The basics of Japanese cooking

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The basics of Japanese cooking

You don’t need to be a sushi master to enjoy authentic Japanese dishes at home. Here are the most popular meals from the land of the rising sun, and what you’ll need to make them.

Japanese food is beautiful food and the masters pay as much attention to presentation as they do to preparation. But don’t let that intimidate you; Japanese cuisine is built on a few intensely flavoured prepared pastes, sauces and condiments that make it easy to prepare whenever you like. Just add a bowl of humble rice.

Many recipes are simply grilled or simmered, yet they turn “a little into a lot”, as the Japanese proverb goes.


If you have the following in your store cupboard or fridge, you will be ready to cook most Japanese dishes:

  • Daikon: a large, long, white radish with a mild horseradish flavour. It can be subtstituted with red radishes
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms
  • Enoki: thin, crisp white mushrooms with a mild flavour
  • Hashi: chopsticks
  • Instant dashi: a stock base made from dried kelp and fish
  • Mirin: light, sweet rice wine
  • Miso: salty, fermented soya bean paste used for soups and sauces
  • Nori: toasted seaweed sheets
  • Noodles: chukamen for hugely popular Ramen dishes or use soba (thin) or udon (thicker) in a soup base. All three are available from Woolworths.
  • Panko crumbs: fine breadcrumbs available from Asian speciality food stores
  • Ponzu sauce: a soy-based sauce spiked with citrus
  • Pickled ginger (gari): to cleanse the palate
  • Sake: rice-based alcohol
  • Su: rice vinegar used to make sushi rice. It has a lighter flavour than Western vinegars
  • Shichimi togarashi: a sprinkle made with chilli, sansho pepper, sesame seeds and seaweed
  • Wasabi: Japanese horse-radish which looks deceivingly like mashed avocado but can be very hot, and is generally served with sushi
  • Seafood: ensure the fish or seafood you choose is from a sustainable source


Learn how to make sushi maki <ADD LINK>, sushi rolled in sheets of nori.

Learn how to make nigiri sushI <ADD LINK>, simply fish, wasabi and rice squeezed together, but not all that easy to get right

Learn all about the perfect Japanese tempura <ADD LINK>

Find out more about sashimi <ADD LINK>, and how it differs from sushi

Find out what umami <ADD LINK>, the Japanese fifth taste, is all about

Make quick and easy teriyaki tuna <ADD LINK>.


  • Miso-glazed mushrooms <ADD LINK>: a quick and easy mushroom starter or light meal served on crispy.
  • Tuna sashimi and strawberry salad <ADD LINK>: classic, easy and healthy.
  • Salmon carpaccio with pickled enoki mushrooms <ADD LINK>: a great little amuse bouche for posh parties.
  • Fragrant rice <ADD LINK>: a salty, white steamed rice dish with radish that makes a great side.
  • Spicy tuna tartare in sesame miso cones <ADD LINK>: one of the star dishes served at the Academy Awards.
  • Japanese seafood rice pot <ADD LINK>: one of Luke Dale-Roberts’ delicious re-inventions.
  • Japanese-style pork schnitzel <ADD LINK>: surprisingly an every-day fast food in Japan.



Cheung Hing Hong, Shop 3, 35 Newport Avenue, Glenashley; tel (031) 562-0633


Dragon Chinese Supermarket, Shop 17, 9th Ave, Rivonia, tel (011) 803-6408

Thrupps, Thrupps Ilovo Centre, cnr Oxford & Rudd roads, Illovo, tel (011) 268-0298


Yat Kee Chinese Supermarket and Trading, 27 Maroelana Street, Hazelwood, tel (012) 346 8506

Cape Town

Mainland China Food Market, in the alley between 45 and 47 Main Road, Claremont, tel (021) 683-7298

Ding Ho Asian Foods, Unit 2 V.R.P Park, Track Crescent, Montague Gardens, tel (021) 555 2426


Mother Chinese Food Market 888, Shop 1B, Emily Hobhouse Square, Dan Pienaar, tel (051) 436-7658


TASTE Article by: TASTE

The TASTE team is a happy bunch of keen cooks and writers, always on the look out for the next food trend or the next piece of cake.

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