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5 Essential Seasonings for Japanese Food

March 03, 2019

How to make great Japanese food?

What is essential to make Japanese food? Think about Sushi, it's true that great rice and fresh fish are the most important things to make it great. But, they're raw ingredients and it's often not easy to get the same quality one outside Japan.

To tell you the truth, what Japanese food makes it 'Japanese' food heavily relies on seasoning. In other words, it doesn't taste quite like a Japanese food if you do not add Japanese seasonings even if you use the same ingredients as Japanese people use. 

Will you eat sushi with steak sauce? Well, maybe expectedly good. But, seasonings are important.  

Japanese Sushi - Tokyo Direct

For example, it's the same chilli still, but adding Japanese chilli makes Japanese food more 'Japanese'. It's true. Seasonings have been invented and fostered in a cuisines culture and they are refined to match with local foods. 

So, what are the so-called Japanese seasonings? Actually, there're a number of seasonings in Japanese cuisine, but remember these five is good to start with.

Let's go!

1. Soy Sauce (Shoyu)

Soy Sauce is the most common seasoning in Japan without any doubt. Basically, you can see this seasoning whenever you go to a local diner, ramen noodle bar and everywhere else.

If I see someone add soy sauce to something which normally you shouldn't use to, I'll still not be surprised. Soy sauce is such a standard seasoning everybody use for almost everything to add more salty flavour in Japan. It's very versatile seasoning made of soybean and essential to almost all Japanese cuisines such as sushi, tempura etc. 

Most popular seasonings in Japanese food - Soy Sauce (Shoyu)

Soy sauce often used together with other seasonings to enhance its taste. Here are some popular combinations. 

Soy Sauce + Wasabi

Wasabi Shoyu (Wasabi Soy Sauce)

Needless to say, this one is for sushi. Also, this goes well with any seafood in general. My favourite one is a raw octopus with wasabi shoyu (soy sauce with wasabi). It's unbelievably a nice one. Please try. 

Soy Sauce + Karashi (Japanese mustard) 

Karashi Shoyu (Soy Sauce with Japanese mustard)

This combination is normally used for meaty dishes. Siu-Mai (Chinese steamed dumpling which is also common in Japan), Inari-sushi (flavoured rice wrapped in a bean curd) are often eaten with soy sauce with Japanese mustard (karashi). 

2. Miso

If soy sauce is top seasoning in Japanese food culture, the second one must be miso. This paste made of soybean is also versatile seasoning and essential in most Japanese cuisine. 

Miso soup is the most common soup in Japanese cuisine. This is arguably the most popular menu on the dining table in Japan. The best and most typical Japanese soup it is. 

Miso Soup - Japanese Cuisine - Tokyo Direct

Miso can be a sauce for vegetables. For example,  cucumber with miso is Japanese favourite food in summer.  

Cucumber with Miso - Tokyo Direct

Also, Miso-marinated grilled meat dishes are so nice and popular in Japan. Chicken, Pork, Beef and whatever it is, Miso makes it taste better.

Miso marinated pork - Japanese Food - Tokyo Direct Blog

3. Mirin 

Mirin is another key element to make a cuisine more like very 'Japanese' taste. Mirin is basically sake (rice wine) which has a yellow colour. Yes, that sake to drink. As wine is used for French cuisine, sake mirin is essential seasoning for Japanese cuisine. 

People in Japan used to drink mirin as alcoholic drink like they drink sake today. As sake's purification technics develops, people prefer to drink more purified sake which is transparent one as you can see today. Mirin survived as a seasoning after that. It basically has lower alcohol and high sugar compared to normal sake. 

Mirin - Japanese Food - Tokyo Direct

Mirin can be used for both fish and meat, but fish cuisine is more famous. In particular, this mirin is used for teriyaki-marinated fish cuisine (note: teriyaki in Japan and teriyaki sauce outside Japan are not the same. More precisely, mirin-used dishes is called as teriyaki in Japanese cuisine. If not, it's not teriyaki.  

Mirin Teriyaki - Japanese food - Tokyo Direct

Basically, mirin can add a mild flavour to foods. Japanese cuisine is often described as elegant, subtle taste. That is largely due to this seasoning. Mirin is surely the secret element for perfect Japanese cuisine.

4. Shichimi Chilli

Chilli Pepper is one of the most common seasonings in Japan as well. There're two major kinds. One is Ichimi (one taste in Japanese) and another is Shichimi (seven tastes in Japanese). Actually, Ichimi is not that common except in Kyushu area (southern part of Japan). In other areas of Japan, Shichimi is normally the most common chilli seasoning.

Japanese Chilli Pepper - Tokyo Direct

What does shichimi pepper contain?

Combinations of pepper, orange peel, poppy seed, hemp seed, shiso, ginger and black sesame. They're ingredients of Shichimi Chilli. It can be used for almost every kind of Japanese cuisine. In particular, it goes well with noodle dishes such as udon, soba and ramen.

 Sichimi Pepper - Tokyo Direct

5. Yuzu Pepper

The final one is Yuzu Pepper. Yuzu is a kind of Japanese citrus which is famous for its great fresh scent and it is loved by Japanese. Yuzu is most typically used for sweet desserts such as ice cream or cake. 

This is Yuzu citrus. Freshness can be felt even on the picture!

Yuzu - Japanese citrus - Tokyo Direct

Surprisingly, this citrus can also be matched with a salty one. Yuzu pepper is literally pepper paste mixed with yuzu skin peel. This dark green pepper is extremely popular in Kyushu area of the southern part of Japan where chicken dishes are loved the most in Japan.

Yuzu Pepper -Japanese seasoning - Tokyo Direct

The reason? As you can imagine, this yuzu pepper goes extremely well with chicken. When you go to Yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) restaurant in Japan, yuzu pepper is a must seasoning there. 

Yuzu pepper also can be a good match with tofu and nabe (hot pot) cuisine. Do try Yuzu pepper when you eat Japanese chicken dishes.

Thank you for reading!


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