Recipes, Shiki Facts

Secrets to Cook the Best Japanese Food at Home

The best Japanese food at home?

Cooking authentic Japanese food at home like a pro is simple when you follow these simple tips by our team of experts. By using the elements of sa-shi-su-se-so in order, you can recreate world-class Japanese flavors in no time. In this article, find cooking tips, ingredients and recipes for the ultimate at-home Japanese food experience.

Butadon or Pork Rice Bowl by Just One Cook Book

A, B, Cs of Japanese Cooking: Sa-Shi-Su-Se-So

Sa-shi-su-se-so is the building block of cooking Japanese food at home. Each letter stands for one hallmark of the cuisine. You don’t need all 5 ingredients in every dish but adding at least 3 will add ethnic flavors to your cooking:

  1. Sa = satoh = sugar
  2. Shi = shio = salt
  3. Su = su = rice vinegar
  4. Se = shoyu = soy sauce
  5. So = miso = fermented bean paste

Add each ingredient in their precise order (sa-shi-su-se-so) to bring out the best flavors. This is because certain seasonings don’t mix well. For example, adding sugar after soy sauce will cause the sweetness to be overshadowed by the saltiness of the sauce. All ingredients that are more vulnerable to changing from heat are added last, so they retain their original flavors. As for the final two ingredients — soy sauce and miso — add a rich aroma to any dish, which is why would want to wait until the end to add them. Now you are almost set to start cooking Japanese food at home.

5 Japanese Condiments to Add to Your Shopping List

Once you master the ABCs, here is a shopping guide for anyone who is new to cooking Japanese food at home. With these basic pantry staples, you can make a variety of your favorite umami-rich Japanese dishes at home!

1. Shoyu or Japanese Soy Sauce

What is Shoyu (醤油): a fermented condiment and seasoning sauce that plays a central role in Japanese culinary culture. Its mild salty taste and overall flavor make it useful for bringing out the inherent flavors of ingredients when used in cooking. In addition, it can be added on foods in place of seasonings such as salt and lemon.

Our recommendation: Chiba Murasaki Kiwami Shoyu (shop here: Japanese Shoyu)

2. Sake or Japanese Rice Wine


What is Sake (酒): Japanese fermented rice liquor with smooth flavor and dry finish similar to dry white wine or dry vermouth. In cooking, it is used to deglaze a pan, tenderize meat and add complexity in flavor to sauces. Use as a marinade for meat and fish to tenderize and to remove their smell. 

Our recommendation: Koya Junmai Ginjo Dewa SanSan Sake (shop here: Japanese Cooking Sake)

3. Mirin or Japanese Sweet Rice Wine

What is Mirin (みりん): Mirin is a rice wine that adds a whole lot of flavor to Japanese cooking. As it’s high in sugar, it perfectly balances the saltiness of of soy sauce and is a key ingredient in Japanese glazes, such as teriyaki sauce.

4. Komezu or Japanese Rice Vinegar

What is Rice Vinegar (米酢): Made from rice, rice vinegar is sweeter, milder, and less acidic than western vinegar. It lends a mild tangy, sourish yet fruity notes to the dish. Use to make sushi rice, Japanese-style salads, pickles, and various sauces.

Our recommendation: Mizkan Sushi Rice Vinegar  (shop here: Japanese Rice Vinegar)

5. Miso or Fermented Soybean Paste

What is Miso (味噌): it is fermented soybean paste made from soybeans, grains, salt, and koji culture. Although there are many types of miso available, you can pick them based on 3 colors: red, white and yellow. Each miso varies in terms of taste, aroma, texture, and saltiness but if you are new to miso, start with yellow. (Awase miso), for its versatility. Add this in any dish that needs a boost of flavor.

Easy Japanese Dinner Recipe: Butadon or Pork Rice Bowl

Originated in Hokkaido, Japan, Butadon is a rice bowl dish featuring grilled pork slices with caramelized soy sauce. The sweet and savory flavor is a major win! Easy to make and ready in 15 minutes. 

The Ingredients You’ll Need for Butadon

  1. Thinly Sliced Pork Loins: for this recipe, select medium-thin slices of Pork. We recommend Yume no Daichi Pork Striploin or Yume no Daichi Pork Belly. If you don’t eat pork, you can use chicken, beef, fish, shrimp, firm tofu, zucchini, eggplant, or king oyster mushrooms.
  2. Short Grain Sushi Rice: while making authentic Japanese rice dishes, we recommend using short grain sushi grade rice. The steamed rice stick together so you can pick up small chunks of steamed rice, thin-sliced pork, and garnish all in chopsticks.
  3. Simple “Tare” Sauce: to make the delicious sauce, you would need just three simple ingredients: sugar, soy sauce, and sake. Start by melting the sugar then add soy sauce and sake.

Full Ingredient List:

½ lb thinly sliced pork loins

1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc)

2 servings cooked Japanese short-grain rice

For Sauce

3 Tbsp sugar (for caramel)

1 Tbsp water (for caramel)

4 Tbsp boiling water (for caramel)

3 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp sake

For Garnish

freshly ground black pepper

4 inches negi (long green onion)

pickled red ginger (beni shoga or kizami beni shoga) (optional)

How to Make Butadon in 30 minutes by Just One Cook Book

Full recipe here

To Make the Sauce:

  • Make sure 4 Tbsp of boiling water is ready before you start. In a heavy-bottom, high-sided saucepan, combine 3 Tbsp sugar and 1 Tbsp water. Turn the burner on to medium heat. Cook, stirring at the beginning with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, until sugar dissolves. Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is beginning to bubble, stop stirring. Let the sugar and water cook together. As the water continues to evaporate and the heat of the sugar rises, the sugar begins to caramelize. You can gently swirl the pan to achieve even caramelization. Watch the pan closely as the process moves quickly.
  • When your caramelized sugar has reached its amber color, turn off the heat. Add 4 Tbsp boiling water with one hand (wear a kitchen mitten) and hold a lid with the other hand to protect yourself from splattering as you pour boiling water. Once splatter stops, turn the stove back on and mix well. If there is crystallized sugar, it will melt again.
  • Add 3 Tbsp soy sauce and 2 Tbsp sake and bring it to simmer, then turn off the heat.

To Prepare the Garnish and Pork

  • If you can get negi (long green onion) from a Japanese grocery store, you can garnish the donburi with “Shiraganegi”. Cut the negi into 4 inches, and make an incision lengthwise to remove the green core. We only use the white outer layers. Cut them to julienned pieces and soak in water to get rid of the bitterness. Soaking in water also curls up the julienned pieces.
  • Make several slits on the connective tissue between the meat and fat. The reason why you do this is that red meat and fat have different elasticity, and when they are cooked they will shrink and expand at different rates. This will allow the meat to stay nice and flat and prevent it from curling up.

To Cook Butadon

  • In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the pork slices in a single layer. Because the frying pan won’t fit all the meat, we need to pan-fry the pork in batches.
  • Flip the meat only after the bottom side is nicely brown. We only flip once. When both sides are nicely brown, remove the meat to a plate. DO NOT overcook the meat, as you will cook in the sauce later again. Here you only need to sear the meat.
  • Add the new slices of pork.
  • Pour the sauce to the pan, reserving some for drizzling over the steamed rice and the meat.
  • Coat both sides of the meat with the sauce.

To Serve

  • Serve the steamed rice in a large bowl (donburi bowl) and drizzle some sauce. Place the meat on top, layering the slices.
  • Drizzle more sauce (if you prefer), and season with freshly ground black pepper on top.
  • Garnish with Shiraganegi and red pickled ginger. Serve immediately.

To Store

  • You can store the grilled pork loins in the airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days or in the freezer for up to a month.


Article sources:

Secret Japanese Cooking Basics by umami-insider 

What is Soy Sauce by Umami Information by Food 

Condiments For Your Favorite Japanese food by Just One Cookbook


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