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Japanese cuisine, known as ‘washoku’, received the honor of being added to the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013. The most widely asked question is “What’s washoku?” After all, washoku is not only one thing – let’s get the basics right before covering some simple Japanese cooking recipes.

Simple Japanese Cooking: What’s Washoku?

Washoku includes many different dishes, but the most typical style is rice, a miso soup and a few accompanying dishes called ‘okazu’. Types of okazu also vary widely, from fish, meat and vegetables cooked in all sorts of ways. Raw food are also typical of washoku, with sushi and sashimi as the most representative dishes.

Simple Japanese Cooking

Kagurazaka Sushi Academy (Source: www.retrip.jp)

In addition to rice, other types include noodles such as soba and udon, which are in turn cooked in various ways. Japan also has a wide range of hot pot known as nabe (and counting its variation seems almost impossible if we are to include various nabe unique to each area across the country…). Simmered dishes are also very popular such as sukiyaki, oden and nikujaga.

Traditionally, the Japanese shunned meat and so seafood and vegetable dishes such as tempura have always had a heavy presence in washoku. Since 1880s, though, the modernization of the country resulted in an ever increasingly intake of meat and meat dishes such as deep-fried tonkatsu and grilled meat yakitori have become part of washoku.

Washoku also includes ‘foreign food’ such as Chinese and Korean food in the forms of ramen and gyoza, as well as Indian food of curry and Western food of hamburgers, pasta and steaks. Although originally from outside the country, Japan has developed Japanese ways of serving such foreign food and Japanese ramen, gyoza, curry, pasta and steaks significantly differ from their original forms.

Simple Japanese Cooking

Ramen in Shibuya

In Japan, some dishes are labeled as B Level Gourmet, and such dishes are considered as cheap, quick and easily available. They include Japanese pancake okonomiyaki, octopus balls takoyaki, yakisoba, beef rice bowl gyudon, ramen, ect. The range of regional B Level Gourmet (‘gotochi B level gurume’) is much wider and has become a tool to promote different regions.

Japanese cuisine is never complete without tsukemono or vegetable pickles as well as spices and herbs including shichimi togarashi, wasabi, karashi, sansho, yuzu and shiso. It is important to know which seasoning is supposed to go with which dish. For example, if you put karashi to hot noodles, you might get frowned upon while the right spice to add to it is shichimi togarashi.

Simple Japanese Cooking

While washoku may sound foreign and complex, some of Japanese dishes are extremely easy to cook. Of course you can make it more complex and add more things, but we offer the simplest ways of cooking Japanese dishes.

Soba & Udon Noodles

Purchase soba or udon noodles and a soup stock powder or liquid, prepare shallot strips, wakame dried seaweed and a boiled egg.

  • Boil the noodles for 3 – 5 minutes (depending on the type of soba)
  • Prepare a soup by boiling water and adding the soup stock to it
  • Drain water from the noodles and add them to the soup
  • Add stripes of shallots, wakame dried seaweed and a half of the boiled egg
  • If available, sprinkle tenkasu (tempura crumpet) shichimi togarashi over the noodles

Japanese Curry

For four people, prepare the following: 1) 250g of pork, beef or chicken, 2) two potatoes, 3) half of a carrot, 4) two onions, 5) little bit of salad oil, 6) little bit of tube garlic, 7) little bit of tube ginger, 8) Japanese curry mix for four people, 9) one large spoonful of butter, 10) one small spoonful of sugar and 10) boiled rice for four people.

  • Prepare vegetables by cutting onion into fan shaped, carrot into 5mm ginkgo shaped, potatoes into four to eight pieces
  • Add oil to a frying pan and heat up ginger and garlic
  • Cook the meat first and once brown, add vegetables
  • Add 600g of water to it (see the instruction of the curry mix) and once boiled, remove harshness
  • Put the lid over the pan and cook until carrot is soft (use a drop lid if available)
  • Add the Japanese curry mix and cook until it becomes thick
  • Finally add butter and sugar (not necessary if not prefered)
  • Serve the curry with rice on a plate, and add fukujin zuke red pickles if available

Chirashizushi

Chirashizushi is a type of sushi that is often served at home. Unlike individual sushi pieces, chirashizushi is often served to share among family and friends. Prepare the following: 1) Chirashizushi mix, 2) sashimi raw fish, shrimps and salmon roe, 3) avocado, cucumber, and 4) boiled rice

  • Add the chirashizushi mix to boiled rice (the mix usually has everything necessary such as vinegar, cooked mushroom and so on).
  • If you don’t have the chirashizushi mix, add sushi vinegar to the boiled rice
  • Put the chirashizushi rice on a plate and decorate it with your favorite sashimi and vegetables
  • Prepare wasabi on a small plate for everyone to share

Gyudon Beef Rice Bowl

For four people, prepare the following: 1) 500g of thinly sliced beef, 2) one medium size onion, 3) 500cc of water, 4) four large spoonful of soy sauce, 5) three large spoonful of cooking sake, 6) three large spoonful of sugar, 7) two large spoonful of mirin, 8) two small spoonful of hondashi stock and 9) little bit of ginger.
  • Add 3) to 9)
  • Add fan-shaped onion slices to the sauce base above and cook it on medium heat for five minutes
  • Add the thinly slice beef to the sauce base and remove harshness.
  • Cook the meat on a low to medium heat for 15 minutes
  • When cooked, put the meat on top of boiled rice and add benishoga red ginger if available

Okonomiyaki Japanese Pancake

For serving two okonomiyaki pancakes, prepare the following: 1) 100g of okonomiyaki flour mix, 2) 100g of water, 3) 50cc of milk, 4) half of a whole cabbage, 5) shallots, 6) two eggs, 7) tempura cramps, and 8) red ginger benishoga if available. Also prepare meat such as thinly sliced pork.

  • Place the okonomiyaki flour mix into a bowl and mix it with water and milk by stirring them well
  • Rest the mix above in the refrigerator for three hours
  • Cut the cabbage thinly and shallots into small pieces, and rest them in the refrigerator for an hour
  • Mix the flour mix (approx. 80g) and other ingredients (e.g. egg, shallots, cabbage, approx. 130g) for one person in a small bowl
  • Heat an electric hot plate, place oil and pour the mix to the 16 – 17 cm diameter
  • Place a few slices of thinly cut pork onto the okonomiyaki and cover it with a lid for three minutes
  • Flip the okonomiyaki with a flipper turner and cook the other side by covering with a lid for another three minutes
  • It’s cooked if it becomes solid
  • Sprinkle some aonori seaweed if available and serve it with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise if prefered