A Glossary of Key Japanese Cooking Terms

For any professional or amateur chef approaching Japanese cuisine for the first time, it’s easy to feel a little intimidated.

As with any new discipline, there’s much to learn with Japanese cooking, from handling the essential knives to the art of exquisite presentation. However, one likely stumbling block for some is the number of unfamiliar terms you’ll see again and again when studying Japanese recipes and cooking books.

To help you hit the ground running, we’ve compiled a glossary of key Japanese cooking terms, covering those words you’re sure to encounter again and again.

Kamikoto Serving Set
Kamikoto Serving Set

Agadeshi tofu

Always served hot, these firm cubes of tofu are deep-fried in starch.

Baikingu

A Japanese term for a buffet or smorgasbord. Especially useful to know if preparing a large meal with various food-types.

Chanpuru

A stir fry, ypically made with tofu, assorted vegetables, and a touch of fish or other meat. This originated in Okinawa, and is a popular dish.

Chanwanmushi

This dish is egg-custard based, featuring shiitake mushrooms, gingko seeds, shrimp, and various other elements. Generally, this is a side dish or even eaten as an appetizer.

Chikuwa

Chikuwa is a mix of fish surimi, sugar, salt, egg white, and starch. It’s typically formed into a stick.

Daikon

A large, white radish common to Japanese cuisine – likely to appear in various recipes.

Dango

This rice dumpling is made with rice flour, served alongside delicious green tea and presented on skewers.

Dashi

You’ll see dashi often. It’s a common broth made either with shiitake, kombu, or niboshi, popular across Japan.

Donburi

This bowl of rice is topped with eggs and meat, fish, vegetables, or other types of seafood.

Gyudon

The name for slices of beef cooked in a soy sauce, before being placed atop rice.

Kabayaki

A dish of boned fish flavored with a sweet sauce, later grill-broiled, typically made from sardines or even eel.

Kakuni

Kakuni is a dish of braised pork.

Kamameishi

This is rice, meat, and vegetables prepared in an iron pot – simple, but important!

Katsudon

Katsudon is a battered cutlet of pork, served with rice and eggs.

Miso

Everyone’s heard of miso soup, and this is the soybean-based paste used to produce it. It’s also the foundation of mison ramen, another popular dish.

Mochi

Mochi are rice cakes made from tightly-formed rice, mixed with a sticky paste.

Nanban-zuke

A fried-mackerel dish.

Nikujaga

Potatoes, meat, and onion cooked in a sweet soy sauce.

Okazu

A side serving of tofu, vegetables, fish, or meat, commonly combined with others to make a main meal.

Ramen

Noodles usually served with meat and vegetables, within a soup. Very popular.

Shio-yaki

A term referring to the ‘salt-grilled’ cooking method.

Soba

A popular type of noodles, made of buckwheat.

Surimi

This is made with fish, but designed to replicate shellfish-based foods.

Tempura

Deep-fried vegetables or seafood, served with dips. Very popular as a side.

Udon

A thick type of noodle, prepared in a steaming soup.

Wasabi

A famous (and infamous) green paste, known for its strong taste. People may either love it or hate it.

Yakitori

Grilled or barbecued chicken served on skewers.

Zatsumi

This term refers to a flavor that is unneeded and inappropriate to the overall power of a dish.

We hope this proves useful as you discover Japanese cooking!

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