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Miso Hungry Podcast

Episode 14: Putting together your Japanese pantry, Part 1


In which nobody’s gotten any sleep, Allison confuses herself about shoyu, and we go off on a ton of (interesting and relevant-ish, we promise!) tangents.

Although this was supposed to be a single episode, we just had so much information we wanted to tell you about what ingredients are important for your basic Japanese pantry, we had to split it in two! Otherwise it would have been an hour-long episode, and as much as we’re sure you love listening to us go on (right?)… that’s just a bit too long. So instead, you get two episodes for the price of one!

The first thing you should know about the basic important ingredients for Japanese cooking is that… you may not realize it, but you probably already have a lot of them. (And those you don’t have usually last a really long time, and aren’t all that expensive, either.)

The moral of this episode is: You don’t have to live in Japan to do this at home.

Of course, as with anything else in life, like carpentry or gardening, you could go totally crazy and acquire a wide range of obscure and highly authentic special tools and utensils to start Japanese-style home cooking. But to get started, you really don’t need most of them.

For those ingredients you don’t have, you can find them at stores like Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Safeway, Kroger, Albertsons, your local Japanese or Asian market, or online. Keep in mind that just like bread or milk in this country, each of the basic Japanese food ingredients and seasonings comes in many different varieties from many different manufacturers.

And thus we present to you…

The Traditional Flavors of Japanese Cuisine

Besides dashi stock, the basic flavors of traditional Japanese cuisine are sugar, salt, rice vinegar, soy sauce (shoyu!), and miso. While not many sauces use all of these ingredients, many of them use at least three of them.

The order in which these ingredients are used is important. The ingredients whose flavors are most susceptible to being changed by heat are added last — soy sauce and miso. Sugar and salt are added first, and vinegar in between.

The way this is remembered in Japan is with “Sa Shi Su Se So” — the “s” row of the phonetic alphabets in Japanese.

  1. Sa (satoh = sugar)
  2. Shi (shio = salt)
  3. Su (su = vinegar)
  4. Se (shoyu = soy sauce)
  5. So (miso)

Japanese Pantry Ingredients (Part 1):

Due to time constraints (and a few tangents), we could only get to the first couple of essential Japanese pantry ingredients in this episode. But don’t you worry… the rest will be in next week’s episode! And be sure to stop by next week – we’ll have a handy shopping list that you can print out and take with you when you go shopping for these ingredients.

The first essential ingredient is… rice!

(Hey, that’s not exotic at all!)

For Japanese cooking, you want to get short-grain rice – either white or brown rice is fine. (It also goes under the name “sushi rice”, and is sometimes labeled as medium-grain. Yeah, we know it can be confusing.) Make sure you don’t buy jasmine, basmati, or long-grain rice… those are definitely not the right kind!

Any rice labeled “Calrose” or “Kohoku Rose” is the right rice. It’s extremely common – we’ve seen it sold at Costco and in chain supermarkets – so you shouldn’t have any problem whatsoever finding it in the US.

(P.S. The internet is your friend. A quick search for “Japanese rice” on Amazon comes up with a bunch of good results.)

(P.P.S. Holy epiphanies, Batman! See below ↓)

So in all my 25 yrs of using both products.. I only just realized that Botan Calrose Rice & Botan Rice Candy are by the same company!

The second of the two essential Japanese ingredients we got to today is soy sauce… aka shoyu.

(From here on out, if we’re talking about shoyu, now you know! It’s what you might already know as soy sauce. Same thing, despite Allison’s temporary confusion about it.)

There are a lot of different brands out there, but moral of the story is, in general Japanese shoyu (we think Kikkoman, the brand most commonly found in grocery stores, is perfectly acceptable for cooking) is what you want to use for Japanese cooking. However, Rachael also says that Bragg Liquid Aminos and Bluegrass Soy Sauce are good alternatives as well.

More to come…

Next week, we’ll be back with part 2 of our list of Japanese pantry essentials, as well as a handy printable shopping list.

In the meanwhile, let us know if you have any questions or suggestions about your Japanese pantry!

And check out our brand new Miso Hungry Shop… we have some super-cute shirt designs available for you to purchase!

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  • tina Apr 10, 2012 at 7:37pm
    Hi there, Am enjoying your podcasts and wonder if you might have info on the following: a recipe I used recently called for brown rice vinegar. Any idea if the easily found brands are made from white or brown rice? I think the labels just say "rice". I am intrigued by your recipe for black sesame pudding (I've made black sesame ice cream and it was fantastic), and wonder if you've ever used the agar agar sticks rather than gelatin in this or any other recipe? It might be my imagination, but gelatin smells too animal-y for my liking. After your tofu podcast I had to buy the Asian Tofu book. I haven't made anything from it yet but am looking forward to it. Thanks for your work!

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