Introduction to Japanese Food

The people of Japan enjoy a long, healthy life. So much so, that according to research, Japan has the longest lifespan of any country in the world. The Japanese diet has been shown to play a big role in this long, healthy life.

There is a lot more to Japanese cooking than sushi. Many Japanese dishes are noted for having an umami (say it oo-MA-mee) flavor. Umami is a savory taste with meaty flavors. Shitake mushrooms and soy sauce provide umami taste and are common ingredients in Japanese dishes.

Japan is an island surrounded by ocean waters that provide a steady supply of seafood. For this reason, fish and sea plants are plentiful in the Japanese diet. Japanese people do eat chicken and red meat too.

Along with fish, common foods in Japanese meals include:
• Brown and White Rice
• Soba and Udon Noodles
• Vegetables
• Mushrooms
• Soy Beans – edamame and Tofu
• Nori (Dried seaweed sheets used for wrapping sushi)
• Fruits


Herbs and Spices in Japanese Cooking:

Japanese dishes are enhanced using pickled and fresh ginger, soy sauce, wasabi paste, miso, rice vinegar, mirin (rice wine), chili oil and mustard. Dashi, a soup stock made from shitake mushrooms or edible sea kelp, gives many dishes a distinctive flavor. Dashi powder is often available in the Asian section of your grocery store.

If you are lucky to have Japanese Market in your area, stop in for a visit. Japanese products have colorful packaging and interesting shapes. All imported food products must have English ingredients label. So while you may not be able to read the front of the package, the ingredients (and often cooking instructions) will help you discover what’s inside.



Edamame and shitake mushrooms are two very common Japanese cooking. Edamame (pronounced ed-ah-MAH-may) are little green gems – packed with protein and loads of nutrients. Including Shitake mushrooms in this puree is a great way to introduce your baby to the distinctive taste of umami.


Shitake & Edamame Puree

• 4 oz Shitake mushrooms, stems removed
• 1 Tbsp. Olive oil
• 12 oz. (2 cups) Shelled edamame
• ¾ – 1 cup Water
• 1 tsp. Soy sauce, optional

Directions: Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a stock pot. Add edamame and cook for 4 minutes. Drain edamame in a colander and place them in a blender or food processor. In a small saute pan, heat oil over medium heat, add mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, soy sauce and ¾ cup of water to the edamame in the blender. Process until the mixture is a smooth puree. If needed, add additional water.
Spoon the puree into your So Easy Baby Food Trays, cover and freeze until ready to use. Serve as a vegetable dish for your baby’s meal with mashed brown rice, meats or fish.


Toddler Treat: Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese-style pancake and is very popular with kids. There are restaurants all over Japan that specialize in making Okonomiyaki. These places have special tables with a griddle built into them. Families are seated around the griddle, they cook their Okonomiyaki and eat them. We chose to make this dish with cabbage, green onion and shrimp, but you can use almost any shredded vegetable and chopped meat combination.

Okonomiyaki Pancakes:

• ¼ cup Flour
• 1 tsp. Baking powder
• 1 Egg
• 3 Tbsp. Water
• ¾ cup Nappa cabbage, shredded
• 5 Cooked shrimp, chopped or ¼ cup cooked chicken, chopped
• 2 Green onions (green parts only), chopped

Okonomiyaki Sauce:

• 3 Tbsp. Ketchup
• 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tsp. Soy sauce

Directions: Combine flour and baking powder in a medium size mixing bowl. Gently mix in the water and egg. Next, add the cabbage, shrimp and green onions and mix them together thoroughly.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and lightly oil. Spoon the okonomiyaki mixture in to the skillet to make 2 pancakes (about 4-inches wide).
Cook about 4-5 minutes and turn it over with a spatula and cook an additional 4 minutes. Both sides should be a light golden brown and the pancake will be firm in the center.
Serve on a plate and spread the sauce over the okonomiyaki.


Family Meal: Bento Box Dinner

A bento is a divided box that originated in Japan. Bento boxes are made from a wide variety of materials, including lacquer, bamboo, plastic and stainless steel. A traditional bento meal includes carbohydrates (rice or noodles), protein (fish, chicken, meat, or tofu), vegetables and fruit. Foods are arranged in the box to display a colorful, healthy meal with a wonderful variety of flavors and tastes.

We’ve developed a family-friendly Bento Box dinner to prepare and enjoy. The recipes are infused with the Japanese ingredients that you can find in the Asian Foods section of your grocery store.

Yakisoba (Stir-Fried Soba Noodles)
Grilled Salmon with Red Miso Sauce
Honeydew Melon


Steamed Edamame

If you can boil water, you can make edamame. While traditionally served in the pods, the pods are not edible. To eat simply squeeze the pod with your thumb and forefinger and the edamame beans pop right out.

• Frozen Edamame (about 10 pods per person)
• Water
• Pinch of Kosher or Sea salt

Directions: Bring about 3-4 quarts of water to a boil and place the edamame in the boiling water. Cook 3-5 minutes. Drain. When plating sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Have another bowl at the table to put the empty pods in.


Grilled Salmon with Red Miso Sauce

Miso Sauce:
½ cup Red miso paste
1/3 cup Sake
3 Tbsp. Chicken stock (or Dashi)
1 Tbsp. Soy sauce

4 6-ounce Salmon fillets, skinned

Directions: To make the sauce, combine all four ingredients in a saucepan and stir to a smooth sauce. Place saucepan on the stove over medium heat and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens. Set aside and let cool.
Brush both sides of salmon fillets with miso sauce. Lightly oil and heat a grill pan over medium heat. Place salmon on the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes. Brush with sauce, turn fillets over and brush with sauce again. Cook 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan and let stand 5 minutes. Serve warm.


Yakisoba (Stir-Fried Soba Noodles)

Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour and have a unique brown color. Yakisoba is a popular dish of stir-fried soba noodles and a variety of meats and vegetables. You can use any type of meat or seafood and any types of vegetables – including bean sprouts, green peppers, mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, celery, and broccoli.

8-ounce Soba noodles
1 cup Bean sprouts, rinsed
8-10 Shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
8 Cooked shrimp, chopped
3 Green onions, chopped
2 Tbsp. Vegetable or Peanut oil

Yakisoba Sauce:
3 Tbsp. Soy sauce
2 tsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Fresh ginger, minced
2 tsp. Sake

Prepare Yakisoba sauce. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add soba noodles, stirring to separate them. Boil soba noodles for 6-8 minutes, until tender. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
In wok or large skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add shitake mushrooms and stir fry 2 minutes. Add soba noodles and stir fry 3 minutes. Add the Yakisoba Sauce, shrimp and bean sprouts and stir fry for 2 more minutes. Serve warm.


Fun with Japanese Table Manners:

Certain table manners are observed during meal times in Japan. Include these practices as a fun way to help teach your kids about etiquette in other countries.
• Add a warm, wet towel at each person’s plate to wipe hands before eating.
• Eat with chop sticks. Kid size chopsticks and chopstick helpers can be found in specialty stores or online.
• Before you start eating, put your palms together and say “Itadakimasu”. This translates to “I gratefully receive”.
• Soup can be sipped straight from the bowl – no spoons necessary!
• It is okay to make slurping sounds when eating soup and noodles from a bowl, as long as it’s not excessive. Slurping tells the chef that you are enjoying the meal.
• When you are done using chopsticks, lay them in front of you with the tips pointing to the left. It is considered bad manners to leave them pointing upright in a bowl.
• When you are finished your meal, say “Gochisosama”, which means “Thank you for the meal”.