Want to cook Japanese food at home but don’t know where to start? This starter kit may help you.
In this Starter Kit:
- You only need three basic Japanese seasonings: soy sauce, mirin and cooking wine
- Most ingredients are easy-to-buy.
- No special kitchen utensils are required.
- 10 quick and easy recipes are ready for you.
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About these three seasonings
- Soy sauce (醤油・しょうゆ)
Soy sauce is mainly to add salty flavour to the food. It is made from soybean, wheat, and salt and fermented by microorganisms. The colour is an almost black dark brown.
Different soy sauces are available in England: Regular soy sauce, light soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, sushi soy sauce, etc. There is also a seasoning called Tsuyu that looks very similar to soy sauce.
We will use regular soy sauce when cooking, so be careful not to buy a different one.
- Mirin (味醂・みりん)
Mirin is a sweet rice wine that adds sweetness to the dishes. There are two kinds of Mirin on the market: Hon Mirin and Mirin-style seasoning (different brands may use other names).
The sweetness of Hon Mirin is naturally produced by rice through saccharification. But Mirin-style seasoning is made with a lot of sugar and has a very low alcohol content.
We use Hon Mirin when cooking. The alcohol will evaporate during the cooking (heating) process, so don’t worry about giving it to children.
In order to avoid buying inappropriate ones, it would be better to check the ingredient list or its alcohol content before purchasing. The alcohol content of Hon Mirin is about 12.5-14.5%. But the main ingredient of Mirin-style seasoning is syrup, and its alcohol content is only about 1%.
- Cooking Wine (料理酒・りょうりしゅ)
Also a rice wine with a slightly salty flavor. Unlike Mirin, they are made with different rice in different ways and are used for different purposes, so they cannot be substituted for each other.
Cooking wine has various functions, such as bringing out the deliciousness of the ingredients (umami) when cooking, removing the fishy smell of fish and meat, and softening the meat when marinating it.
Where to buy?
Seasonings can affect the taste of the food, so I would highly recommend buying Japanese brands.
Kikkoman soy sauce is very common in British supermarkets, but it is relatively expensive. Japan center has a complete range of seasonings, but the price will not be the cheapest. Basic Japanese seasonings can also be bought in Chinese supermarkets and Korean supermarkets. The price is sometimes lower than Japan center and sometimes more expensive.
Therefore, there is no best place to buy. Everyone can buy according to their own convenience or shopping preferences.
Choice of volume:
The most common volume in Japan is 1 liter. But a litre of Hon Mirin costs nearly £20 in the UK, 10 times the price in Japan. So we have to think carefully and use wisely.
Generally, soy sauce and cooking wine are used more than Mirin, so Mirin can be bought in a smaller volume.
If you are new to Japanese cooking, you may buy 500ml of soy sauce and cooking wine first, or even a smaller volume. Since I use them from time to time, I bought 1 liter, which is relatively cheap.
Here are the volumes, locations, and prices I purchased in 2021 for your reference.
|Items||Purchesed price and vocations|
|Kikkoman Soy Sauce 1L||£5.21 in Japan Centre|
|King Jyozo Hinode Hon Mirin Rice Wine, 400 ml||about £6 in Japan Centre|
|Morita Cooking Sake 1L||about £7 in Tien Tien Market|
Choice of Rice:
Rice is indispensable to Japanese home cooking. It is mainly eaten with the main course, or it can be cooked another way.
Japanese rice is short grain, soft and chewy, and a little sticky. Rice grown in Japan is really different from rice grown elsewhere. But in the UK, the price is around £7-8/kg. Cheaper alternatives are those grown in Italy or Europe, around £2-3/kg.
One of the restaurants I’ve worked in before uses Haruka, which I personally think is pretty good. Currently using Nishiki at home.
|Seasoning||Name in Japanese||Kanji|
|Cooking wine / Sake||料理酒||料理酒|
- Left: Cooking wine ( Cooking Sake )
- Middle: Soy sauce
- Right: Hon Mirin
How to cook rice without a rice cooker?
You could cook rice with a saucepan on the hob if you don’t have a rice cooker. This is the best way to cook sushi rice. It is time-consuming, but you just leave it there most of the time.
If you don’t have time, you can skip the soaking time in Step 2 and cook the rice directly after rinsing.
Ten Easy and Delicious Recipes
The above three seasonings can also be used to make more dishes, but let’s learn these ten first. I have tried to use different main ingredients as much as possible so that a variety of dishes can be cooked.
Beef Pepper Rice
Japanese BBQ (Yakiniku)
Crispy Pepper Chicken wings (Nagoya style)
Beef Bowl (Gyudon)
Pork Rice Bowl (Tokachi butadon)
Egg fried rice (Chahan)
Stewed Vermicelli (Harusame)
Mince & Egg Rice Bowl (Soboro Don)
Beef Hot pot (Sukiyaki)
If you are satisfied with the above dishes, consider moving to the next level. This site will introduce the use of Dashi and Miso to make more varied dishes.