on a grayish dark color (its most common look). When chili peppers are added, it has a red color and when green tea powder is added, green. Types of flavored konnyaku are also on the market.

[Slices of flavored and slightly spicy konnyaku, served as a side dish. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Konjac is used in oden (winter hotpot with various ingredients) and simmered dishes. Coated with miso it is like dengaku (originaly dengaku is made from tofu). White or colored varieties are used as vegetarian sashimi ("yama fugu") - these are often eaten with sweet miso sauce.

Thinly sliced into fine, gelatinous noodles it is called shirataki ("white waterfall") and used in sukiyaki. Sliced into slightly thicker strings it is called ito-konnyaku ("string konjac") and used in nabemono (hotpots).


Saturday, October 15, 2011


Japanese pumpkin, winter squash. (Cucurbita moschata). かぼちゃ、南瓜。

Japanese pumpkin is smaller and sweeter than the Western variety. It has a thick, dark green skin and bright, deep orange flesh. After cooking, the flesh becomes sweet and creamy.

Cut in small pieces and simmered in dashi, sugar and soy sauce, it is one of the most popular home-style dishes of Japan. The skin becomes soft enough to eat. Cut in slices, it is delicious as tempura. It can also be steamed or served as aemono.

Kabocha (if uncut) can be stored for a long time and was therefore an important source of vitamins in the winter months in the past. Nowadays, it is available year-round, but best in autumn.

Food [Simmered pumpkin (kabocha). Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Arabesque greenling, also called Okhotsk Atka mackerel. (Pleurogrammus azonus). ほっけ。

Hokke is a species of mackerel. It is a grey fish with a light brown stripe, about 40 cm long. As a species it is is closely related to and therefore often confused with the Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius). Caught in Japan's northern waters (Northwest Pacific: Sea of Okhotsk and Kuril Islands down to Ibaraki Prefecture and Tsushima and the Yellow Sea) from early winter to spring. This type of fish is found exclusively in the northern Pacific.

[Grilled Hokke. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

High fat content. Usually eaten grilled (as in the photo above) or simmered. In the past not very popular (it was even called "rat fish") as it looses its freshness rather quickly, but that is in modern refrigerated times no problem anymore. The Japanese started eating hokke when the herring around Hokkaido disappeared due to over-fishing. Hokke formed an important source of protein in the years after WWII. It also became a fixed item on the menus of izakaya. The fact that the bones are easy to remove also added to its modern popularity.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Japanese butterbur. (Petasites japonicus). ふき、蕗。

The stems of this vegetable look large large rhubarb stems. They can become more than a meter long. Before use, they are blanched (akunuki) and peeled. Often used in simmered food, sauteed with miso, in pickles and also as tempura or candied. The taste is somewhat reminiscent of celery.

Fuki is indigenous to Japan. Von Siebold brought the plant to Europe and you can find it now as a decorative growth in forests in the Netherlands (but it is not eaten in Europe).

[Fuki. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Pieces of grilled chicken on skewers. やきとり、焼き鳥。

A popular food with beer, sake or other drinks. Many izakaya have yakitori on the menu and there are also specialized restaurants. These can range from obscure joints "under the tracks," to quite upscale establishments. Yakitori is also sold in supermarkets.

Yakitori is eaten with either tare (a thick sweet sauce) or a dip of salt.

In making yakitori, nothing of the chicken is thrown away. So, besides the obvious negima (pices of white meat alternating with spring onion), momo (soft white meat), sasami (chicken breast) and tsukune (balls of ground chicken meat), we also have haatsu (chicken hearst pierced on a stick), rebaa (the liver), sunazuri (chicken gizzards), tebasaki (the wings), kawa (the skin, usually of the neck) and nankotsu (chicken cartilage) or shiro (the small intestines)...

Preparing yakitori is difficult as the sticks have to be grilled on the charcoal fire in such a way that the outside is well-done and hearty, but the inside still tender.

[Yakitori, above tsukune and below negima, Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Friday, September 30, 2011


Potherb mustard. (Brassica rapa var. nipposinica). みずな、水菜.

Lit. "water greens." The vegetable got its name because it is grown in fields that are shallowly flooded with water. Mizuna is a delicate plant from the mustard family with slender spear-shaped leaves. It grows in clumps and is characterized by a mildly spicy flavor. It is crisp and piquant. 

Mibuna is typically used in stir fries and one-pot dishes (nabemono), but can also be enjoyed raw in salads.  In Kyoto it is a also a popular vegetable for pickling, as it has a firm texture despite its tender appearance. 

Mizuna is one of the few vegetables that is indigenous to Japan.

[Mizuna. Photo from Wikipedia]

As mizuna has for many centuries been cultivated in and around Kyoto, it is especially associated with that city and also called Kyona ("Kyoto greens"). A closely related variety is Mibuna ("Mibu greens"), which belongs to the branded "traditional vegetables from Kyoto." Mibuna (壬生菜) is named after the Mibu Temple in central-western Kyoto. This variety has broader leaves and its scientific name is Brassica campestris var. lanciniifolia.

[Kyo Mibuna. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Monday, September 26, 2011


Inside-out rice cake. おはぎ、お萩。

Normally, rice cakes are made with a filling of bean paste (an), either sieved (koshian) or unsieved (tsubuan). Here, the rice cakes are "inside-out," that is to say, the filling has become the coating and the rice (a mixture ordinary rice and glutinous rice) is on the inside.

Ohagi are named after the bush clover, which flowers in early fall, in the season of the Autumn Equinox (and the Buddhist festival of remembering the dead called Higan). Although they are available the year round, they have a special connection with this season. In spring, during the Spring Equinox (when the same Buddhist festival is celebrated), they are called "botan mochi" or "peony rice cakes" after a typical spring flower.

[Ohagi (Botan mochi)]


Saturday, September 24, 2011


Japanese persimmon. (Diospyros kaki). かき、柿

Persimmon is the fruit of autumn and when you travel in japan in that season, you can see the bright orange fruit hanging in the trees, against a blue sky. And in winter strings of persimmons hang under the eaves of the farmhouses to dry. A beautiful, seasonal decorative effect.

Bessho Onsen 2004
[Kaki tree. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

The kaki is among the oldest plants in cultivation - 2,000 years ago it was already grown in China. The kaki tree is similar in shape to an apple tree, but can grow to ten meters. It blooms from May to June. In Japan the main harvest time for kaki is in the months of October and November. Unusually, the trees have already lost their leaves by the time of harvest.

Kaki is a sweet, slightly tangy fruit. The high tannin content makes the immature fruit astringent and bitter. At the same time, the unripe fruit can be rather hard. As tannin levels are reduced as the fruit matures, it is best to allow it to rest. The texture will gradually soften and the taste becomes sweeter. This being said, there are several varieties, some of which remain very astringent (the Japanese cultivar "Hachiya") and others that are naturally sweet ("Fuyu"). Kaki can also be made into a confection after drying.

The high proportion of beta-carotene makes the kaki fruit nutritionally valuable. Throughout Asia, different healing properties are attributed to kaki. They are said to be helpful against stomach ailments and diarrhea. Immature fruits are said to be a treatment for fever. The juice of unripe fruit is said to lower the blood pressure and the fruit stem to relieve a cough.

[Kaki. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

This post contains information from the Wikipedia article on kaki.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Daikon oroshi

Grated rettich. 大根卸し(だいこんおろし)。

Daikon or giant white radish (aka rettich) is an important root vegetable in the Japanese kitchen. It is consumed in many ways, and here we look at the grated type.

Grated daikon is added to the dip sauce of tempura because it helps with the digestion of oily foods thanks to the enzyme diastase. Daikon oroshi is also added to noodle dishes.
Daikon oroshi can also be eaten as such, with a flavoring of soy sauce. The combination with fatty types of grilled fish is again very good. Mixed with baby sardines you get the dish jako oroshi. When red hot peppers are added to daikon oroshi you get a reddish dish that is called momoji oroshi.

The white parts of daikon taste best. Daikon contains lots of vitamin, calcium, iron and fibers. In the past, it even was used as a treatment for common cold in winter!

Daikon oroshi
[Daikon Oroshi. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Sunday, September 11, 2011


Savory pancake. お好み焼き、おこのみやき。

 Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake on which you can select a number of ingredients “as you like,” – the meaning of “okonomi.” The pancake is made from thick batter consisting of flour, finely cut cabbage, grated yam, eggs and dashi or water to which ingredients are added that give character to the pancake: beef, pork, squid, octopus, shrimp, oysters, etc.

The okonomiyaki is baked on both sides on a iron plate. Metal spatulas are used for turning the okonomiyaki around and to cut it in pieces when it is ready. Before that, it is coated with a thick, sweet sauce and topped with green seaweed flakes (aonori) and bonitoflakes (katsuobushi) – due to the heat, those flakes seem to dance on the pancake! Nowadays, also mayonnaise is added.

[Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima style]

Okonomiyaki is eaten everywhere in Japan. There are several local varieties. The usual one served all over the country is the one in Osaka style, where all ingredients are mixed together. This one really resembles a pancake. The second popular style is from Hiroshima, where the ingredients are not mixed with the batter, but stacked in layers and where also three to four times as much cabbage is used. Fried noodles are also often added.

In Okonomiyaki-restaurants you usually sit at a table with an iron plate so that you can prepare your own pancake – happily, the restaurant staff also helps out because the right timing is not so easy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Crunchy bits of deep-fried flour batter. てんかす、天かす。

Also called agedama. This is the same batter as used in making tempura. Small bits come of during the frying process and these are scooped out of the oil as otherwise they would start burning.

They can be re-used (and are sold separately for that purpose in supermarkets) by adding them to the soups of udon or soba, or sprinkled over cold udon noodles. Of course they fit well with tempura udon etc., but Tenkasu also can add taste quickly when there are little ingredients in the soup. But be careful not to be too liberal with them, as the taste soon gets oily.

Tenkasu (flakes of fried tempura batter)
[Tenkasu or agedama. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Clear soup. すましじる、澄まし汁。

Also called "O-sumashi." Ichiban dashi to which salt and soy sauce have been added.

In the picture below also very finely sliced negi, small pieces of nori and fu (the white circles) have been added.

This soup is also available as an instant product.

Sumashijiru is the homey form of suimono, the elegant soup served in a lidded bowl during the kaiseki meal.

  Clear soup (Osumashi)
[Sumashijiru. Photo Ad Blankestijn.]


Saturday, September 3, 2011


Kujo spring onions. くじょうねぎ、九条葱。

One of the officially branded vegetables originally from Kyoto (Kyo-yasai). Kujo is an area in the southern part of Kyoto. The spring onions that used to be grown here (they are now grown a bit farther south at Jujo) are large and sturdy. They also have a deep green color. Kujonegi are harvested from November to February and have a sweet taste. Their main use is in sukiyaki and hotpot dishes (nabemono). The thinner variant can also be used in udon, soba and miso soup.

Kujonegi (Kyo-yasai)
[Kujonegi. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shichimi togarashi

Seven spice chili mix. しちみとうがらし。七味唐辛子。

Lit. "Seven Flavor Chili." At least six different spices are added to togarashi (chili powder). The formula is flexible, depending on the region of Japan and the shop, but some elements usually added are: sansho (Japanese pepper), sesame, shiso, aonori.

A popular condiment for noodle dishes (the soups of udon and soba, so only the warm varieties of these noodles), nabemono (hotpot dishes) and yakitori.

Shichimi togarashi
[Shichimi togarashi. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Famous types are the Yagenbori shichimi of Tokyo and the Kiyomizu shichimi of Kyoto. That last one is sold in the 350 year old Shichimiya Honpo located on the hill leading up to Kiyomizu Temple (at the corner of Matsubaradori and Sanneizaka).

Another interesting condiment shop is in Kyoto Hararyokaku (est. 1703) on the corner of Hanamikoji and Shijodori, so in Gion. This shops sells for example black shichimi in nice bamboo containers.

Japan Times article about shichimi.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Eggplant, aubergine. なす、茄子。 (Solanum melongena)

The Japanese eggplant is short and slender and different in variety from the ones you find in Europe or the U.S. There are no seeds that have to be removed. The taste is sweet rather than bitter and it becomes creamy after cooking. Eggplants came to Japan via China in the 8th century.

Nasu is used as nimono, as tempura or shallow-fried in preparations with miso (nasu dengaku). Nasu are also popular as tsukemono and in that case make an excellent accompaniment to sake. Nasu are available the whole year in Japan, but taste best in autumn.

[Japanese aubergines. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Shungiku (Kikuna)

Edible chrysanthemum leaves. 春菊。(Chrysanthemum coronarium, garland chrysanthemum).

Originally from the Mediterranean, reached japan via China in the Muromachi period (1336-1573).

Lit. "spring chrysanthemum." Not the leaves of actual chrysanthemums, but a different type which is a real vegetable. Shungiku taste slightly bitter. The autumn variety is officially called kikuna.

Chrysanthemum leaves are in the first place used as a vegetable in nabemono, one-pot stews, such as sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, or torinabe. I also add them to yudofu. They are also used in ohitashi (parboiled chrysanthemum leaves with a mixture of dashi and soy sauce) and aemono (parboiled chrysanthemum leaves with a tofu or sesame dressing). Shungiku can also be added raw to Western salads.

Contains B-carotene and vitamin C.

Sources outside Japan: Japanese food stores.
Preservation: a few days in the refrigerator; longer if they are first boiled.

[Shungiku. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Candied sweet potato. 大学芋。

Sweet potatoes are deep-fried, cut into pieces and then sugar coated. It is a calorie rich snack, developed in modern times. The name means "university potato," and dates from the first half of the 20th c. when this snack was popular in college towns as it was cheap and filled the stomach. Today, you can buy it in supermarkets, but it also appears in stands at the many university festivals that color the Japanese autumn.

[Daigaku-imo. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Monday, August 22, 2011


Broad beans, fava beans. そらまめ、蚕豆、空豆。Vicia faba.

Beans with large pods that have been cultivated in Japan since the 8th c. They are one of the oldest staple dishes in the world and were part of the Mediterranean diet 6,000 years ago. Harvested in May-June and eaten young.

Used as a vegetable (an ingredient in nimono), a garnish or a dish in its own right. Boiled in salted water and served plain as on the photo here they make a good accompaniment to beer in summer. They can also be deep-fried as tempura.

[Soramame. Photo Ad Blankestijn]


Sunday, August 21, 2011


Muskmelon. メロン。Cucumis melo.

The melon has been developed worldwide into may cultivated varieties. In Japan they are grown from Hokkaido to Kyushu, and especially those from Yubari are famous. Melons are often used as a high-priced gift. It is a popular summer fruit in Japan.

The famous Japanese melon
[Expensive Japanese melon. This one is from Kochi Prefecture]

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Trefoil, Japanese wild chervil. 三つ葉、みつば。(Cryptotaenia japonica).

The name means literally "three leaves," and indeed, one leaf of mitsuba consists of three smaller ones. The deeply-cut leaves are attached to slender green stalks.

[Mitsuba. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Mitsuba is related to parsley and celery. The taste is like mild chervil. Mitsuba is nicely fragrant.

Used in soups (miso soup), egg custards, salads and nabemono. Mitsuba is harvested in spring, but available the whole year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Roll sushi (hosomaki) with raw tuna (maguro) and wasabi. 鉄火巻。

The name "tekka" is interesting. According to some this refers to the color of the sushi, which is like "red hot iron." More probable is the explanation that in the Edo-period these sushi were a favorite food in "tekkaba," gambling joints, because one could eat without making the hands dirty and even play on during the meal.

Tekkamaki are eaten with a soy sauce dip. The Tekkamaki in the picture below are thicker than the normal hosomaki as they contain extra tuna ("gudakusan," "with extra ingredients"). Also, they are from a supermarket and not a traditional sushi shop - the sushi shop would have the tuna exactly in the middle of the roll.

[Tekkamaki. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Monday, August 15, 2011

Takuan hosomaki

Sushi roll with Takuan. 沢庵細巻。

The omnipresent pickle Takuan has already been discussed in another post. Another name for this type of sushi roil is "shinko-maki" - "shinko" is a general term for pickles.

Takuan Hosomaki
[Takuan hosomaki. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Takuan is cut in thin slices and used as filling for this thin sushi roll. With kappamaki (cucumber) and tekkamaki (tuna) one of the three most popular fillings for hosomaki, thin sushi rolls rolled in nori (seaweed). A fourth one is nattomaki.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Japanese-style curry and rice. カレーライス。

"Curry rice" consists of a plate of white rice over which curry sauce with ingredients has been poured.

Curry was brought to Japan for their own use by the English at the end of the 19th century, and became quickly popular among the Japanese as well. The taste has been so much adjusted by the Japanese that Indians don’t recognize it anymore! Japanese curry is rather somewhat on the sweet side than very spicy.

Curry rice
[Curry rice with lots of sauce. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

The curry sauce is made by mixing curry powder, flour and oil to make roux. The roux is next simmered with the ingredients. These can be various vegetables as carrots, onions and potatoes, as well as meats as finely sliced beef, pork or chicken. Seafood can also be used and there are also vegetarian curries. Curry rice is usually served with a garnish of pickles or pickled onions.

Curry rice is eaten so much in Japan that it can very well be called a “national dish.” You encounter it everywhere, from canteens to upscale restaurants, and curry rice is also a favorite in the kitchen at home.

Japan Times article on Japanese curry.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tamago dofu

Egg custard. たまごどうふう、卵豆腐

Literally ”egg tofu," but this dish does not contain tofu - it is only named so because it reminds one of a block of tofu. It is a savory egg custard made with dashi. It is normally served chilled. The sauce can be soy sauce thinned with dashi, or, as here, a yuzu sauce. The green on top of the custard are mitsuba leaves.

[Tamago dofu]

This dish is a refreshing summer appetizer. Can be made at home but also bought in the supermarket.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Pressed sushi (oshizushi) wrapped in a persimmon leaf (kaki=persimmon, ha=leaf). 柿の葉寿司。

A regional product of Nara and Wakayama prefectures. Usual toppings are saba (mackerel), sake (salmon) and tai (sea bream). Oshizushi (pressed sushi) are popular in the Kansai area. The sushi are wrapped individually in persimmon leaves, a way to preserve the sushi in the Edo-period. Sometimes the sushi are first wrapped in konbu.

Kakinohazushi (saba, sake)
[Kakinohazushi. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Persimmon leaves are said to possess anti-bacterial properties. The leaves may have been soaked in salty water to make them softer. It is not the intention to eat the leaves!

Kakinohazushi are sold at stations of the JR and Kintetsu lines in Nara and Wakayama, supermarkets and department stores in the Kansai and some department stores in other large cities as Tokyo. They are an excellent ekiben (train lunch)!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Sushi roll with cucumber. かっぱ巻き。

Lightly pickled cucumber with sushi rice wrapped in nori seaweed. The long, thin sushi roll is cut into bite-sized pieces. With Tekkamaki (containing tuna) and Shinkomaki (containing Takuan), this is the most basic form of sushi roll.

The "kappa" is a mischievous creature from Japanese folklore living in ponds and streams and said to be fond of cucumber.

[Kappamaki. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Monday, August 8, 2011

Meat Sauce Spaghetti

Spaghetti with meat sauce. スパゲッティミートソース。

just like "Napolitan," another Japanese yoshoku ("Western") dish that is a staple of canteens, small restaurants and the home. Popular with children.

The sauce consists of ground meat, usually pork and/or beef. Some vegetables as piman may be added for decoration.

Japanese "Meat Spaghetti"
[Meat Sauce Spaghetti (with lots of sauce). Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Japanese-style rolled omelet.  たまごやき、卵焼き。Also called "tamagomaki." 卵まき。

Eggs are mixed with dashi (stock), mirin (or sugar) and soy sauce and lightly beaten. Tamagoyaki is then cooked in a special, rectangular omelet pan, making it possible to roll together several layers of cooked egg in a rectangular shape.

Datemaki, rolled omelet
[Tamagoyaki. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Various fillings can be added. Japanese omelet has a nice sweet taste. It is eaten as a side dish with rice during breakfast, but also dinner.

"Datemaki" is the name of rolled omelet as a sushi topping. The sushi chief uses a special bamboo mat to shape the egg.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Shishito (shishitogarashi)

Small green pepper. Full name "Shishitogarashi". (Capsicum Annuum)  ししとうがらし、獅子唐辛子

Lit. "Green lion pepper" (because it looks like a miniature Chinese lion head, shishi). Although this pepper resembles a hot chili, its flavor is remarkably mild, even softer than the taste of the piman - although there are occasional exceptions!

[Shishito. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Chili peppers were introduced to Japan by the Portugese in the 16th c., and brought from South America. Too hot for the Japanese taste, a process of hybridization started that finally led to the present sweet and non-offensive product.

Uses: grilled on a skewer as yakitori (it goes well with chicken), as kushikatsu or as tempura. Prick it with a toothpick before frying so that it doesn't explode.

Rich in vitamins A and C.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hiyashi champon

Cold champon noodles. ひやしチャンポン。

Champon noodles are a local dish from Nagasaki. They are usually served in a broth of pork and chicken on the bone, with finely chopped seafood (small prawns, oysters, white fish), kamaboko, and vegetables (onion, carrot, cabbage), but here they are served as a cold dish for summer.

Cold Champon Noodle Dish
[Hiyashi Champon. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

The broth is also cold and adds a nice touch, very different from cold udon or soba noodles.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Pickled daikon. Full name "Takuanzuke." たくあん、沢庵、(漬)。

The pickling process used is nukazuke, where vegetables are for several months buried in a bed of the rice bran (nukadoko). In the past, Japanese farmhouses all had their own nukadoko and daughters would get the nuka culture from their mothers.

[Takuan. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Daikon radish (or rettich) is the most popular vegetable for making nuka pickles.

First, the daikon radishes are hung in the sun for a few weeks until they become flexible. Next, they are placed in a pickling crock and covered with a mix of salt and rice bran. Optional are sugar, daikon greens, konbu, persimmon peels and chili pepper. A weight is then placed on top of the crock, and the radishes are allowed to pickle for several months.

Takuan made in this traditional way is only slightly, whitish yellow. To make the product look more attractive, the radishes are often colored yellow by adding turmeric (ukon), which is still a natural ingredient, but most mass-produced takuan rely on food coloring for the same effect.

Supermarket, cheap takuan can be terrible (tough and tasteless). But good takuan by a small dedicated producer is delicious! Look for takuan that is not too brightly yellow - some takuan is sold whole and with some nuka still on it - that is usually a sign of good quality.

Takuan, by the way, is in fact the name of a famous Zen priest (Takuan Soho, 1573-1645) who purportedly invented this type of pickle.

[This post has reworked a few elements from Wikipedia]

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Japanese pepper. 山椒, さんしょう (Zanthoxylum piperitum)

Sansho is not related to black pepper (kosho), but the berries are from the Japanese prickly ash shrub. The green pods are ground to a powder without the berries, and then dried (the berries are not used as they are quite bitter). Sansho is usually bought ground, as the flavor keeps a long time.

[Sansho. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Sansho possesses in fact an aroma similar to citrus and mint. It has also been compared to "lemony aniseed" (World Food Japan by John Ashburne). It is aromatic rather than hot.

Sansho is used for grilled eel (unagi no kabayaki), yakitori and kushikatsu. With its citrus taste it serves to refresh the palate after oily dishes, making its use very different from pepper in the western kitchen. It is also used in udon, nabemono, and on some types of white fish (replacing its sister product shichimi togarashi).

Sansho is also one of the ingredients of Shichimi togarashi. The pods are also added to tsukudani.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Soybean flour. 黄粉、きなこ

Made from soybeans that have been toasted and ground into flour.

Used as a topping for mochi and other wagashi. Has a nutty flavor. You can also use it as topping for ice cream or yogurt and to mix through milk or soy milk as a drink.

Healthy as it contains much protein and Vitamin B.

[Kinako from Wikipedia]


Grilled mochi (rice cake) cut in small pieces and dusted with a mix of kinako (soybean powder) and sugar. 安倍川餅

Originally a local product from the area of the Abe river in Shizuoka.

Instead of sugar, sometimes also syrup is used, in that case the kinako comes on top of the syrup.


Hiyashi Udon

Cold udon noodles. 冷やしうどん。

Udon are thick, white wheat noodles. They are made from wheat that is mixed with salt and water, kneaded, stretched and sliced. Udon noodles came to Japan from China somewhere in the 8th c. They were a staple food long before soba arrived.

Cold Udon Noodles (Hiyashi Udon)
[Hiyashi udon. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

In contrast to soba, udon is more popular hot than cold. But in summer, cold udon is not uncommon. Hiyashi udon is eaten with a dipping sauce and often covered with sliced negi and flakes of tempura batter.

A variant using thinner wheat noodles is Hiyamugi.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


A brown seaweed with a finer leaf structure than konbu and wakame. ひじき。Hizikia fusiforme.

Hijiki is cultivated and sold cut and dried. When boiled before drying the color becomes a rich black. Despite its spiky looks, it is quite soft.

[Hijiki no nimono. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Hijiki is very nutritious. Contains lots of iron, calcium and dietary fibers (40%).

  • Hijiki-mame, soybeans with hijiki sauteed in oil with soy and suga
  • Hijiki no nimono, simmered seaweed with vegetables (for example, carrot, konnyaku and aburage)
  • Hijiki salad
  • Hijiki-gohan, rice mixed with hijiki and some vegetables

Goya chanpuru

Stir fry dish containing bitter gourd. ゴーヤーチャンプルー

Chanpuru (the last "u" is long) is a form of popular Okinawan stir fry dish, generally containing vegetables, tofu, and some kind of meat or fish. Chanpuru is Okinawan for "something mixed."

Goya Champuru
[Goya Champuru. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Champuru now has spread to mainland Japan as well - and not only in the numerous Okinawan restaurants.

Goya champuru is the quintessential chanpuru, a mixture of bitter gourd (goya), other vegetables, tofu, and thinly sliced pork.


Bitter melon or bitter gourd. (Momordica charantia) ゴーヤー.

My favorite Okinawan vegetable is the goya, a very bitter gourd that looks like a grotesque, extra knobbly cucumber.

[Sliced goya. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Goya can be eaten in salads, made into tempura, but the most common way is to use it in a stir-fried dish called goya-champuru. What is bitter, is good for you, so goya is thought to be the secret behind the Okinawans’ famous longevity.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hata (Striped grouper)

Hata. Striped grouper (Epinephelus septemfasciatus). ハタ、羽太。

Size varies from 15 cm to more than 2 meters. Groupers have a stout body and large mouth and are not made for long-distance swimming.

[Picture from Fishbase]

Likes to suck in its prey and swallow it whole instead of biting pieces off it. Feeds on other fish, crabs, octopus and lobster. Occurs near shore, such as rocky reefs in shallow waters. Commercially cultured in Japan. Best in early summer. Ma-hata grows to 90 cm and is eaten as sashimi and grilled with salt. Even more tasty is kiji-hata, which only grows to 40 cm - the meat of this fish is pinkish and highly prized.


Matsutake fungus. (Tricholoma matsutake, "pine mushroom"). Also called "mattake." 松茸.

The "King of Mushrooms," both fragrant and delicious... if you can afford it, because this gourmet mushroom really breaks the bank. One mushroom can sell for hundreds of dollars. It is popular as a corporate gift.

[Photo from Wikipedia]

Matsutake has the fragrance of the red pine woods where it grows - only in the wild as commercial cultivation is still impossible. Its season is limited to a few weeks in autumn. It has a thick, meaty stem and is best before the caps opens. Its color is dark brown.

In Japan itself, native supply is insufficient and most matsutake now come from China, Korea, the U.S. or Canada or other countries.

Matsutake is one of the most sought after delicacies. It seems to be prized in the first place for its fragrance.

It is often served in a dobin, a small teapot in which the mushroom has been steamed (dobinmushi). You enjoy the aroma, drink the juice from a small cup and finally eat the mushroom. Matsutake can also be grilled or eaten in rice as matsutake gohan (understandably, if you buy this in the supermarket the slices of matsutake or so minimal that there is no fragrance or taste at all).


Tea over rice. 茶漬け.

Bowl of rice topped with ingredients over which green tea (o-cha) has been poured. Depending on the ingredients, there are many varieties:
  • Sake chazuke, with salted salmon
  • Tai chazuke, with sea bream
  • Nori chazuke, with dried seaweed
  • Umeboshi chazuke, with a pickled plum
  • Maguro chazuke, with tuna
  • Mentaiko chazuke, with spicy pollock roe.
A dab of green horseradish will be served on the side to mix into the broth of you like. Also served with pickles.

Light dish eaten after drinking or as late night supper. Also popular in izakaya.

[Chazuke with umeboshi and shredded shiso leaves. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Tempura Teishoku

Set of deep fried foods served with a bowl of rice, miso soup and pickles. 天ぷら定食.

Some of the following types of tempura are usually included:

  • shrimp or prawns
  • piece of white fish
  • piece of squid
  • eggpant
  • Nori square
  • leaf of beefsteak plant
  • green pepper
[Photo Wikipedia]

On the side a thin dip sauce is served, to which grated radish can be added. Eat the tempura after dipping in this sauce.


Bowl of rice topped with tempura. 天丼。

"Tempura donburi." Donburi is a large bowl of rice with various ingredients served on top.

Here that is the popular tempura, deep-fried pieces of battered seafood or vegetables. As tempura, usually two large shrimps are selected, possibly with the addition of some smaller items as nori or peppers. The shrimps have been dipped in soy sauce and are not as fresh as in the case of Tempura Teishoku.

Some of the broth is poured over the rice. Pickles are served on the side.

[Photo by Ad Blankestijn]

For further reading:
Kyoto Foodie and a tendon experience at Tenshu, Kyoto

Kare-udon (Curry udon)

Udon noodles in curry sauce. カレーうどん。

An interesting and delicious "fusion" dish where Japanese udon noodles are served in a curry soup. The curry soup can be made with curry roux or from left-over curry.

Curry udon
[Photo Ad Blankestijn]

It is a good idea to add some dashi to make it thinner in that case. Another way is to use curry powder and add flour or starch to make the soup thicker.

As regards which ingredients to add, there is a lot of freedom here: onions and green spring onions are staples, meat in the form of small slices of beef or chicken is optional. In the example here, Chinese cabbage and "gobo-maki" have been added. Gobo-maki are rolls of fish paste with a piece of burdock in the center. Curry udon is an excellent example of a combination of two popular dishes!

Umeboshi (pickled plum)

Pickled Plum. 梅干、うめぼし

"An umeboshi a day keeps the doctor away."

Although generally called "plums", ume (Prunus Mume) are in fact something between a plum and an apricot (but we will keep up the plum tradition). The bets name would in fact be "ume."

The plums are plucked before they are completely ripe.

While still green, ume are harvested and cured with sea salt for several months. The result: an extremely sour mouthful!

[Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Umeboshi are usually colored red with red shiso leaves, a natural method. The best (and largest) plums come from Nanko in Wakayama Prefecture. Nowadays, you find umeboshi with various additional flavorings as honey or even wine or mango.

Umeboshi are eaten as pickles on rice. A bento consisting only of rice and a red plum was called "Hinomaru (Japanese flag) Bento."

Kayu (rice gruel) is also usual served with a pickled plum.

My start of the day consists of a cup of bitter green tea with one or two umeboshi on the side - I eat them with chopsticks, but other people put them in the tea. This is an excellent way to wake up, and also considered as healthy as the umeboshi cleans the body.


Fried noodles. やきそば。

Despite the name, these are not soba or buckwheat noodles, but ramen-style noodles, made from wheat flour, salt, water and kansui (alkaline mineral water).

The noodles are stir-fried on an iron plate with slivers of pork or seafood and vegetables (usually cabbage, carrots and onions, but there is a lot of variation possible). The yakisoba can be flavored with yakisoba sauce, and in that case it is called sosu yakisoba. Garnishes are usually aonori (green seaweed powder), beni-shoga (pickled ginger) and sometimes also katsuobushi (bonito flakes).

Yakisoba is a very popular dish, often made at home, but also available in canteens, okonomiyaki restaurants, izakaya and street stalls during festivals.

Due the its popularity, yakisoba is also sold in instant form in Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores, such as long time favorite Sapporo Ichiban. You have to add vegetables and meat yourself. A complete instant meal is offered by Nisshin's UFO, sold in a container to which only hot water has to be added.

Surprisingly, yakisoba is also eaten on buns as yakisoba-pan - these are again available in convenience stores. And, I hasten to add, they are surprisingly delicious as well. Yakisoba is also added to okonomiyaki "Hiroshima-style" and to Osaka's variant of these, modan-yaki.

[Yakisoba by Ad Blankestijn]

Yakisoba recipes