Before I start telling you all about itineraires, travel logs and related recipes, after pointing you to my virtual cooking masters (the masters are virtual, the cooking was pretty real and pretty good!), I think it’s fair pointing you to proper grocery shopping.
To my italian readers this (in the italian version of course) is also an analysis of “where to buy”, I really hope that other countries are more enlightened, more culturally varied and therefore that it’s easier to find these ingredients or at least it’s easier to find asian grocery stores!
First and foremost you need this link: the cook’s thesaurus, a website that suggests you all the food substitutes you might need. Of course it takes some common sense sometimes, but I trust you
Anyway here’s a list of japanese products you may like to have at hand to prepare different recipes. It’s mostly condiments and ingredients used to actually cook the food, plus, of course, a couple of ingredients that it’s hard to come by regularly (at least in Italy, that’s my experience).
Nori sheets and/or aonori: the sheets can be used to make sushi, you can chop them in pieces and use them in soups, or crush them as toppings (a decoration that also tastes good), aonori is always nori but it’s crushed already (I got this one, because I had no use for the whole sheets)
Kombu seaweed: it doesn’t taste of much, and it’s also pretty chewy once cooked, but it’s used to make their dashi stock, you soak it in water, you use that same water to make the stock, and sometimes you also add the seaweed… maybe next time I’ll try to chop it in fine strips, maybe it’s easier to eat that way
Soy sauce: you can find this pretty much everywhere, but in asian stores (at least, again, for my personal experience) you can find the biiiiig bottles, and, little did I know, japanese cuisine usually goes for the less salty version (green cap here, and I thought they used the more salty-red cap!), please make sure it’s “traditionally” or “Naturally” brewed, so it’s not just coloured water
Saké: rice wine, since I mostly use it for cooking, any brand/quality will do, no need to spend big money on some alchool you’re not going to drink! There are also some chines “rice wines” that are perfect substitutes for cooking
Mirin: it’s a sweeter, kinda more “liquor”-side rice wine, but what I said for sake still stands
Rice vinegar: once again, when used for cooking (aka altered with heat) any kind would do
Worcestershire sauce: yes, the british one, they use plenty! Any type will do (I got mine at Lidl, an hard discount, before even thinking about japanese recipes, because I remembered my mom using it for God knows what :P)
Oyster sauce: yes, it is (or should be) made with oysters, maybe nowadays is more common with anchovies, but who cares. This sauce is adamantly important!!! It’s like “asian flavour” in a bottle. Note for veg people: mushroom sauce is a perfect substitute
Shiitake: speaking of mushrooms, uh? For these I can’t tell you “just get any kind”, though I’m still not clear about them, if I’m not mistaken you should get (speaking of dried ones) those who show white cracks on a dark cap… but again, I’m not sure, so I’ll get back on this when I’ll know more
Noodles: yes, I’m using the english term (I really can’t use “spaghetti”, can I?!), we got some random “asian nodles” made of wheat… In japanese cuisine there are tons of different types, just to name three: “ramen noodles” made of wheat and an alcaline/sulphurous ingredient that makes them yellow (wheat and eggs will do), udon are large noodles made of wheat, and soba are thin noodles made of wheat and buckwheat. There are many more, you can buy them fresh or dried, instant or preboiled… Anyway a quick google will teach you a lot about noodles
Benishouga: it’s pickled red ginger, it’s sold in jars, it’s cut in fine strips, you use it by chopping it into recipes that require it. I only have the type of ginger they serve you with sushi, for the moment it worked just fine
Miso paste: there are different kinds, I got misoshiru, the “white” one, ’cause I wanted to make miso soup (then I found out it can be used like spread on bread, or to season vegetables when cooking)
Sesame oil: used for cooking, seasoning, to add flavour
So, these are the things I had to buy in specialized stores.
Other things can be found everywhere.
Well, rice… I live in the biggest rice-producing part of Italy so types of rice are not hard to come by, for me. Sushi rice has small, round grains, so, if you do not wish to spend a lot of money on “sushi rice” look for “originario” quality (or any other type of rice that is small and round), when properly cooked there’s no difference.
Also resist the urge to buy thousands of different bottles of “yakisoba sauce”, “takoyaki sauce”, “okonomiyaki sauce”, “teriyaki sauce”, they are basically the same thing: same ingredients, different ratios. On one of the websites I had linked for you there were lots of recipes to make your own sauces: it’s all soy sauce, ketchup (yes, they do live in 2015 as well), oyster sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, worcestershire sauce and little else.
A thing I still need to get is katsuobushi, aka dried tuna flake, they are used as topping for ramen and okonomiyaki, I.E., but most of all to make dashi stock with kombu. They are not vital, to have, but I’d like to have them to make a full okonomiyaki (which is our favourite recipe so far).
Spring onions or scallions are easy to find, such as cucumbers, fresh ginger, garlic, carrots, soy bean sprouts, noodles, salt, pepper, other kinds of mushrooms, ketchup,mayonnaise (choose one made with yogurt and lemon, the taste is similar to the japanese one), pork meat, chicken meat, beef meat (even though we have no idea of what a thinly fat-marbled meat is, we can only dream about Kobe/Hida beef), eggs…
As well, don’t worry for tools you might see in videos: any dear-old kettle, pot, pan, bowl, tongs, ladles, spatula, wooden spoons, cutting boards, knives, et cetera will be fine 😉
To recap, here’s your basic japanese grocery shopping list:
Sweet soy sauce
Small round rice
Noodles (of your choice)
Sesame seeds (white and black)
If you have these ingredients, switching any recipe to “japanese” will be easy peasy 😉