Reiko Hashimoto was the first person in the UK to run a sushi-making class, when she set up her London cookery school Hashi Cooking nineteen years ago. Born in Kyoto, Reiko began her culinary career teaching the foreign community in Tokyo how to cook traditional Japanese dishes.
Since moving to London, she has launched a range of successful Japanese cooking classes, covering everything from ramen and gyoza, to every sort of sushi and sashimi.
Here, she tells Sous Chef about the essential ingredients you’ll find in every Japanese storecupboard, and how to use them.
Hashi is Reiko’s first book and was published in 2011. It is a culinary bible with over 100 recipes that introduce a mix of traditional and modern Japanese recipes.
The book replicates Reiko’s original cookery course – equipping readers with everything they need to start cooking authentic Japanese dishes at home.
What are the most popular traditional Japanese foods?
1. Japanese Short Grain Rice
Short grain rice, also known as gohan, is most suitable for Japanese dishes such as sushi, donburi bowls, or katsu curry. Any kind of rice from Japan should be the right kind. Alternatively, short-grain rice from California, Australia, Spain and Korea are available.
You can also buy short grain brown rice, called genmai. Genmai rice is the least polished and the most nutritious type of rice. It is high in fibre, takes much longer to cook and is chewier and more nutty compared to white rice.
Instant dashi stock is available in powder. It is used daily by Japanese people. Simply stir the powder or liquid into boiling water to create your stock. You can buy bonito fish-based dashi powder, and konbu seaweed-based versions which are suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets.Buy Instant Dashi Powder 50g, £2.99
3. Soy Bean Paste – Miso
There are many types of miso, which is a fermented soy bean paste. Miso is mostly used for soups but also for marinades, sauces and salad dressings. Miso paste can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and tends to get saltier as it ages.
4. Soy Sauce - Sho-yu
Soy sauce, or sho-yu, is a basic ingredient used in most Japanese dishes as the salting agent. Sho-yu means Japanese soy sauce and it is much less salty than the Chinese soy sauce. Tamari is another type of Japanese soy sauce which is gluten free.
5. Rice Wine – Sake
Sake is a dry rice wine, for cooking and drinking. It is traditionally drunk warm, although recently it has become popular to drink chilled sake.Buy Hinode Ryorishu cooking sake, £8.50
6. Sweet Rice Wine – Mirin
Mirin is a sweet rice wine used for cooking. It is the base of classic sauces and marinades such as teriyaki, and can also be used to make simple dipping sauces for tempura-fried snacks.
7. Rice Vinegar – Komezu
Rice vinegar is milder than most Western vinegars. It is mainly used for seasoning sushi rice, salad dressings and some simmered dishes. Cider vinegar can be substituted if you add a little water.Buy Mizkan rice vinegar, £3.95
8. Sushi Vinegar – Sushizu
This is a special blend of rice vinegar, sugar, salt and dashi used for seasoning sushi rice. You can buy bottles of ready-to-use sushi vinegar, or buy it as a sachet in powdered form.
9. Sesame Oil – Goma Abura
This oil is made from pressed toasted sesame seeds in liquid. It is usually used for flavouring, rather than for cooking. You can also buy chilli-infused sesame oil – rahyu – which is often used for Chinese and Japanese fusion dishes such as gyoza and ramen.
9. Toasted Sesame Seed – Iri Goma
There are two types of sesame seeds used in Japanese cooking: white and black. You can purchase toasted white sesame seeds and toasted black sesame seeds, or buy raw sesame seeds and toast them yourself in a dry pan.
10. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms – Hoshi Shiitake
Dried mushrooms are one of the most important ingredients for vegetarian stock. The mushrooms have much stronger flavour than fresh ones and are also used for a variety of cooked dishes.Buy dried shiitake mushrooms 277g, £7.95
11. Japanese Seaweed
- Dried sea kelp (konbu) is another essential ingredient for vegetarian stock. It is dried and is also used for many long, slow-cooked dishes.
- Nori is best known for wrapping sushi rolls. It is black in colour and paper-thin, which makes it perfect for rolling sushi.
- Wakame is the most commonly used seaweed in Japan and many people will recognise it as a traditional garnish for miso soup.
- Hijiki is used mainly for simmered dishes as the firm texture holds its shape well and releases flavour as it cooks.
This is widely used at the Japanese table as a dried condiment. The mixture of seven spices also includes chilli as a dominant ingredient. Most often used as a condiment for noodle soups, grilled fish and meat.
The sansho or prickly ash tree also yields fragrant kinome leaves, which are often used as a garnish. Earthy, tangy and lemony in flavour, when these leaves are placed directly on your tongue, you’ll notice a sort of tingling sensation. Sansho is usually sold in ground form, and is typically used on grilled foods such as yakitori chicken or eel as it goes well with teriyaki sauce.
14. Japanese Mayonnaise – Mayonaizu
Japanese mayonnaise is much more yellow in colour than the typical Western mayonnaise. As the colour shows, Japanese mayonnaise contains more egg yolks. It is also creamier and has a more citrusy flavour.Buy iconic Kewpie mayonnaise, £4.95
Although wasabi is a type of horseradish, it is somewhat different to the Western variety. The root of Japanese horseradish is much smaller and pale green in colour. Ready-made pastes or dried forms of wasabi are widely available, however the actual wasabi content present is often extremely low.Buy true wasabi paste here
- Soba: brown buckwheat noodles. The healthiest of all noodles. You can also obtain different flavours such as green tea or yuzu.
- Somen: fine white wheat flour noodles with silky texture.
- Udon: thick white wheat flour noodles
- Ramen: originally from China and made of wheat flour and eggs.