酒 SAKESAKE is an alcohol made from rice, generally containing around 14% alcohol.
It is used to eliminate fishy taste and add relish in cooking. You should not use expensive sake from which almost all protein is removed nor use synthetic sake which has lost its savor. Cheap sake for drinking is preferable.
醤油 SOY SAUCESOY SAUCE is a brown salty sauce made from soybeans, wheat and salt.
It is of primary importance to season Japanese food, what you cannot do without.
There are so many kinds of soy sauce in the supermarket and you may feel at a loss what to choose! I prefer to have these tree types in my kitchen.
こいくち醤油 Koikuchi soy sauce
The majority of soy sauce belongs to this category, used widely in cooking.
うすくち醤油 Usukuchi soy sauce
Used mostly in western Japan. Its light color and delicate taste is suitable for cooking vegetables and white fish.
たまり醤油 Tamari soy sauce
Unlike other soy sauce, wheat is not included in the ingredient. Its thick and sweet taste matches sashimi.
砂糖 SUGARSUGAR is made from sugar cane or sugar beet and there are varieties of sugar according to the process in making. I prefer to have these types of sugar in my kitchen.
黒糖 Black sugar
Unrefined black sugar, made of sugar cane, Okinawa being the major source. It has a strong sweetness and plenty of body which is useful when you want to add a punch to simmered dish.
三温糖 San on tou
Less refined than ordinary white sugar, it is light-brown and has more complex mild taste. I use this instead of white sugar.
A yellowish-white sugar, made of sugar cane, full of minerals. Has a soft and mild taste. Goes perfect with milk tea or cafe latte.
(This one I don't have in my kitchen, I write just for information :D) A fine grained yellowish-white sugar, made of sugar cane, Shikoku prefectures being the major source. It is used for Japanese confectionary. I like its soft and delicate sweetness.
塩 SALTMost of the SALT in Japan is made from simmering sea water. I prefer to have these two in my kitchen.
There are no specific definition for あら塩. It is often used for coarse salt. Good to use for the basic seasoning.
Made form seaweed. It has some mildness in saltiness. Good to use for the finishing.
みりん MIRINMIRIN is a very sweet sake, containing about 14% alcohol. It is made from kome-koji(a rice that has propagated a bacteria called koji-kin(麹菌)), steamed glutinous rice, and shochu(a clear distilled liquor in Japan) to mature for about 60days. It is used to add a mild sweet taste and put a glossy look in cooking. You can substitute sugar for mirin if not available, but best to get mirin because it's different!
味噌 MISOMISO is a fermented bean paste. It is made from soy beans, salt, and koji, a grain that has propagated a bacteria called koji-kin(麹菌). It is used for dressing, pickling or miso soup. In my grandma's days people made it at home.
There are many kinds of miso across Japan with its own color , aroma and flavor. It is categorized primary by the varieties of koji, which is rice-koji, wheat-koji, or soybean-koji. Secondly it differs according to the composition of the ingredient, the aging period, and whether you steam or cook the soybean. I prefer to have these two types in my kitchen. Try and find out what type of miso fits you the best!!
信州味噌 Shinshu miso
A very familiar light-brown miso which tastes thick and salty.
西京味噌 Saikyo miso
A white miso made in Kyoto, sweet and mild.
酢 VINEGARVINEGAR is used for dressing and marinade. I prefer to have these three in my kitchen.
Rice vinegar. It has more lightness and mildness compared to grain vinegar or cider vinegar.
Black rice vinegar. I love 臨醐山brand. Mixed with soy sauce and it is a nice dipping sauce for gyouza dumpling.
This is a versatile and useful dressing. It is made from soy sauce, mirin, citrus juice(such as yuzu, sudachi, and daidai), kelp, and bonito flakes to mature for 3 months. Try it on tofu, green salad, or as hotpot dipping sauce!
米麹 KOME-KOJIKOJI(麹) is a general term used for grain that has propagated a bacteria called koji-kin(麹菌). When rice is used it is called kome-koji(米麹), when wheat is used it is called mugi-koji(麦麹), when soybeans used it is called mame-koji(豆麹). The following two are made from kome-koji. Its enzyme softens and enriches the flavor of ingredients.
This is the one recently in boom. It is made from mixing kome-koji, salt, and water to ferment for a week. This can be used as a substitute for salt. Add 1teaspoon when cooking 2cups of rice and you will see the slight but big difference it makes.
This is a rice drink, with natural and soft sweetness. It is made from mixing kome-koji and rice porridge to ferment overnight. It greatly enriches the flavor when used in simmered dish. I also love to drink itself.
KOMBU-CHA or KOBU-CHA is a seasoned dried kelp(kombu) powder for drinking by pouring hot water. Full of glutamic acid, it is also used for seasoning adding saltiness and a savory flavor to your dish.