Japanese food has a reputation for being healthy, light, and fresh. But it’s also incredibly tasty, with deliciously deep and complex flavours.
While it might be best known for sushi, Japan’s culinary culture is unusually rich. Not only does Japan have more Michelin-starred restaurants than France, but Japanese cuisine is also known for its profound understanding of umami – that wonderfully satisfying, savoury flavour.
So if you want to get more familiar with Japanese food, why not try cooking up some dishes from your own kitchen? From comforting bowls of miso soup to warming curries and fresh cold noodle salads, here are nine easy, mouthwatering Japanese recipes you can make at home.
Okonomiyaki is a popular Japanese street food from Osaka. It’s basically a cross between a pancake and an omelette, and because so many types of meat, seafood, and vegetables can be added to it, it’s a great way to use up any ingredients you have that need eating. The name ‘okonomiyaki’ literally translates to ‘cooked as you like it’, which should give you some idea of how versatile this dish is!
Other than the batter, the only real ‘essential’ ingredient is shredded cabbage – and after that, you can add pretty much whatever you like. Most recipes include a protein form (usually shrimp, beef, pork, seafood, or tofu) and veggies like corn, spring onions, green peas, bean sprouts, and kimchi. Quick and simple to make, okonomiyaki is seriously satisfying and packed with moreish flavours.
Traditional okonomiyaki needs okonomi sauce, which you can buy from most Asian supermarkets. However, you can easily make your own okonomi sauce by mixing together a few condiments you may already have in your cupboard, like Worcestershire sauce and tomato ketchup.
Once your pancake is cooked, flip it onto a plate, cut into quarters, cover with sauce and toppings of your choice, and eat while it’s piping hot!
For more on making the perfect okonomiyaki, have a read of this article by The Guardian, or have a watch of the video below.
Ramen is a serious business in the world of food. Arguably the ultimate Japanese comfort food, its popularity has swept across the world. It’s especially well-loved in the US but, in recent years, it’s also taken off here in the UK. But if you’re a fan of this delicious noodle soup (or you’ve never had it), you don’t have to head to a restaurant to enjoy a steaming bowl of nourishing ramen.
A good ramen depends on a good broth – this is what gives ramen its classic deep, umami flavour, and it’s easily the most important element in the dish. There are all kinds of different ramen dishes you can make, but three of the most popular variations are miso ramen (which is soybean-based), tonkotsu ramen (which is pork bone-based), and shoyu ramen (which is soy sauce-based).
For the noodles, you can use special ramen noodles, which you can buy either dry or fresh in most Japanese and Asian shops, or you can use the thin Chinese-style egg noodles that are available in all supermarkets.
In terms of toppings, soft-boiled egg, pork, tofu, and dried nori are all popular, and a drizzle of sesame oil finishes things off. Remember that ramen is meant to be slurped, so this is a dish it’s perfectly acceptable to eat noisily!
To find out more about cooking the perfect ramen, have a read of this article by Kitchn. If you want to make a rich pork tonkotsu ramen, you could try this recipe from Serious Eats. Or if you want to make a veggie version, their creamy vegan miso ramen should hit the spot.
To see how to make delicious ramen in only 10 minutes, it’s also worth having a watch of the video below.
3. Katsu curry
Katsu curry might be a classic Japanese dish, but its history is a bit more diverse. Curry – as in curry powder – originated in India and was adapted by British settlers. It became popular in Japan after British military officers brought curry powder with them when they stayed in Kobe and other cities. So the reason why katsu curry has a mild taste and lacks the complex spices of a classic curry is because it’s been Anglicised.
Mild it may be, katsu curry is still absolutely delicious. In Japan, if people are making katsu curry at home they’ll usually buy a block of curry roux from the shop rather than making it from scratch. So, if you have a decent Asian supermarket near you, you might want to see if they sell a Japanese curry roux. If not, however, you can easily make your own from scratch.
Katsu curry is usually served with a pork or chicken cutlet that’s breaded in panko breadcrumbs – although if you’re veggie, you can use sweet potato, aubergine, tofu, or a mock-meat cutlet instead. If you’re a fan of the Wagamama katsu curry, you might be interested to know that their executive chef recently shared the recipe, which you may want to make!
To find out more about making katsu curry, check out the video below.
Yakisoba is a popular Japanese noodle dish that’s quick to cook and easily adaptable. And while in Japan it’s often cooked on flat-top teppan griddles (like in teppanyaki restaurants), you can easily make it at home. Leftover yakisoba is also especially delicious, so anything you don’t eat can be enjoyed for lunch the next day or packed up in a bento box to eat on the go.
Yakisoba is an interesting dish in terms of origins, as it’s influenced by both Chinese and English cuisine. Yakisoba noodles are similar to fresh lo mein noodles which are eaten in Japan, and if you can find yakisoba noodles in shops, they’re usually pre-cooked – which makes this an easy one-pan recipe! If you can’t find yakisoba noodles, you can use dried soba noodles or egg noodles.
Yakisoba sauce is influenced by English and Western cuisine and is based around Worcestershire sauce. But while English-style Worcestershire sauce is thin, strong, and vinegary, the Japanese equivalent is much thicker. You can buy yakisoba sauce from Asian supermarkets or make your own.
Other than the noodles and sauce, you also need to add vegetables and a protein of your choice.
Shiitake mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, and bean sprouts all typically feature – while chicken, pork belly, shrimp, and tofu are all popular sources of protein.
For more guidance on making the perfect yakisoba, you might also want to check out the video below.
5. Miso soup
If you’ve ever eaten in a Japanese restaurant before, chances are you’ve had a bowl of miso soup.
While it’s often served as an appetiser in restaurants, miso soup is absolutely deserving of a place on this list – and its multiple health benefits mean it’s definitely a dish you should be eating more of! Plus, if you can make a delicious bowl of miso soup from home, all the better.
Miso soup has been everyday fare in Japan since the Kamakura period (1192-1333), and there’s a reason it’s stuck around so long. Not only is it incredibly good for you, but it’s also one of the easiest and most comforting soups to make – and once you’re able to make tasty miso soup from scratch, you’ll have mastered the backbone of pretty much all great Asian soups: a delicious, umami broth.
Miso soup consists of miso paste (made from fermented soybeans), kombu (dried seaweed), and often, dried bonito flakes. Then, soft, fresh cubes of tofu are added along with sliced spring onion. You can use white miso paste, which is sweeter and lighter, red miso paste, which has been fermented for longer and has deeper, more complex flavours, or yellow miso paste, which falls in between.
To make your own comforting miso soup, why not try this recipe by Kitchn? Or have a watch of the video below.
6. Yakitori chicken
If you’re a fan of barbecued meats, it’s a safe bet to say you’ll probably love yakitori chicken.
In Japan, instead of going to the pub, people like to go to izakayas. The word izakaya translates as ‘stay-drink-place’, and it’s a spot where friends get drinks, settle in, and when they get hungry, order small plates of delicious food. And one of the most popular izakaya dishes is yakitori chicken.
Yakitori literally means ‘grilled chicken’ – but if you’ve ever tried yakitori chicken, you’ll know it’s not any ordinary grilled chicken. Grilled on skewers on charcoal (often along with vegetables like spring onions), what makes yakitori special is the sauce, which is called ‘tare’.
Tare is a sweet, sticky glaze that’s usually made from soy sauce, sake, and dark sugar or honey – and when combined with the chicken and hot charcoal, it becomes irresistible.
There are many different types of yakitori, and you can use just about any part of chicken. There’s chicken thigh (momo), breast (muneniku), wings (tebasaki), skin (kawa), liver (kimo), gizzard (sunagimo), hearts (shinzou), and even cartilage (bankotsu). However, chicken thighs and breast are the fastest and easiest, so you might want to start there.
Why not try this yakitori chicken recipe from RecipeTin Eats? Or have a watch of the video below to find out more.
7. Agedashi tofu
Aside from yakitori chicken, another dish that’s popular at izakayas – and often enjoyed with sake or Japanese beer with friends after work – is agedashi tofu.
The first known recipe for agedashi tofu was published in 1782 in a Japanese tofu cookbook called Tofu Hyakuchin (which means ‘one hundred ways with tofu’), and since then it’s been a staple in Japanese cuisine.
If you think you don’t like tofu, this is probably the dish that’ll make you think again! The outside of the tofu is dusted with cornstarch, potato starch or flour, then lightly fried until crisp, and the inside is so soft it melts in your mouth. The tofu is served in a warm dashi-based broth that adds a delicious umami flavour, and grated ginger and sliced spring onion on top add a zingy freshness.
Tofu is an excellent source of protein and is packed with many important nutrients, and while this dish is usually deep-fried, if you’re making it at home it might be easier (and healthier) to shallow fry.
To make your own agedashi tofu, why not try this recipe from Chopstick Chronicles or have a watch of the video below? Serve with sake or Japanese beer for maximum authenticity!
8. Soba noodle salad
If you’re a fan of noodles but are in the mood for a light, refreshing dish, you might want to make a soba noodle salad.
Soba noodles are a staple in both Japan and Korea, and these chewy, nutty-tasting buckwheat noodles can be eaten both hot and cold – and because they only take three or four minutes to cook, they’re perfect if you want to knock up a delicious, nutritious, and speedy lunch.
Packed with amino acids and fibre, soba noodles are incredibly versatile. They go well with just about any fresh ingredients you have lying around, from eggs to veg and seafood to tofu. While hot soba soups are popular, a cold soba noodle salad makes a wholesome light-yet-satisfying lunch. Just make sure you watch your noodles as they cook, as they can go from perfect to overcooked in seconds!
Whatever ingredients you decide to use in your soba noodle salad, it’s best to have some seasonal veg, some sesame seeds for crunch, then something more filling, like avocado, egg, or another source of protein. Finally, finish off with a flavoursome dressing or dipping sauce.
For more even soba noodle salad inspiration, check out the video below.
And finally, you can’t have an article on Japanese food and not mention sushi. Perhaps the most iconic Japanese dish, sushi is actually believed to have originated in China between the 5th and the 3rd centuries BC, when fermented rice was used to preserve fish. While it’s widely believed that ‘sushi’ means ‘raw fish’, it actually refers to vinegared rice served with different accompaniments.
There are many different shapes and flavours of sushi, and while some, like California rolls, are modern, Western creations, others have been made and eaten in Japan since the 8th century. Maki is a type of sushi where the rice and other ingredients are rolled in nori, a sheet of dried seaweed – and this has been popular since the 1700s, when sheet nori was first invented.
Nigiri is another one of the most popular types of sushi. Nigiri sushi is made up of a cylinder of sushi topped with either seafood, vegetables, meat, omelette, or tofu. It was believed to have been created in Tokyo in the 1800s, when an innovative chef wanted to make a quick snack for the workers in the area. But maki and nigiri are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sushi!
Making your own sushi from home usually requires a bit of practise, as the act of rolling it up can take a while to master – but if you love sushi it’s absolutely worth the effort. Being able to make delicious, fresh sushi from scratch won’t only impress your friends, it’ll also save you money, and because it’s so versatile, it’s a great way to use up leftover ingredients.
To learn more about making sushi, you might also want to have a watch of the video below.
Japanese food tends to be seasonal, fresh, and light – but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be indulgent or feel like a treat! More than anything, Japanese food is incredibly versatile, and there’s a delicious dish for every mood and occasion.
If you feel like eating something light and fresh, a cold soba noodle salad or plate of sushi is ideal. If you fancy something comforting, a bowl of warming miso soup or hearty ramen will do the job. And if you’re in the mood for something that feels like a treat, you can emulate the Japanese and enjoy a plate of agedashi tofu or yakitori chicken, with a cold Japanese beer.
For more culinary inspiration from around the world, why not visit our food and drink section? Here, you’ll find a wide variety of articles like 8 recipe ideas from around the world and 8 mouth-watering Mexican meals to cook at home.
Are you a fan of Japanese food? Or are you tempted to make any of these recipes? We’d love to hear about your food experiences in the comments below.