All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.



Made of white fish, egg white, sugar, salt, etc. Eaten as is without cooking by dipping in wasabi soy sauce or as a topping for soup noodles, or used as an ingredient in various dishes including saute and stew. Often formed on top of a small wooden board. White and pink are typical outer colors. White and red are the color combination for happy celebrations, and white and red (pink) kamaboko is included in the New Year's meal.

Products from several manufacturers are usually available at large Japanese grocery stores. As a rule of thumb, higher priced ones are made with higher quality ingredients with fewer additives (including starchy stuff vs. fish, the main ingredient) and taste more refined.
Some Japanese grocery stores carry pricier kamaboko (Suzuhiro from Odawara at Seattle Uwajimaya) in December or when the New Year's holiday season approaches.

Tubular kamaboko with lightly grilled outer surface. The name (lit. bamboo rings) comes from its appearance, which resembles bamboo. Chikuwa filled with cheese or vegetables is a common, quick item in lunch boxes for schools and offices. Other than that, it is usually cooked.

Oblong, flat kamaboko with lightly grilled outer surface, which resembles bamboo leaves, as the name suggests (lit. bamboo leaf fishcake). It is usually used in cooking. Because one piece is usually enough for a dish for two and it is easy to defrost each piece, sasakama is the most useful fishcake in our kitchen.

Some contain vegetables for variation.
Boil to remove extra oil before use. This is especially important when products are made in the US -- many products made in Japan today (and thus imported products) use higher quality oil for deep-frying, which does not significantly affect the taste of final dishes. Lower quality oil results in a greasy taste and smell if no prep-cooking is done.

Very fluffy fishcake made of white fish, yamaimo mountain yam (a relative of nagaimo Chinese yam), egg white, salt, etc. 


Umeboshi dried plums
For onigiri rice balls and okayu rice porridge.
Use as an additional ingredient for gomaae sauce, dressings, steamed or stewed fish/meat. It tenderizes ingredients when used in stew. 
Select plain, low-salt umeboshi that is not vivid red. The bright color means color additives. The flavor of umeboshi with added katsuobushi, for example, could interfere with the flavors of other dishes.
Recipe for homemade, reduced-sodium umeboshi is found here.

Benishoga red pickled ginger
For okonomiyaki savory pancakes, hiyashi chuka cold noodles and takoyaki fried octopus dumplings/balls.

Recipe for homemade, reduced-sodium benishoga is found here.

Hakusai kimchi
Probably the most popular kimchi made of hakusai napa cabbage.

Flavor is too strong to combine with Japanese dishes as is, but when used as an ingredient in soup, stew or stir fry, it gives depth, spiciness and some sourness to dishes. Do not overuse.

Recipe for reduced-sodium, quick version is found here.

(Last updated: August 22, 2017)

Dried fish

Niboshi dried sardines
For dashi stock. It gives more intense flavor than katsuobushi.

Remove head and guts, and toast in a frying pan without oil for several minutes (or microwave without cover for 60 seconds) and simmer 10-15 minutes, or soak entire niboshi in cold water overnight (at least several hours). 

Just as with any dashi source ingredient, can be ground and added as instant dashi.

Katuobushi bonito flakes
For dashi stock. Also used as a topping or as an ingredient in quick dishes.

For dashi use, select large flakes of bonito, which are called hana katsuo. Some katsuobushi contains other fish which can taste rough as dashi.

Those in small pieces (often in small packs) are for topping and adding to dishes, and do not impart a good taste or aroma to stock.

Sababushi mackerel flakes
Mackerel flakes impart a powerful, deep taste to dashi stock. Often used in combination with katsuobushi bonito flakes.

The photo at left shows the mixture of thickly shaved mackerel and bonito flakes I use for soba buckwheat noodle soup.

Shirasu dried young sardines
Use as a topping for steamed rice, as an ingredient in tamagoyaki omelet, ohitashi, and salad. 

As shirasu are not completely dried, they are found at refrigerated or frozen food sections at grocery stores.

Chirimen jako / iriko dried young sardines
Drier than shirasu, and usually found on dried food shelves at stores.

Shirasu and chirimen jako (or jako) are used interchangeably depending on the region in Japan. The same is true for chirimen jako and iriko, and for iriko and niboshi. Generally speaking, niboshi is the largest in size, followed by iriko and chirimen jako.

Chirimen jako is often sauteed and added to salad as a crunchy topping, or fried or cooked with other ingredients to add flavor and texture, as it works like instant dashi stock.

(Last updated: January 11, 2016)


Jagaimo to horenso no misoshiru / miso soup with potatoes and spinach

Blanching spinach


Remove damaged leaves.

Wash spinach in a large bowl of cold water. Clean the root area first, then place the leaves in water and shake to remove remaining dirt.

Mizuna to horenso no ohitashi / mizuna and spinach in light broth

Ohitashi is cooked vegetables soaked in dashi flavored with soy sauce and salt.
Adjust the amount of usukuchi soy sauce and salt according to the timing of eating/serving.

Sakura ebi iri iritamago / scrambled eggs with sakura ebi

A topping for steamed rice or can be mixed in.

Iridofu / scrambled tofu with vegetables and eggs

Iridofu works with any vegetable and mushrooms.
Select soft tofu for milder results and firm or broiled tofu for something more substantial.
Since this is a quick dish, slice vegetables thinly (julienne).

Hoshi-shiitake / dried shiitake mushroom

Select hoshi-shiitake with a thick umbrella. Many inexpensive products have thin umbrellas, and some of them are made to look fatter by rolling the edge inward.

Soak in water for a few hours (warm water expedites the process) or microwave if in a hurry.
When microwaving, use a large- or tall-enough container and add water to the shiitake height, and start with 30-60 seconds. Repeat as necessary. Check frequently, as the water tends to boil over. Dilute the liquid as necessary when using it as dashi stock.

Dried shrimp

Sakura ebi

Add to scrambled eggs, tamagoyaki omelet, tempura, ohitashi, stir-fry vegetables, okonomiyaki and jijimgae pancakes.

Gives good Chinese dashi stock.
Soak in water for a few hours or microwave for 30-60 seconds before use in most dishes.
Chop up or grind, and add to stir-fry dishes and soup.
High sodium content: little additional salt needed. 



Kombu kelp

Makes good dashi stock. Often combined with katsuobushi bonito flakes to make dashi.
Add a small piece (1-2" square) when cooking steamed rice to improve flavor and aroma.
A large piece is often placed at the bottom of some dishes to prevent food from sticking to the pot.
Also used as a wrapper for sashimi, called kobujime.   
Do not wipe off the white powdery area on the surface. 

Common ingredient for miso soup and sunomono salad.


For wrappers of sushi, onigiri rice balls, mochi and other grilled or deep-fried food (isobe-yaki, isobe-age).
Tear or cut into small pieces and add to ohitashi. Slice or cut into thin stick-shape and sprinkle over noodles and other dishes.
Lightly toast both sides over stove before use.
The glossy side should be on the outside of finished food when used as a wrapper.


Soak in water for 30 minutes before use.


For okonomiyaki savory pancake topping. Mix into tempura batter as a variation.

Noodles (side dishes)

Harusame mung bean vermicelli

Those made of mung beans are mostly for Chinese and Thai dishes.
Soak in cold water for 20-30 minutes before use.

If noodles look very opaque (white), check the ingredients. If potato starch is blended, you need to adjust the cooking time, as noodles made with potato starch tend to absorb more moisture in a shorter time. Their texture tends to be softer (gooey, if cooking time is not adjusted).

Japanese harusame noodles are generally made of potato starch. Because of my preference, harusame in my recipes is mostly mung bean vermicelli.

Korean harusame

Made of sweet potato starch, and noodles stay relatively firm when cooked. For japchae and soup.
A great substitute for kuzukiri noodles (below) in nabe hotpot.


Clear noodles made from kudzu starch. For salad and nabe hotpot.

(Last updated: January 31, 2015)

Noodles (main dishes)


Buckwheat noodles. When cooking dried noodles, quickly chill boiled noodles in cold water and rub them with hands until sliminess on the surface disappears. Rinse well by changing water until water runs clear.This process makes a huge difference in texture and taste when served either cold or hot.


Wheat noodles. Dried udon tastes much better than cooked and refrigerated (frozen) noodles at grocery stores. When cooking dried udon, follow the same process as soba preparation above.


Thin wheat noodles.

Thin wheat noodles that are slightly thicker than somen.

Chuka soba

Japanese-style Chinese noodles.

Mei fun rice sticks

For Chinese dishes.

Gkuay dtiow rice noodles

For Thai dishes, including phad thai and phad khee mao.

(Last updated: May 14, 2018)

Hoshi-kaibashira dried scallops

Large (1"+) dried scallops are available at Chinese herbal medicine stores.
Small dried scallops are available at Chinese/Asian grocery stores.
Soak in water overnight (or microwave if in a hurry) to up to a few days before use.

Soaked dried scallops kept in the refrigerator come in handy as an extra ingredient and soup stock for many dishes. The liquid can be very salty and often little additional salt is needed for dishes.

Recipes with hoshi-kaibashira

Rice wine


Essential for many Japanese dishes.

For cooking, inexpensive, dry sake is recommended. Pricey, higher grade sake often tastes too sweet to use in food preparation.

Sake and mirin are often first boiled to get rid of alcohol before main food preparation.

There is sake specifically labeled for cooking (料理酒: ryorishu), but it is not recommended, since it normally contains sodium or occasionally vinegar. These are added so that the liquid is not suitable for drinking (and thus escapes alcohol tax). Ryorishu sometimes contains MSG.


Sweet sake. Often used in combination with sake.

Originally consumed by the upper class as a sweet alcoholic drink in the 16th century; premium mirin is still used as a beverage today, although the quantity is limited, and mirin is now largely associated with cooking.

Mirin gives a glossy look to food. In addition, it firms ingredients while sake tenderizes them. Adding mirin helps ingredients to stay intact even when cooked in broth.

As with many other foods today, there is fake mirin, which is called mirin-fu chomiryo [mirin-like seasoning]. It contains a small amount of sodium but no alcohol, is made by blending such ingredients as syrup, colorant and MSG, and costs much less than true mirin. Real mirin is sometimes called hon mirin [true mirin] to differentiate it from the fakes.

As a sweetener, mirin provides a very mild, soft note that does not linger in your mouth, compared to other sweeteners such as sugar, honey, maple syrup, and, of course, fake mirin. If mirin is not at hand, sugar can substitute. Use 1/3 or less sugar per specified amount of mirin.

Shokoshu / Shaoxing (Shaohsing) wine

For Chinese dishes.

Tastes deeper than clear rice wine.
When a recipe calls for sake rice wine in Chinese or Southeast Asian recipes, replacing a part or all with Shaoxing wine and adding a tiny amount of Japanese* kurozu brown rice vinegar lets you cut back on sodium-loaded seasonings such as oyster sauce without compromising the taste of the final dish. (*Chinese hei cu brown rice vinegar available at grocery stores normally contains sodium.)

(Last updated: February 4, 2015)


Taka no tsume, togarashi red chili pepper

Remove seeds when slicing a whole pepper for better taste and texture.

Ichimi togarashi

Powdered red chili pepper.
Sprinkle on soba or udon noodles, mix with grated daikon radish to go with tamagoyaki omelet or grilled fish, or use as an added ingredient for gomaae sauce.

Shichimi togarashi

Powdered chili pepper with six other ingredients (ground sansho, black and white sesame seeds, green perilla leaves, hemp seeds). 
Sprinkle on miso soup, soba or udon noodles, dishes cooked in broth, or grilled or sauteed food.

Korean chili pepper

Very mild.

Karashi mustard
Powerfully spicy.

Condiment for oden, stewed pork, roast beef, hiyashi chuka, or steamed/fried dumplings,
Add to dressings.
Powdered karashi is stronger than the one in tubes. Add a small amount of water and make a paste before use.

Sansho powder 

Very aromatic, with a hint of citrus fragrance.
Use in a similar way as shichimi togarashi.

Hua jiao / Sichuan pepper
Mildly pungent spicy taste and aroma.
For Chinese dishes.