Though Japan is renowned for both its cuisine and its food culture, relatively few of its dishes make their way onto menus in the US, let alone onto the tables of home cooks. True, sushi, tempura, and teriyaki-glazed fish are at least familiar to more Americans than ever before. But Japanese food encompasses so much more than those restaurant staples, and it includes a number of simple, homey meals that are a world apart from the fussy delicacy of sushi—and that don't require any special skill, or even any particularly exotic ingredients, to make. That said, if you're planning on incorporating Japanese dishes into your regular cooking routine, it'll help immensely to start with a good store of basic ingredients, such as quality miso paste, shoyu (soy sauce), mirin, and rice vinegar. Read our recommendations for stocking a Japanese pantry here, then check out some of our favorite Japanese recipes below, including for comfort foods like omelette-topped rice (omurice); hearty rice bowls with beef (gyudon) or chicken and egg (oyakodon); and the richest, most satisfying bowl of vegan ramen imaginable.
Rich and Creamy Tonkotsu Ramen Broth
Creamy, intensely porky tonkotsu ramen broth is not something you can whip up on a weeknight—this is weekend-project territory. But the result of patiently simmering pig trotters and chicken carcasses for 12 hours or more is a thick liquid that's opaque from the breakdown of all that gelatin and fat—and all the more flavorful for it. To make it even richer, add minced pork fatback right before serving with ramen noodles and your choice of accompaniments.
Miso Ramen With Crispy Pork and Burnt Garlic-Sesame Oil
This bowl starts out with our labor-intensive but supremely rewarding tonkotsu ramen broth, to which we add savory, nutty red miso paste. The really special part of this recipe, though, is the toppings: First is pork shoulder, which we simmer in the ramen broth before shredding and crisping in a pan, much like carnitas. It's joined by a sesame oil sauce infused with bitter, blackened garlic, for a combination of bittersweet, spicy, and aromatic flavors.
The Ultimate Rich and Creamy Vegan Ramen With Roasted Vegetables and Miso Broth
Making a vegan ramen that's as flavorful and filling as the pork-based version takes a good bit of work, but the formula that Kenji landed on after years of experimentation is a winner. Our vegan miso broth is infused with a combination of charred and fresh vegetables—onions, garlic, ginger, leeks, scallions, cabbage, and dried and fresh mushrooms—and thickened with sweet potatoes for a creamy consistency. Since extra toppings mean extra flavor, we load 'em on: roasted sweet potatoes and maitake mushrooms, simmered shiitakes, and charred eggplant.
Seafood Ramen With Squid Ink, Mussels, and Salmon Roe
This jet-black ramen is a fun dish to make and serve any time of year, but it's especially appropriate for a spooky meal to celebrate Halloween. We boil dark squid-ink spaghetti with baking soda, a neat trick to give Western noodles the flavor and texture of ramen, and top the dish with creepy, squishy toppings like mussels, squid, and orange salmon roe. Bat-shaped cutouts from a sheet of nori are a nice finishing touch.
Hiyashi Chuka (Cold Ramen) With Shrimp, Ham, and Vegetables
We think of ramen as a comforting cool-weather dish, but not all versions are served hot. Hiyashi chuka is a bit like a chilled ramen salad tossed with a soy sauce vinaigrette, for a refreshing bowl to enjoy at the height of summer or on an unseasonably warm fall day. The dish is most often topped with shredded egg, ham, cucumber, tomatoes, crab stick, and chilled poached shrimp, but you can add whatever vegetables or meats you prefer—we like cooked fresh corn here, too.
Bukkake Udon (Japanese Cold Noodles With Broth)
Get your mind out of the gutter—this simple dish is totally family-friendly! Bukkake, in Japanese, refers to the act of splashing liquid on something—in this case, chilled udon noodles. The dashi broth is made salty and savory with kaeshi, a concentrated mixture of soy sauce and mirin; pour just enough over to leave the udon moist, not to submerge it completely. (Instant dashi, such as Hondashi, is a perfectly acceptable option, or try our easy recipe.) As with hiyashi chuka, you should feel free to experiment with the toppings—soft-cooked onsen eggs, sliced scallion, and bonito flakes are all excellent choices.
Rustic Miso Soup With Tofu and Seaweed
An improved version of the token cup we've all had a hundred times at sushi bars, this warming classic miso soup is made with nothing more than water, kombu (dried giant sea kelp), bonito flakes, and both light (shiro) and dark (aka or hatcho) miso. (If you prefer to use only one type of miso, look for awase, a blend of white and red miso.) Serve it with sliced scallions, silken tofu, and rehydrated wakame. The same soup base is great with mixed seasonal vegetables, or replace the bonito with Manila clams for a delicious seafood variation.
Gyudon (Japanese Simmered Beef and Rice Bowls)
Gyudon, or beef and rice bowl, is a Japanese fast-food staple that takes just 20 minutes to get on the table, and it's practically foolproof. Simmer thinly shaved ribeye or chuck with slivered onions, sake, soy sauce, dashi, and a little sugar, then serve atop a mound of white rice for a dead-simple weeknight dinner (or post-night-on-the-town weekend dinner). You can eat it just as is, or add toppings like poached eggs, sliced scallions, pickled ginger, and the Japanese chili powder togarashi.
Oyakodon (Japanese Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl)
Oyakodon—oya and ko mean "parent" and "child," respectively, a winking reference to the chicken and egg that star in the dish—starts off similar to gyudon, with onions and chicken thighs simmered in a blend of dashi, soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Once the chicken is cooked through, drizzle in a few lightly beaten eggs, cover the pan, and let the eggs cook until they're just barely set. Serve with rice and, for extra richness, a raw egg yolk for each portion.
Japanese Chicken Skewers With Scallion (Negima Yakitori)
A yakitori joint in Japan is likely to offer dozens of cuts of chicken to choose from. When you're skewering your own at home, though, sticking with juicier, fat-laden thigh meat is your best bet. Here, we alternate diced chicken thigh with pungent scallion, toss the skewers on the grill, and baste them with sweet-savory teriyaki sauce (homemade is the best option) in the last minute of cooking.
Japanese-Style Fried Chicken Thighs (Gluten-Free Karaage)
Not only does the potato starch we use for dredging keep this version of Japanese fried chicken gluten-free, its lightness also contributes to an extra-crispy coating. A double dip in the starch is key to reinforcing that crunchy texture. Taking a page from the American fried chicken tradition, we first soak the chicken in a buttermilk marinade, to which we add ginger, scallions, soy sauce, and sesame oil for a more Japanese flavor profile.
Tamago Kake Gohan (Japanese-Style Rice With Egg)
Though it's only recently become trendy among certain young folks, tamago kake gohan is a longtime Japanese breakfast favorite, and it couldn't be any easier. Just start with a bowl of hot white rice and stir in a raw egg, along with soy sauce, salt, and your choice of MSG, mirin, and/or Hondashi. Then whip the egg yolk and white vigorously into the rice with your chopsticks until the whole mixture turns light, frothy, and pale yellow. We generally don't mind eating raw eggs, but use pasteurized ones if you have any concerns about safety.
Okonomiyaki (Japanese Cabbage Pancake)
It's a bit challenging to even put forward a recipe for okonomiyaki, which literally translates to "as you like it"—there are infinite variations on the dish, involving any number of ingredients. Our version uses a base of shredded cabbage and adds scallions, pickled ginger, and soft grated yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam), which contributes to the custardy texture of the finished dish. It's all layered over sliced pork belly in the pan, which becomes a crispy topping when the pancake is flipped. Don't forget to drizzle it with plenty of vinegary okonomiyaki sauce and sweet-savory Kewpie mayo before you dig in.
Japanese Pork Fried Rice Omelette With Okonomiyaki Sauce (Omurice)
It's true that the most elaborate versions of omurice are made with perfectly executed French omelettes, but this is a simple dish at its heart, and a simple unrolled omelette is just as tasty. Here, we drape ours over a mound of pork fried rice, cooked with cabbage and minced onion and tossed with okonomiyaki sauce; drizzle more sauce and Kewpie mayo over to finish. The exact same technique can be used in a version made with diced chicken thigh.
Japanese Potato Salad With Cucumbers, Carrots, and Red Onion
While American potato salad is typically made with potatoes cut into chunks, the Japanese version lightly mashes them, leaving a few larger bits here and there for texture. It also tends to incorporate many more add-ins, ranging from corn to ham. In this recipe, we use sliced carrots, red onion, and cucumber, plus chopped scallions and hard-boiled eggs. A dressing of hot mustard, Kewpie mayo, and rice wine vinegar leaves the salad as flavorful as it is colorful.
The Best Japanese Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (Gyoza)
Similar to Chinese potstickers, plump, tender Japanese gyoza are usually made with minced cabbage and pork, though they tend to be garlicky and thinner-skinned than their Chinese cousins. We recommend store-bought dumpling wrappers to save yourself the headache of trying to roll the dough out thin enough. The only challenge that remains is crimping the dumplings closed; it's a slow process at first, but with practice, you'll get faster and better.
Tsukune (Japanese Chicken Meatballs)
When we started developing this recipe, nailing the flavor of the tsukune was easy: We use ground chicken thigh meat mixed with scallions, ginger, garlic, salt, and white pepper, and brush the finished meatballs with a tare made with garlic, scallions, ginger, and sherry vinegar. The more difficult task was forming meatballs that stayed together on the grill, but a combination of egg and panko bread crumbs turned out to get the job done nicely.
Easy Teriyaki-Glazed Salmon, Cucumber, and Avocado Rice Bowls
Homemade teriyaki sauce will last basically forever in the fridge, so it's a smart move to make it in bulk and keep it around for when you need a quick dinner—like these nicely balanced rice bowls, for instance. While your pot of rice is steaming, sear salmon fillets until they're moist inside and crisp outside, then glaze them with the teriyaki. Raw cucumber and scallions add freshness and crunch, and diced avocado provides creamy contrast.
Easy Broiled Miso-Marinated Black Cod
Truthfully, the hardest part of this dish, which requires only a handful of ingredients and can be ready in about half an hour, is finding the black cod. (Individually frozen Cryovacked fillets are available online, and, in a pinch, you can substitute salmon, though the result won't really be the same.) Marinate the fish for between 15 minutes and one day in a mixture of miso, sake, mirin, soy sauce, oil, and sugar, then broil it for about 10 minutes, until the surface is deeply caramelized and the flesh is moist and buttery-rich.
Japanese Cotton-Soft Cheesecake
Folding airy meringue into a not-so-sweet batter yields a treat with all the dairy-rich flavor of cheesecake, but without its normal denseness and heaviness. Cornstarch works as a stabilizer, and a bit of lemon zest leaves it mildly tangy. Cooked in a water bath, the cheesecake ends up remarkably light—though not too light to satisfy a committed cheesecake lover.