5 Essential Japanese Dishes to Know

Going through the basics of Japanese cuisine
Advice for Making Sushi At Home

Tips for what knife to use, what fish to buy and which rice will work best

Chicken Katsu Don

Japanese cuisine has become extremely popular here in the United States, as it is known for its refined, simple flavors, and ingredient-driven focus. Sure, it's easy enough these days to pop into the local sushi joint for a quick and delicious meal or pick up the phone and order some Japanese takeout, but why not save some money and try making Japanese cuisine at home? It's easier than one might think at first, and if you're equipped with the right pantry ingredients and a few simple recipes, Japanese cuisine can become accessible enough to incorporate into the weeknight meal routine.

So we spoke with Namiko Chen, author of the popular and critically acclaimed food blog Just One Cookbook, who offered a great deal of helpful insight into the essentials, including what dishes to try first, what ingredients to have on hand, what special techniques are needed, as well as some shortcuts. So without further ado, here's some great advice from Chen.

For someone who is new to Japanese cuisine, what five dishes would you suggest cooking?

Since this is for someone new to Japanese food, I picked five dishes that are popular and fairly easy to cook:

Teriyaki chicken is one of the most popular Japanese dishes in the U.S. Ready-made "teriyaki sauce" is usually available in nearby supermarkets. Interestingly, teriyaki is actually a cooking technique, not the name of the sauce: teri means "luster," in reference to the sweet soy sauce marinade and yaki means "grilling." The Japanese cook all kinds of meat, seafood, and vegetables with this cooking method. Since the taste is sweet and savory, these dishes are usually a hit with children as well.

Gyoza was derived from Chinese pot stickers, but the skin is thinner and they're usually smaller in size. Nowadays you can buy packages of frozen gyoza from supermarkets, but it’s actually more fun to make your own with family and friends. Also, it can be pretty versatile, as you can put your own leftover ingredients from the fridge or you can make it with just veggies (usually it has pork in it). For a snack or appetizer, you can use leftover gyoza skins to make cheese wraps as well.

The California roll is probably one of the most well-known sushi rolls served in Japanese restaurants around the world. The ingredients are easy to find since you just need crabmeat (real or artificial), Japanese mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and sushi rice. Sushi rolls (makimono) are fairly easy to make and they can be a great finger food, appetizer, or party food.

Donburi (rice bowl dish) is an economical, fulfilling, and quick and easy meal. It is my go-to menu item when I don’t have much time to prepare a full meal for my family. The most common donburi include gyudon (beef donburi), oyakodon (chicken and egg donburi), katsudon (deep-fried cutlet and egg donburi), unadon (grilled eel donburi), and more.

Lastly, when you serve a bowl of rice in Japan, you must accompany it with miso soup. Here in the U.S., Japanese restaurants serve miso soup at the beginning of the meal, but in Japan it’s usually served with the meal. Miso soup in the U.S. only contains green onion and a few pieces tofu or seaweed, but in Japan there are a variety of miso soups with different kinds of miso and ingredients (pork, clam, seafood, etc.).

Click here to see the Adzuki Bean-Miso Soup Recipe.