Ingredients, dishes and drinks from Japan by Ad Blankestijn

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Curry rice with deep-fried pork. カツカレー

This combination of two Yoshoku dishes, curry rice and tonkatsu, was first served in 1918 by the restaurant Kawakin in Asakusa (this restaurant has closed but in Iriya and Senzoku there are still several restaurants carrying this name). It was called "Kawakin-don."

The present type was born in 1948 in the restaurant Grill Swiss on the Ginza.

This is now one of the most popular forms of curry rice in the whole country. Delicious as it is, it is also a dish rather high in calories.

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Inside-out rolls, a type of makizushi. 裏巻き。

The nori is on the inside of the sushi. The filling is in the center surrounded by nori, around which a layer of rice has been applied. The outside is coated with toasted white or black sesame seeds. It can be made with a variety of fillings (besides the avocado mentioned below, also salmon, lettuce, cucumber, crab or crab stick, tuna and other types of fish, etc.).

Also called California Roll, as this type of sushi was invented in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. The restaurant was Tokyo Kaikan and the chef was named Mashita Ichiro. At first, it was not invented for Americans, as most of the clientele consisted of Japanese. But the restaurant had problems obtaining good fatty tuna belly (toro) and therefore started to use avocado instead. Avocado melts in the mouth like fatty tuna and is easily available in California. The idea to turn the roll inside out came afterwards, when American customers increased. They disliked the texture of the dry seaweed, which was therefore hidden on the inside. In Japan, uramaki are very rare, as Japanese prefer the texture of the seaweed; moreover, uramaki fall easily apart and cannot be eaten with the fingers as normal makizushi, but one has to use chopsticks.

Uramaki are, however, legitimate international sushi, just as legitimate as the Japanese variations on Western dishes, such as Tarako Spaghetti (spaghetti flavored with Alaskan pollock roe), toasted baguettes with mentaiko (marinated pollock roe) or buns filled with yakisoba (fried noodles)!

Uramaki (salmon)
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"Tenshin donburi." Chinese-style donburi with omelet and a thick sauce. 天津丼

Rice covered by an egg omelet made with crab, onions and green peas (kanitama). A thick starchy sauce covers the top. Sometimes also finely-chopped spring onions and shiitake mushrooms are added.

The sauce is different for each individual shop: in the Kanto a sauce based on tomato ketchup with vinegar is popular, while in the Kansai sauces based on soy sauce are common.

This dish is also called Tenshin-han (天津飯).

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Monday, October 29, 2012


Cooked salad dressed with tofu. 白和え。

One of the basic categories of the Japanese cuisine (aemono). Cooked green vegetables are flavored with dashi, soy sauce and mirin, and then dressed with tofu. Besides green vegetables (among which spinach is popular) also konnyaku and hijiki can be used, as well as small mushrooms and carrot.

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Soused greens. おひたし。

Parboiled green vegetables, soused in dashi with soy sauce and mirin, and served chilled.

The vegetables can be spinach (horenso), Chinese cabbage (hakusai), mustard spinach (komatsuna), garland chrysanthemum (shungiku) and even bean sprouts (moyashi). Sometimes other ingredients are added as well.

Nibitashi of Komatsuna, Jako and Abura-age
[Ohitashi of Komatsuna, Jako (small fish) and Abura-age, photo Ad Blankestijn]


Donburi with egg and thinly sliced kamaboko. 木の葉丼.

Donburi (or "Don") is a large bowl of white rice with various ingredients - here egg with thinly sliced kamaboko, as well as shiitake mushroom and spring onion. It is a dish typical of the Kansai region. The egg is spread raw over the dish and (barely) cooked by the heat of the rice. As the ingredients are simple and inexpensive, this is a popular family dish.

In Osaka and Kobe, some abura-age (fried tofu) may be added. As a topping, some thinly sliced nori may also be used.

The name originates in the comparison of slices of kamaboko with tree leaves (konoha).

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Threeleaf Arrowhead. Sagittaria trifolia var. edulis. クワイ(慈姑).

Arrowhead is a plant growing in shallow water. The bulbs, 3-5 cm long, are peeled, boiled and seasoned. Often used in nimono, simmered dishes, such as Chikuzen-ni. Als part of Osechi-ryori, the festive cuisine for the New Year.

Kuwai is rich in proteins. The bulbs are quite soft but have little taste of themselves.

Kuwai are cultivated in Fukuyama (Hiroshima Pref.), Kyoto, Koshigaya (Saitama Pref.) and Hakui (Ishikawa Pref.).

[Kuwai. Photo Wikipedia]

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Cooking techniques. 調理法。

There are five techniques of applying heat to Japanese dishes. These techniques are considered so important that traditionally cooking books are based on these techniques, rather than on ingredients.

The basic techniques are:

  • Niru: Simmering.
  • Yuderu: Cooking.
  • Yaku: Grilling.
  • Itameru: Sauteing.
  • Ageru: Deep-frying.
  • Musu: Steaming.
  • Aeru: Dressing a Japanese-style salad.
Three other techniques are: the preparation of sashimi (raw fish); the preparation of suimono (clear soups); and the preparation of appetizers (zensai).  


Cutting. 切る。

Cutting is the most important technique in Japanese cooking, even more important than the various techniques of applying heat.

Cutting is done with a hocho, Japanese kitchen knife, of which the basic forms are:

Deba-bocho: Kitchen cleaver for fish (for filleting fish). Deba knife
Usuba-bocho: Vegetable knife. Usuba knife
Sashimi-bocho (Yanagi-bocho): Fish slicer (for cutting sashimi slices), Sashimi knife.

The most commonly used knife at home is called Banno-bocho ("knife suitable for everything, almighty knife") as it combines the above functions without becoming specialist.

Here are a few cutting techniques that occur often:

Sengiri: Julienne
Ichogiri: quarter rounds (in the form of Gingko leaves)
Hyojikigiri: square rectangles (in the form of wooden clappers)
Rangiri: rolling wedges (chopping)
Mijingiri: fine chopping

Friday, October 5, 2012


Japanese horseradish, wasabi (Wasabia japonica). わさび, 山葵 

Wasabi is a plant that grows naturally in the marshy edges of clear mountain streams and when cultivated also needs clear, running water. Such cultivation usually takes place on mountain terraces. Due to the difficulty of growing wasabi, it is an expensive product.

Although conveniently called "horseradish" in English, it is in fact very different from Western horseradish: wasabi is more fragrant and less sharp. The pale green flesh of the root is made into a paste by rubbing the root on a fine metal grater (oroshigane). After grating, wasabi has to be used immediately as it soon loses its flavor.

Authentic wasabi has a fresh and cleansing taste - even a certain sweetness. The burning sensation works on the nasal passage rather than the tongue and can be easily washed away with liquid. Wasabi helps to prevent food poisoning and that is the reason why wasabi is eaten with raw fish (sashimi) as well as sushi containing raw fish as a topping. In exclusive sushi bars the chef grates the wasabi roots with a sharkskin grater (samegawa-oroshi). With sushi, wasabi is added by the customer to the soy-based dipping sauce, but also used by the chef, who always puts some wasabi between the rice and the slice of raw fish.

Wasabi has been long known in Japan - the oldest record dates from the 7th century, but it was mostly used for its medical properties. Wasabi is not used as a general condiment in traditional Japanese cooking, which does not know any sharp flavors. As stated above, its main function is for its anti-microbial properties with sashimi and sushi, and besides that in dipping sauces for cold soba, in chazuke and sometimes on steak. Wasabi can also be used for pickling vegetables (wasabizuke).

The best wasabi roots come from the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka or from Nagano Prefecture.

[Wasabi with metal grater - photo Wikipedia]

Real wasabi is a luxury product even in Japan, and at home mostly wasabi paste (neri-wasabi) or wasabi powder (kona-wasabi) is used. This in itself would not be so bad, were it not that most of these products contain little or no authentic wasabi but instead Western horseradish (called Seiyo wasabi) mixed with mustard, starch and green coloring. The paste is sold in tubes in supermarkets, the less common powder is sold in cans.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Kamaboko slices. 板わさ。

"Ita" refers to the wooden cedar boards on which kamaboko loaves used to be molded and steamed and grilled; "wasa" is short for wasabi.

This is an appetizer consisting of slices of high-grade kamaboko with wasabi horseradish and soy sauce.  Goes also well with sake. Use the soy sauce and wasabi as a dip for the kamaboko slices. Eat chilled or at room temperature.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


"Eucommia tea," "tochu-cha." とちゅうちゃ、杜仲茶。

Tochu-cha is tea made from the leaves of the Eucommia tree, in China called Duzhong. The Duzhong has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. The bark of the 15 meter high tree is, for example, believed to alleviate lower back pain and aching knees.

The deciduous leaves contain some rubber (it comes out when you fold them), but are also used to brew tea. Tochu tea is supposed to help lowering high blood pressure, slim down and cleanse the body. It also has an interesting taste.

The tea was first made popular in Japan by Hitachi Zosen, a shipbuilding company on the path of diversification. Hitachi Zosen caused a small boom with tochu-cha in the nineties. Afterwards, the company sold the product rights of this health food to Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, who is now the main manufacturer of this type of tea in Japan.

Duzhong trees have to be cultivated, they do not grow in the wild anymore, but they have been succesfully imported to Japan and planted in the Ina area of Nagano Prefecture.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ebi (Prawn, shrimp)

Prawn, shrimp (Penaeidae). Refers in general to all ten-legged edible crustaceans. えび、海老、蝦.

One of the most popular ingredients in the Japanese kitchen. The major types of ebi used in the Japanese kitchen and their ways of preparing are:

Ama-ebi: "Northern shrimp" or "Pink shrimp" (Pandalus borealis). Length about 12 cm. Nov-Feb. Sweet-tasting and used for sushi and sashimi. Has transparent meat.
Botan-ebi, "Botan shrimp" (Pandalus nipponensis). Used raw on sushi as this type is soft enough and need not be boiled. Also in tempura and deep-fried.
Hokkai-ebi, "Hokkaido prawn" (Pandalus latirostris). Found along the northern shores of Hokkaido, grows to 13 cm. Often used in tsukudani (salt-sweet preserve of fish, shellfish and vegetables).
Ise-ebi, "crawfish, Japanese spiny lobster" (Panulirus japonicus). Can reach 35 cm. As sashimi, or split in half and grilled.
Kuruma-ebi, "tiger prawn" (Marsupeaeus japonicus). Up to 20 cm. May to Sept. Large prawn used for sushi, sashimi, and also popular as a deep-fried food (ebi-furai, breaded and deep-fried). One of the most popular types of shrimp and cultivated on a large scale in "shrimp farms." An extra large type, growing to 27 cm., is called "Taisho-ebi."
Sakura-ebi "Cherry blossom shrimp," (Sergia lucens). Small shrimp of 5 cm. Light red in color. Used in various dishes to provide a colorful touch.
Shiba-ebi, "Grey prawn"(Metapenaeus joyneri). 10-15 cm. Very tasty. Extensively used in tempura, but also on sushi, in sunomono (vinegared salad) and in kakiage (a clump of shrimp, small fish and vegetables fried together as tempura).

[Ise-ebi. Photo Wikipedia]

For use on sushi or as ingredient in other dishes, ebi are usually briefly boiled in salted water (except the botan-ebi, which is already very soft). A few minutes is enough to bring out the "umami." When meant for use on nigiri-zushi, the larger ones as kuruma-ebi are first skewered to keep them straight (the heat otherwise makes them curl up). Next the scales are removed and the blue stripe which runs the length of the shrimp and which is the digestive tract, is taken out. Finally they are washed, cut open, and put in butterfly form on the sushi. Thanks to the boiling the transparent meat has turned white with orange fringes. Ebi only became a popular sushi topping after WWII. Smaller shrimp may be attached to the rice with a band of nori.

Shrimp are usually kept alive until the moment of use.