Getting Started in Japanese Cooking!

Welcome to your guide to authentic Japanese cooking at home! Explore essentials like ingredients, techniques, and tips to master classic dishes!

  • Introduction
  • Essential Ingredients
  • Basic Recipes
  • Simple Recipes for Beginners

Introduction To Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is generally divided into two categories: Washoku and Yoshoku. In both Washoku and Yoshoku, rice is the meal’s centerpiece, accompanied by side dishes that enhance its flavors.

Japanese Cuisine

  • Japanese traditional dishes are called Washoku (和食). Its fundamental principle is “Ichijū-sansai,” which refers to a meal consisting of rice, three dishes, and soup (see more in the following).
  • Yoshoku (洋食) is Western-style Japanese cuisine that incorporates dishes from outside Japan, tweaking for Japanese tastes, such as omurice and curry rice.

Here are some key features of Japanese cuisine.

  • The Japanese dietary style emphasizes simplicity and balance in meals.
  • Japan has four distinct seasons and highlights seasonal ingredients.
  • Rich in fermented foods used in seasonings and pickles.
  • Umami-rich ingredients enhance the overall deliciousness of dishes.

If you want to learn more about Japanese cuisine, this comprehensive PDF from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries will help. It is available in English, French, and Italian.

Washoku: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

In 2013, UNESCO recognized Washoku as an intangible intangible cultural heritage, highlighting its importance in shaping Japanese identity and tradition.

Essential Ingredients

This section will cover the essential ingredients in Japanese cooking, from basic condiments like soy sauce and miso to key items used in making dashi (Japanese soup stock).

soy sauce in a bottle.

Soy sauce

Soy sauce, known as “shoyu” in Japanese, is a fundamental seasoning in Japanese cooking. It’s made from fermented soybeans and adds complex saltiness and umami to dishes like sushi, stir-fries, teriyaki, and more.

Miso paste.

Miso Paste

Miso is a traditional Japanese fermented soybean paste. It’s a versatile condiment that adds depth of flavor and umami to various dishes, such as miso soup, marinades, glazes, dressings, and sauces.



Mirin is a Japanese sweet rice wine with a low alcohol content. It is often used alongside soy sauce to enhance the flavor and sweetness of dishes like teriyaki, simmered recipes, and soups.

Rice vinegar.


Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice. It has a mild and slightly sweet flavor. It’s commonly used in Japanese cuisine for sushi rice, dressings, and pickles to provide a delicate acidity to dishes.



Sake is a traditional Japanese rice wine made from fermented rice. It is used in cooking to add flavor and soften the ingredients.

Japanese sea salt.


Salt plays a vital role in Japanese cooking, as it does in other cuisines, by enhancing and balancing flavors across a wide range of dishes.

Sugar package.


In Japanese cooking, sugar serves multiple purposes beyond providing sweetness. It can extend shelf life, enhance flavor and texture, and act as a thickening agent.

Japanese rice.


Short-grain rice is a staple food in Japan known for its sticky and starchy texture. This texture helps hold the rice together, making it ideal for making onigiri and sushi. Koshihikari is a popular brand of short-grain rice.



Kombu is a type of edible kelp that adds umami flavor to dishes. It’s one of the key ingredients for making dashi stock.



Dried, fermented, and smoked bonito fish flakes are also the key taste for dashi and add a rich umami flavor to various Japanese dishes.

Dried shiitake mushrooms.

Dried shiitake mushrooms

Dried shiitake mushrooms are packed with umami flavor through the drying process. They are commonly used to make dashi stock and enhance the flavor of stews and other dishes.

3 Dashi powders.

Dashi powder

Dashi powder is a convenient pantry staple. Instead of making dashi from scratch, you can quickly prepare miso soup and simmered dishes using easy-to-use instant dashi powder.



Tofu, derived from soybeans, comes in various forms, such as firm, silky, and dry-frozen tofu. With its versatility, tofu is a staple in Japanese cuisine and there are countless tofu recipes.



Ginger is commonly used to add a warm and spicy flavor to Japanese dishes. The sweet and sour pickled ginger served with sushi not only refreshes your palate but also sterilizes the raw fish.

Where to buy them? Check this Commonly Used Japanese Ingredients list!

Ingredients Guides

Commonly Used Vegetables

Potato, carrot, onion, scallion, napa cabbage, cabbage, eggplant, tomato, cucumber, bell peppers, green beans, corn, sweet potato, gobo, lotus root, kabocha, daikon, spinach, komatsuna, mizuna, shiso, lettuce, broccoli.

Basic Recipes

Japanese rice in a pot.

Japanese Rice

Learn the basic method for cooking Japanese short-grain rice using a pot.

Kombu dashi.


Dashi is all about umami. Learn how to make it in four different ways!

Egg miso soup served on a bowl.

Miso Soup

Here’s a quick guide you need to know about this classic soup!

Mentsuyu soup.


If you’re a fan of Japanese noodles, mastering this Mentusyu soup is a must!

Ichiju Sansai


Ichiju Sansai is a traditional Japanese meal consisting of one soup (ichiju), three dishes (sansai), and a bowl of rice. It’s a common meal in Japanese cuisine, emphasizing balance, variety, and seasonality.

Learn More (coming soon)
Rice, miso soup, main dish, and 2 side dishes.

Classic Japanese Recipes for Beginners

If you’re just starting out in Japanese cooking, here are some straightforward classic recipes you can make at home.

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