Ingredients, dishes and drinks from Japan by 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. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

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.

[Abekawamochi. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

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.