As part of the relocation resources we’re building, we’re sharing some of the best Japanese recipes you can try (beyond sushi!). We don’t have anything against sushi (except for my fish allergy!), but there’s so much more to explore. Although my family lived in Japan off and on during my childhood, I need to stress that I’m not an expert. As we prepare for our relocation, though, I’m diving into cooking these recipes! The pictures I’m sharing are clearly not professional, but they will give you a better idea of what a recipe will look like when you make it!
Before we go any further, I’ve got to talk about chopsticks. Even if you’re just eating inside your home, it’s a great idea to get familiar with chopstick etiquette. It’s even more important to learn the rules if you’re going to a Japanese restaurant or Japan. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the food!
Great Japanese Cookbooks
Like pretty much everything else, the Japanese have a method for handling and preparing food. There is a real focus on respecting ingredients, tools, and our meals, which is something I love so much. Taking the time to appreciate everything that’s on your plate is like practicing mindfulness as you eat, and it’s helped me change my unhealthy relationship with food.
If you’re interested in getting started on your own kitchen adventures, you should buy some Japanese cookbooks. Often, the chefs share the cultural or historical origins of a dish along with tips for preparation. Resist the urge to just skip ahead to a recipe — take the time to read and learn as part of your culinary journey.
Here are a few Japanese cookbooks that readers love from Amazon:
- Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors
- Japanese Cookbook for Beginners: Classic and Modern Recipes Made Easy
- Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking
- Momofuku: A Cookbook
- Cook Anime: Eat Like Your Favorite Character―From Bento to Yakisoba
- Harumi’s Japanese Home Cooking: Simple, Elegant Recipes for Contemporary Tastes
- Effortless Bento: 300 Japanese Box Lunch Recipes
Japanese Pantry Must-Haves
We shop mostly on Amazon as well as online Asian grocery stores such as Yamibuy and Cokoyam. We do, of course, also go to our local market when we can, but the pandemic has made this complicated for our family. Plus, we live in Idaho now and it’s hard to find the right ingredients. If you’re stocking up on Japanese pantry must-haves, here’s a quick list of where to start:
- Soy Sauce
- Rice vinegar
- Sesame oil
- Tonkatsu sauce
- Curry roux
Rice & Noodles
- Japanese short-grain rice or “sushi rice”
- Udon noodles
- Soba noodles
- Ramen noodles
Dried Japanese Pantry Items
- Sesame seeds
- Potato starch
- Japanese seven spice
- Nori seaweed
Fresh Fridge & Freezer Items
- Green onions
- Root vegetables
- Basic vegetables
- Mushrooms (not my favorite!)
- Choice of meats and seafoods
While I could try, I’m not enough of an expert to offer advice on cookware and tableware. Here are some items that we own that we use every day (or almost every day):
- Rice cooker (we have this one)
- Water boiler (we can’t live without this!)
- Tamagoyaki pan (our favorite)
- Rice bowls (we use these and these)
- Sauce dishes (check out these or these)
- Small soup bowls with lids (we love these)
- Chopsticks (these are lovely!)
- Melamine spoons (like these)
- Wooden spoons (we use these every day!)
- Bento boxes (for kids and adult plastic or wood)
For a wonderfully detailed guide, check out Just One Cookbook’s “How to Build a Kitchen for Japanese” post. Nami is my absolute idol and I’ve learned so much from her website!
If you asked me to name my favorite casual Japanese dish, I’d immediately say curry! I was a teenager the first time I had it. I’d been biking around the Kansai region and ended up in a small restaurant. An amazing older woman, who insisted I call her “mama,” brought it to me as I sat trying to warm up on a chilly day.
I’ve loved Indian and Jamaican curries my whole life, so I was excited to try the Japanese variety — and now I make it more than any other kind for my own family! To be completely transparent, I don’t typically make it completely from scratch. Instead, I use fresh ingredients (potatoes, carrots, onions, and usually chicken) along with one of these:
- S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix, Medium Hot (my absolute favorite!)
- House Foods Vermont Curry (slightly sweeter flavor)
- S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix, Mild (very good!)
- S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix, Hot (it’s not that spicy!)
How popular is Japanese curry? Mission Specialist Soichi Noguchi requested it as his final meal before takeoff during SpaceX’s launch to the International Space Station. We hope it was good!
Japanese Curry Recipes
As mentioned, I don’t really make Japanese curry from scratch. Even when I do, it’s not close to as good as one of these Japanese curry recipes. To be fair, though, they use the boxes, too!
There are so many things to love about ramen — the broth is warm and comforting, the noodles are slurpable, and you can customize your toppings. We love having a nice bowl of ramen because it’s nourishing and hydrating. It just feels good to the soul. The picture below uses leftovers from the fridge, which is how I like it. My ramen ends up being different every time! Also, while many enjoy an egg in their bowl, I don’t 🙂
It’s best to make ramen at home, but there are some store-bought kinds that are delicious. To be completely transparent, though, we tend to prefer the Korean ready-to-eat varieties. Yes, they are extremely different! For good Japanese ramen options, here are our suggestions:
Japanese Ramen Recipes
Ready to make your own bowl of Japanese ramen at home? Here are some recipes to help you get started:
- Japanese Ramen Guide (Just One Cookbook)
- Simple Homemade Chicken Ramen (Fork Knife Swoon)
- Homemade Chashu Miso Ramen (Just One Cookbook)
- Vegetarian Ramen (Just One Cookbook)
- Easy Vegan Ramen (Minimalist Baker)
Twice a month, we thoroughly enjoy chicken katsu in our home. Occasionally, we have tonkatsu, which is a breaded pork cutlet, but we usually stick with chicken. My method for making chicken katsu is pretty straightforward — dip trimmed chicken breasts into flour, then eggs, and finally coat in panko breadcrumbs (all seasoned with a little salt and pepper).
Let the breaded chicken breasts sit for 10-15 minutes so that the panko gets a chance to really stick to the meat. Then, on medium heat, fry the katsu until deep brown. It takes patience, but I try not to flip the chicken more than once. Move to a cooling rack, slice it up and serve your chicken katsu with steamed Japanese rice and curry. We all love katsu sauce, but Josh always needs a bowl just for himself!
What you’ll need:
- Panko breadcrumbs
- Japanese rice
- Tonkatsu sauce
- Cooling rack
Chicken Katsu Recipes
You can try the simple method I mentioned above, or you can check out one of these authentic recipes for Japanese chicken katsu.
Go to any convenience store in Japan and you’ll find multiple varieties of onigiri (and other great foods!). They are perfect for a quick snack or bite on the go, but can also be incorporated into larger meals at home. We particularly enjoy having onigiri at lunchtime, both plain and grilled (yaki onigiri). We also saw a lot of people noshing on these at Universal Studios Japan!
So, what is onigiri? Basically, it’s rice that’s been shaped into a ball or triangle. Many times, they are commonly filled with things like salmon, pickled plums (umeboshi), and tuna, but you can get creative! We often fill ours with leftover stewed meats or teriyaki. Delicious!
What you need to make onigiri:
- Your bare hands to shape rice into balls or triangles
- Onigiri molds (I won’t lie – this is how I make mine!)
- Nori (seaweed for wrapping – not required!)
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Soy sauce
- Japanese mayonnaise
- Bonito flakes
As mentioned, I use the molds to make my onigiri, but if you’re interested in making it the traditional way, here are some recipes:
- Onigiri Rice Balls (Just One Cookbook)
- Japanese Rice Balls (Spruce Eats)
- How to Make Onigiri (Pickled Plum)
- Yaki Onigiri (Just One Cookbook)
Here’s a confession — I could eat gyoza every single day. In Japan, I’ve been known to eat 12 in a single sitting (and still wish I had more!). Gyoza, or Japanese potstickers, can be boiled, steamed, pan-fried, or deep fried. The latter two are my personal favorites.
Mastering the technique of folding or wrapping gyoza takes practice, but that homemade flavor is worth it. Of course, there are many premade and frozen varieties you can buy and conveniently reheat at home. I’d recommend following the pan-fried instructions on the package if you go that route. If you’re planning to make gyoza yourself, you’ll need the following:
- Gyoza molds
- Gyoza sauce
Ready to tackle this delicious dish? Here are some recipes for Japanese gyoza that you can try:
Every single morning, my younger daughter makes a pot of miso soup for breakfast. It’s an incredibly nourishing way to start the day, even during the summer months. Yes, it’s a bit on the salty side (you can always add water!), as is most Japanese food, but it’s chock full of nutrients.
One of the things we love most about miso soup is that it requires just three ingredients — dashi stock, miso (soybean paste), and whatever you want to add! It’s popular to add root vegetables and tofu, but we tend to keep it simple with onions, green onions, and spinach.
- Miso paste (we prefer this one)
- Dashi powder
- Vegan dashi (due to my fish allergy)
Miso Soup Recipes
There are so many different miso soup recipes out there, because this dish is so easy to customize. Here are just a few that we like:
- Homemade Miso Soup (Just One Cookbook)
- Instant Miso Soup (Just One Cookbook)
- My Mother’s Miso Soup (Pickled Plum)
Having lived in multiple countries, I can tell you that every city seems to have their own idea about teriyaki. My least favorite has been in quick order restaurants in the United States. It’s okay, but the flavors taste watered down to me. In Canada, I really love the food court chicken and beef teriyaki at places like Teriyaki Experience and Edo Japan (pic from my last trip!).
Of course, nothing compares to having real teriyaki in Japan. The preparation is simple, but takes patience to get it right. Allowing the juices to flow and mix with the sauce, and then spooning those sweet and savory drippings over the meat results in an explosion of flavor. While you can buy store bought sauce, it’s so much better to make it at home. It’s also really easy!
We haven’t tried most of these recipes, but they seem to be rated highly among users.
- Homemade Teriyaki Sauce Recipe (Taste and Tell)
- Chicken Teriyaki (Just One Cookbook)
- Crock Pot Teriyaki Chicken (Well Plated by Erin)
- Best Ever Baked Teriyaki Chicken (Creme de la Crumb)
- Teriyaki Chicken (New York Times)
Growing up, both of our families loved fried chicken. While I enjoyed the flavor, as I got older, the breading felt too thick and greasy for me. If you like crispy, juicy fried chicken but want a lighter breading, you will LOVE karaage (pronounced ka-RA-AH-geh).
Japanese fried chicken is everywhere — at home, in diners, served with beer at bars, at convenience stores, and in bento box lunches. It’s best eaten hot, right out of the fryer, but it’s also tasty the next day if you have leftovers (you probably won’t!). Don’t want to use chicken? Many make fish or vegetable karaage instead!
It doesn’t take much to make Japanese karaage. It’s a simple dish that you’ll want to make over and over again. Here are some recipes:
- Karaage (Just One Cookbook)
- Japanese Fried Chicken (Chopstick Chronicles)
- Karaage Fried Chicken (Tasty)
Stroll down the streets of Tokyo and Osaka, and you’ll easily find izakaya, which are tapas-style pubs that serve beer and small plates. One of the most common items on the menu is yakitori. It’s certainly one of my favorite things to order. Funny enough, I was even able to enjoy it at an izakaya in Jackson Hole, Wyoming!
Basically, yakitori are chicken skewers that are deliciously glazed and perfect over drinks with friends or coworkers. At home, we enjoy them as a main dish served with rice, vegetables, and clear soup. In the summer, we’ve also thrown these on the grill. So versatile!
These are the best Japanese recipes for yakitori chicken that I’ve found. It’s worth the effort!
Street food is very popular in Japan, and one of the hottest dishes is okonomiyaki. For lack of a better explanation, this is like a Japanese savory pancake. There’s usually cabbage in the batter, but everything else varies by region and personal preference. The actual name translates to “grilled as you like it,” which I take as an invitation to get really inventive!
Some of the most popular toppings include mountain yams or Japanese long yams, pork belly slices (or bacon), green onions, and even corn. Really, though, the flavor comes from the distinctive taste of okonomiyaki sauce, Kewpie mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and bonito flakes. Here are some suggestions:
- Okonomiyaki sauce
- Kewpie mayonnaise
- Bonito flakes
- Aonori (dried green seaweed)
- Pickled red ginger (beni shoga or kizami beni shoga)
The Best Japanese Recipes to Try at Home
The list of the best Japanese recipes you should try (beyond sushi) is endless, and we will be adding to this post in the future. We eat at least one Japanese meal a day, so we have a lot of suggestions. For now, we hope you enjoy trying the recipes we’ve already mentioned.
Other things you can search for in the meantime: