Japan Eats

Recipe: Basil no tempura (basil tempura)

Dried shrimp and basil in a delicate tempura batter.

Basil works remarkably well in tempura. Here, the herb is combined with a handful of dried shrimp which adds some weight as well as texture to the dish.

When you mix the basil, tempura powder and ice water, be careful not to mix them for too long. There should still be pockets of dry powder in the mixture. In order to prevent the leaves from separating in the oil, hold the ingredients with the chopsticks until the outside of the ingredients become solid for 10 seconds.

As soon as you find the tempura are crispy, take them out of the oil. Deep frying for too long will kill the aroma of the basil.

This dish pairs well with a dry white wine like chardonnay or a sake such as Tateyama Junmai Ginjo.

Basil tempura.

Basil tempura.

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 25 g of fresh basil (leaves and buds)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of sakuraebi (dried shrimp)
  • 3 – 3.5 tablespoons of tempura powder
  • 2 tablespoons of ice water


Wash the basil leaves, shake off any water and place them in a bowl. Add the dried shrimp.

Gently sprinkle the tempura powder over the ingredients and add ice water. Mix  roughly so that the ingredients will hold together in the cooking oil.

Place a deep-frying dish containing 2 – 3 cm vegetable oil on a medium high gas and heat it to 170℃.

Next, separate the tempura ingredients into 5 – 6 portions. Deep-fry one side of each portion for about a minute. Once the ingredients become crispy, turn over and deep-fry for a further 30 seconds.

Remove the tempura from the oil and place on a paper towel so any oil drains away.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt and serve.

Recipe: Shinjaga no teriyaki (baby potatoes in teriyaki sauce)

The Japanese potato season may be early summer, but now’s the time to take advantage shinjaga – baby potatoes.

Shinjaga is short for shin jagaimo, or baby potatoes. Currently in season, they are outcasts of sorts: farmers sell them to make room for their larger brothers and sisters. They taste delicious, however, and are particularly suited to sopping up sauces like this combination of garlic, butter and soy.

Today’s recipe makes either a great appetizer or a main course. Two tablespoons of olive oil instead of butter will result in a lighter dish. Add pancetta or bacon, on the other hand, and it can stand on its own as a main meal.

Shinjaga no teriyaki (baby potatoes in teriyaki sauce)

Shinjaga no teriyaki (baby potatoes in teriyaki sauce)


  • 800 g baby potatoes
  • 40 g finely chopped garlic
  • 20 g butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley


First, wash the baby potatoes. You don’t need to peel their skins as they’re very thin. If you use a brush when you wash them, the skins will come off easily.

Place a pot with a liter and a half of cold water, 2 – 3 pinches of salt and the potatoes on a high heat. When the water comes to the boil, turn the gas down to medium. Allow the pot to boil for 10 – 15 minutes.

Check if the potatoes are cooked by using a skewer on the largest one. When they are done, drain.

Place a large frying pan containing butter and finely chopped garlic on the stove. Turn the heat to low and sauté for 1 minute, taking care so that the garlic doesn’t burn.

Once the it begins to produce a strong aroma, add the boiled baby potatoes to the pan and sprinkle a pinch of salt. Sauté on a medium heat until each potato is coated with butter and garlic.

Mix 1 tablespoon of mirin and 2  1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce in a cup. Add this sauce to the pan. Flip the pan so that the potatoes are completely coated in the sauce.

Once the liquid has been reduced, turn off the heat and sprinkle finely chopped parsley over the potatoes. Mix well and serve.

Recipe: Suratanmen (hot and sour soup with noodles)

It’s spicy. It’s sour. It’s suratanmen.

Also known as sanratanmen, this sweet and sour noodle dish is a popular Japanese adaptation of the Chinese classic.

Much of its flavor derives from the black vinegar, which adds umami and a mild acidity. As the acidity of the vinegar will dissipate during the cooking process, a dash added to the soup just as soon as you turn off the heat will bring some added flavor.



When you cook noodle dishes, preparation is very important. In order to serve the dish quickly, prepare the ingredients before you actually start cooking. It’s all in the timing!

Ingredients (serves 2 people)

  • 240 g of ramen noodles
  • 30 – 40 g carrot
  • 30 g shiitake mushrooms
  • 30 -40 g bamboo shoots (boiled)
  • 2 – 3 g dried kikurage (wood ear)
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of shokoshu (Chinese sake)
  • 1 teaspoon of potato starch
  • 60 – 70 g pork (sliced into strips 2 -3 mm thick)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 egg
  • 700 ml of chicken soup stock
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of black vinegar

Soup seasoning

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon shokoshu
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Cilantro (coriander)
  • Black pepper
  • Rayu (chili oil)


Cut the carrots into 4 – 5 cm lengths. Cut them lengthwise with the grain, so that you create rectangles about 2 mm thick. Now lay them on their sides and slice them again so they form 2 mm x 2 mm strips. Next, prepare the bamboo shoots. You may find boiled bamboo shoots at the supermarket. If they are already cut into thin slices, you don’t need to do anything but remove the water. If they don’t come pre-sliced, cut them up so they are in pieces roughly the same size as the carrot.

Next, slice the shiitake mushrooms into pieces 2 mm thick and soak the (presumably dried) ears of kikurage in 200 ml of cold water to rehydrate them.

Now we’re going to prepare the pork. Slice it into strips 2 – 3 mm thick, then place the pieces in a small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of shokoshu (or Japanese sake if shokoshu is unavailable) and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce. Gently mix the pieces of pork with your fingers so that they absorb the sauce. Add 1 teaspoon of potato starch and mix again. Once the pork is coated in this preliminary seasoning it will maintain its umami flavor throughout the cooking process.

Prepare a second bowl with the ingredients for the soup seasoning. 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of shokoshu and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and mix well.

Take a cup or small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of potato starch and 1 table spoon of cold water. Mix well. This will be your starchy sauce.

Next comes the soup itself. Place a large pot with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil on a low heat. Once it has warmed, add the pork and sauté for 1 – 2 minutes, then add the carrot and bamboo shoots. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes so that the pork is cooked through.

Add 700 ml of chicken stock and turn the heat up to medium. Once it comes to the boil, add the soup seasoning, a pinch of salt (to taste) and black pepper, mix well then turn the heat down to low and cook for another 3 – 4 minutes.

Return to the starchy sauce and give it another quick stir before pouring it into the pot.

At about this point you want to start cooking the noodles according to the directions on the packet.

Break an egg into a small bowl and mix it well. Gently pour the egg into the soup. Do so slowly, stirring the soup with your other hand. At this point be sure that the soup is on a gentle boil.

Once all of the egg mixture is in the soup, turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of black vinegar. Mix the soup well.

Drain the noodles and place them in a serving bowl. Pour half of the soup over the noodles, then sprinkle a pinch of black pepper followed by 1 – 2 teaspoons of rayu. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.

Recipe: Kabocha no korokke (pumpkin croquette)

As the mercury drops, stay warm with these tasty pumpkin croquettes.

Almost every Japanese department store has a food hall located below ground. These depachika offer a huge range of food from across Japan as well as overseas. Whether you’re looking for Japanese sweets, French cheese or Chinese dumplings, the depachika has it all. Some of the most popular food halls in Tokyo are below Shinjuku’s Takashimaya and Isetan department store. I’m also a frequent visitor to Tokyu Foodshow beneath Shibuya station.

Croquettes – made with everything from potato to crab – are a depachika favorite. They’re usually presented on trays and you make your selection with a pair of tongs, placing them in a plastic container. This recipe uses kabocha (pumpkin), but with a bit of experimentation, you’ll find you’ll be able to use it for many of the other flavors you come across in your department store wanderings.

Note that the pumpkin paste should be cooled before you shape the croquettes – they handle more easily after brief refrigeration.

Pumpkin croquette

Pumpkin croquettes

Ingredients (serves 3 – 4)

  • 500 – 600 g pumpkin (400 g after removing seeds and skin)
  • 50 g onion
  • 30 – 50 ml milk
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh cream
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • A pinch of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of corn (canned corn is fine)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 cups of bread crumbs
  • Vegetable oil for frying


Remove the pumpkin seeds and cut it into 3 – 4 cm squares before peeling away the skin. Place the pumpkin in a pre-warmed steamer and warm it on a medium heat. Once the water is warm, place the pealed pumpkin into the basket and cook for 15 – 20 minutes, so that they become soft. Use a skewer to check if the are cooked all the way through.

Mash the pumpkin with a fork.

Mash the pumpkin with a fork.

Place the pumpkin in a heatproof bowl and mash thoroughly with a fork. Add the milk and fresh cream then mix carefully. Place a frying pan containing a teaspoon of vegetable oil on a medium heat. Chop the onion into 5 mm squares and saute them for 2 – 3 minutes. Once transparent, add to the bowl containing the pumpkin.

Now warm the bowl in a microwave for 3 – 4 minutes to remove moisture. While the pumpkin is still warm, add 1 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of black pepper. Mix well. Add 2 tablespoons of corn and mix roughly. Now allow the pumpkin to cool.

Prepare 3 trays, each containing:

  • beaten egg
  • flour
  • bread crumbs

Moisten your hand with a little vegetable oil. Take roughly 2 tablespoons of the pumpkin filling and shape it into a ball. Repeat until you’ve used all the filling.

Coat each of them with flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs (in that order).

Pour the vegetable oil into a deep frying pan (3 – 4 cm deep) and warm to 170 degrees. Carefully place the croquettes into the oil, turning them over occasionally.

When the croquettes turn light brown, use a metal spoon to retrieve them and drain on a tray.

Serve them on a plate with tonkatsu sauce.




Video: Sumashi-jiru (clear soup)

Keiko Inomata and Yutaka Yasuda explain how to prepare sumashi-jiru (Japanese clear soup)

We’re pleased to present this video by the talented folks at Yasuda Photo Studio.

Keiko Inomata is a researcher and lecturer focusing on kaiseki cuisine. Born in Tokyo, she is a registered nutritionist and consults on menus for the food service industry.

Yutaka Yasuda is a photographer/videographer who in 2001 established the Yasuda Photo Studio in Nakano. He specializes in food photography.

Recipe: Salmon donburi

A quick and easy rice bowl

What is the best accompaniment for raw fish?

Most Japanese agree that when eating fish such as sashimi or sushi, blue fish should be eaten with ginger or perhaps ponzu. Other types of fish with wasabi or salt.

There are also various condiments which can be used alongside those flavors mentioned above. Aojiso (also known as ooba – green perilla), hojiso (spikes of shiso), chives, mioga, etc.

Salmon Donburi

Salmon donburi

For this donburi, wasabi would be the perfect compliment for the salmon. The fish is served with lots of daikon sprouts and sesame seeds. The sharpness of the daikon sprouts emphasizes the salmon’s sweetness and the sesame adds flavor.

And in case you’re wondering, in Japan this rice bowl is referred to as salmon-don (サーモン丼) and not sake-don (鮭丼) as one might expect.

Ingredients (makes 4 rice bowls)


  • 3 cups of rice ( become 4 bowls of sumeshi)
  • 1/2 a cup of rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt


  • 200 g of salmon (sashimi)
  • 200 g of daikon sprouts (2 packages)
  • 2 table spoons of sesame seeds (roasted)
  • 2 tea spoons of sesame seeds (roasted)
  • 10 g of aojiso (green perilla – 20 sheets)


First, you will need to prepare the sushi rice. Fill a bowl with cold water and add the rice. Stir it quickly and pour off the white liquid immediately. Pour the cold water into the bowl again, press the rice with the heal of your palm repeatedly and pour off the white liquid.

Repeat the procedure 3-4 times till the water becomes almost clear (it doesn’t necessarily have to be perfectly clear) and drain on a sieve for 30 mins.

Pour the rice into a rice cooker and add water according to the machines’ instructions. Cook the rice. Once the rice is done, allow it to rest in the machine for 10 minutes.

Pour the ingredients for the sushi vinegar into a small pan. Warm over a low heat so that the sugar and salt have completely dissolved. Turn off the gas and allow the liquid to cool.

When the rice is ready, open the rice cooker and transfer the rice into a wooden bowl moistened with water. Sprinkle the sushi vinegar over the rice, making sure that the liquid is spread evenly.

Toss the rice with downward cutting strokes until the rice cools. Add two tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds, mixing them with the rice.

Now place approximately one cup of the cooked rice into a serving bowl. As you do this, bear in mind that both the flavor and texture of the dish come from the ingredients layered on top – don’t overdo the amount of rice.

Place a 1/4 of the daikon sprouts on top of the rice.

Slice the salmon into 3-4 mm slices by pulling the knife toward you. Place it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve the donburi.

Place 4 or 5 strips of salmon onto the bed of sprouts. When you do this, it looks better if you fold the slices into two.

Next, slice the aojiso into thin strips and place these gently on top of the salmon.

Finally sprinkle the 1/2 tea spoon of sesame seeds over the rice bowl. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi in a small dish.

Recipe: Goma-ae (green vegetables with sesame dressing)

Full of beans: A side salad to serve alongside any meat dish

Essentially green vegetables in a sesame dressing, Goma-ae makes an excellent appetizer or side dish served with fish or meat, rice and miso soup. You can use green beans (also known as French beans or string beans), snap beans, runner beans, spinach or shungiku (in English, garland chrysanthemum). Whichever peas or beans you choose, use those still in their pods.


The sesame dressing suits many kinds of green vegetables.

Ingredients (serves 3 – 4 people)

  • 130 -150 g komatsuna (Japanese spinach)
  • 60 g string beans
  • 80 g English peas
  • 4 tablespoons of white sesame seeds
  • 1.5 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of water


Begin by stringing the beans and the English peas. Next, place a pot with 1 liter of water on the gas and bring it to the boil. Add a pinch of salt.

Place the string into the the pot and boil them for 1 minute. Now toss in the English peas and boil for a further 1 minute. Remove both from the water and soak in cold water for roughly 10 seconds so that they do not change color. Drain.

Place the well washed komatsuna into the hot water and boil for two minutes. Remove and soak in the cold water for 10 seconds, then drain by squeezing your hand down the length of the leaves. Cut into 3 cm lengths.

Toast the sesame seeds, and grind them with a mortar and pestle. When the seeds are completely ground, the add sugar, soy sauce and the tablespoon of water. Mix well.

Finally, place all of the vegetables in a bowl and mix well with the sesame dressing.

Recipe: Dry curry

The other curry

Ask any Japanese for a list of their favorite dishes, you can be sure ‘curry rice’ will be one of them. Introduced to the country by the British during the Meiji era (1869–1913), this mix of curry roux, meat and vegetables is typically served alongside Japanese rice, and has since become something of a national obsession.

There is, however, another type of curry which has gained popularity as a regular addition to Japanese cafe menus. So-called ‘Dry curry’ is made from minced meat and vegetables which are squeezed to remove any excess liquid. It is easy to prepare and makes an excellent (read ‘less messy’) addition to an obento.


Ingredients (serves 3 – 4 people)
200 g cucumber
300 g tomato (2 tomatoes)
50 g celery
70 g onion
40 g radish

200 g minced pork
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
20 g of ginger
10 g garlic
2 tablespoons of curry powder
1 tablespoon of soy sauce


First, prepare the dry curry itself. Warm a pan with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and cook the finely chopped ginger and garlic over a low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until you sense the smell rising from the pan.

Add the minced pork and cook over a medium heat until the color has changed. Next, add curry powder and mix well, then turn off the heat. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce as soon as you turn off the heat. Stir.

Cut off both ends of the cucumber and thinly slice like an accordion. Cut again into bite-sized pieces (3-4 cm in length). Slice the celery diagonally into 5 cm pieces, and the onion into bite-sized wedges.

Places each of these vegetables into individual mixing bowls. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of salt over them (preliminary seasoning which removes some of their harshness). Let the vegetables stand for 5 minutes until they become a little soft.

Slice the radish thinly and cut the tomato into quarters or smaller-sized wedges. Now, squeeze the cucumber, celery and onion to extract any excess liquid.

Place the cucumber, sliced onion and sliced radish into the dry curry and mix the ingredients together. Add tomato to the curry and mix one last time before serving.

Recipe: Shiso juice

The perfect way to beat the summer heat

Tokyo is enjoying (some would say enduring) one of the hottest starts to summer in years. What better time to try out this refreshing Japanese drink? Made with red shiso (a relative of mint and basil) it’s sweet, doesn’t require refrigeration and looks wonderful.


1 l water
200 ml rice vinegar
300 – 400 g sugar
300 – 400 g aka shiso (red shiso)


Place a saucepan containing the water and rice vinegar on the gas table and bring it to the boil.

Take the red shiso and lower it into the pan, boiling it for 5 minutes. Once done, pour the contents of the saucepan through a colander, into a large bowl. Allow the boiled shiso leaves to cool.

Once the leaves are cool enough to handle, squeeze them between your fingers extracting any remaining juice. Now discard the leaves themselves and pour the juice back into the saucepan. Add the sugar and then heat the pan on a medium flame for 15-20 minutes.

Once the juice has again cooled, pour it into a bottle or jar. Be sure that this container had previously been washed and dried thoroughly.

Try the juice before serving, adjusting the taste by adding fresh water and ice. I usually serve a mixture of 50 per cent juice to 50 per cent water.

May ’10 Magazine Roundup

What’s new in Japan’s food magazines? Marcus Lovitt conducts a whirlwind tour of Japan’s culinary rags. This month: dancyu, ELLE à table, Syokuraku and Ryori Tsushin.

May's ELLE à table

May's ELLE à table

Foreign visitors to Japan frequently complain about the limited number of western breakfast options available. And let’s face it: pre-dawn sushi at Tsukiji or a bowl of soba at a train station aren’t for everyone, especially if you have young children in tow.

For those not enamored of chain coffee shops (Excelsior, Starbucks or the ever-smokey Dotour) the only options appear to be expensive hotel restaurants or to pick something up at a local bakery.

It’s an unfortunate fact that Tokyo lags behind other major cities when it comes to breakfast options. While there are plenty of great independently-owned cafes, few open before 10 or 11 am. Why? Most Japanese eat at home, or skip the meal altogether in the rush to catch that train to work.

Things may be changing, however. Much has been made of Australian chef Bill Granger’s latest venture, bills in Yokohama. Renowned for his Australian-style breakfasts, Granger has attracted a lot of attention for his focus on Aussie staples such as Eggs Benedict and buttery pancakes.

Acknowledging the western predilection for a morning dose of cholesterol, this month’s dancyu (860 yen) is all eggs, done every which way. The magazine introduces restaurants offering classic egg dishes (boiled, scrambled, fried) as well as some of their recipes (eggs Benedict, egg sandwiches, huevos a la flamenca and puddings).

Another of dancyu‘s themes is seasonal vegetables – spring cabbage, spring onion, asparagus, green peas, and tomato fruit. The magazine includes seven recipes which make the most of what’s now available in Japan’s grocery stores.

ELLE à table (720 yen), meanwhile, looks at the latest French restaurants to open in Tokyo. The editors write that since the end of 2009 Tokyoites have enjoyed an increasing number of reasonably-priced French establishments. Rents have decreased because of the recession and young chefs are finding it easier to open their own places. ELLE writes about eight casual French dining options. They also focus on 3 locations: Nishi Azabu; what ELLE calls the ‘Art East Area’ (the area around Bakurocho and Asakusabashi) and ‘Ura Ginza’ (Higashi Ginza and Shintomicho). Finally, the magazine profiles seven new restaurants renowned for the quality of their food.

Syokuraku (860 yen) fills much of its May edition with those delectable dumplings, gyoza. The editors recommend gyoza restaurants based on five categories: fried gyoza, large gyoza, crispy gyoza, boiled gyoza and gyoza served on a frying pan. The magazine also visits Utsunomiya and Hamamatsu, two Japanese cities which are famous for the dish.

Finally, this month’s Ryori tsushin (980 yen) examines ‘sake for wine lovers’. The magazine explains how to approach sake by showing a comparison between sake and wine. They also suggest restaurants which provide a high-quality sake line up as well as food. Elsewhere in the magazine is devoted to dashi. Based on the notion that dashi is one of the key elements of Japanese cooking, the editors explain how to cook this combination of konbu (kelp), katsuobushi and water. They also present six dashi-based recipes.

And also…

Otoriyose, the practice of ordering regional specialties online via sites such as Rakuten, is currently a major trend. All of this month’s magazines go out of their way to list websites where readers can purchase items such as gyoza (Syokuraku) and pâté (ELLE à table). The latter magazine even introduces a bar in Ginza (named chikappa) focused on otoriyose from Kyushu.