Japanese food is full of variety; from delicate, simple dishes such as sushi or bold, hearty meals like katsu-don there is something for everyone. I’m sure you can’t stop drooling just thinking about it all.
We know however, that eating authentic Japanese food out can come at a hefty price and some of you may be hoping to learn a dish or two to cook for yourself. We here at HYPER JAPAN want to help you kick off on this culinary journey of a lifetime on the right foot, here are the basic ingredients you might want to pick up the next time you pass an Asian supermarket.
Soy sauce 醤油
The king of Asian flavours. No doubt most of you will have a bottle of this in your kitchen already, but it is crucial to so much of Japanese food that it had to be first on this list. Packed full of umami, soy sauce is a great alternative to salt in almost any dish, I have even baked brownies with soy sauce before and it tasted great! Try swapping half or all of the salt content in any recipe with soy sauce, and let us know if you taste a difference!
Another classic salty delight from the far east. Miso is a fermented soy-paste which has a richer, deeper flavour than soy sauce. Not sure how to use it? Mix a spoonful into a bowl of Dashi broth and voila! you have yourself a simple miso soup. There are a few different types of miso available, but to start with you should probably try a miso that is of a light brown colour, which is less in-your-face than its darker counterparts but more potent than white miso.
Now this one is not one item that you buy, but a broth that you make from umami-rich products such as dried Shiitake mushrooms or dried kelp. This stock makes up the base of a vast number of Japanese dishes, and all aspiring Japanese chefs start by creating a good dashi broth. You can make it by simply simmering dried shiitake, dried (kombu) kelp, katsuobushi (dried, fermented bonito flakes) or dried fish, the choice of which ingredient(s) to use is up to you. Dry dashi stock powder is also available for those with less time.
Just like how you might add a glass of wine to your bolognese, many Japanese dishes utilise sake (a rice wine) to bloom the flavours, soften certain ingredients and add some good ol’ umami. For this you can use any old sake, but bottles advertised as cooking-sake are generally cheaper and you won’t feel as bad burning off delectable booze.
Some of you may be unfamiliar with this one. Mirin is another type of cooking alcohol made from rice, and if you do buy a bottle you should try a sip of it too (as long as you are old enough!). With a higher sugar content than normal sake, mirin is generally used to add sweetness to dishes and round the flavours off. Mirin is a key ingredient to teriyaki sauce, and makes a killer combination with soy sauce or miso.
These, along with sugar, salt and vinegar (usually made from rice or grain) make up the basis of Japanese flavours, from here your journey begins; you can try different combinations, add other ingredients or even try your hand at fusing Japanese food with the cuisine of your own home country, the possibilities are endless!
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