Dashi is often referred to as the defining ingredient of Japanese cuisine. It is a delicate golden stock made from a combination of konbu (dried giant kelp) and flaked, dried bonito fish (katsuobushi). Also available in ready made liquid and dried instant form.
Japanese soy sauces have a relatively fresh taste and aroma and are generally sweeter and less salty than Chinese-style sauces. Most commonly available are the light (usukuchi) and dark (koikuchi) varieties. Light shoyu contains a higher salt content and is paler in colour; often used with vegetables or clear soups, while dark shoyu is used as a marinade or in simmered dishes. Try tamari, a slightly thicker and wheat-free shoyu with sashimi.
A pale amber-coloured sweet rice wine that is used for cooking, rather than drinking, and adds a hint of sweetness to sauces. Also used as a glaze for grilled dishes.
Rice vinegar is a clear, mild vinegar with a slightly sweet flavour. A great alternative to wine vinegar in salad dressings.
A brewed cooking wine, sake is loved for its flavour in marinades and sauces and is cheaper than sake bought to drink.
Made from the root of the konjac plant, also known as devil's tongue, konnyaku is regarded as a health food, especially good for intestinal function. After processing it becomes dense, with a slightly chewy texture and is always parboiled before use. Most commonly used as a vegetable, it is a great absorber of surrounding flavours and is an essential ingredient in sukiyaki.
A dried, paper-thin seaweed product that is primarily used to wrap sushi, to garnish and to flavour noodle soups. Generally, the darker the colour and greater the aroma, the higher the quality.
Wakame, an integral component of miso soup, is a variety of seaweed that comes fresh or dried and ready to reconstitute in water.
A fermented paste made predominantly from soybeans and grains that comes in several different strengths. An extremely versatile ingredient, it can be used to make miso soup, to flavour pickles or grilled dishes, or be thinned and made into a dressing. As a general rule, the darker the colour, the stronger the flavour. There are three main types: Shinsu miso is the most commonly available and widely used, it originates from the central Honshu region of Japan. Aka (or red) miso is often used in eastern Japan for soup. White (shiro) miso, also known as saikyo miso, is the palest and sweetest miso and is used in Kyoto for miso soup. All are also excellent in dressings.
A pungent Japanese root with a similar taste to horseradish, available fresh, as a paste, or in powdered form.
The second most widely produced seaweed in Japan behind wakame. Usually sold in dried form, it is easily reconstituted by soaking in water. Never wash or rinse konbu. Its speckled surface holds the flavour - wipe clean with a lightly dampened towel. Some Japanese cooks advocate lightly scoring konbu so that glutamic acid (a sort of natural flavor intensifier present in the kelp) is easily released during simmering.
Steam-processed bonito fillets, dried to woodlike hardness, which are shaved into flakes and used as one of the two essential ingredients of basic soup stock, dashi.
The main type of noodles in Japanese cooking are: Soba (made from buckwheat flour and served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup); Ramen (Chinese style wheat noodles typically served in a meat or fish flavoured broth); and Udon (thick wheat noodles usually served hot in noodle soups).
Tofu is made from soybeans. Japanese use both firm and silken varieties in a number of dishes.
A strongly flavoured mushroom used in both fresh and dried forms. Also known as Chinese, black or oriental mushroom in its dried form.