Washoku, Japanese Home Cooking, and COOKPAD

if you are unable to obtain some of the ingredients, feel free to substitute with what's at hand.

Washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine, has been widely lauded around the world. In , it was granted the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage designation.

Japanese home cooking is indeed unique in that it is centered on the happiness and health of the family. It nourishes families with seasonal ingredients, brings smiles to their faces, and is often easy to prepare on an everyday basis.

There are over 1.7 million recipes uploaded on the COOKPAD Japanese website, which are inspired by the daily rhythm of cooking. I'd like to introduce to you the 25 most popular recipes here, and on our Facebook page. Most are classic dishes passed on from mothers and grandparents, recipes that have withstood the test of time. But some like Christmas cakes, are adaptations from foreign cultures modified to the Japanese context.

Japanese home cooking is not difficult to make. The recipes featured do not require special ingredients or tools, but even if you are unable to obtain some of the ingredients, feel free to substitute with what's at hand. Whatever the result, this is your take on Japanese cuisine; there is no right or wrong answer. Give the recipes a go in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Through COOKPAD's home-cooked recipes, I sincerely hope that you'll be able to share many happy moments with your family and loved ones.

Takako Kotake
Takako Kotake

Takako Kotake is a food editor and a former executive officer of COOKPAD. After leaving her post in 2012, she now freelances as an editor and consultant on projects relating to cooking and food. She serves as the Editor-in-Chief of COOKPAD's English website and strives to bring further awareness on the "joys of cooking". She currently resides in Tokyo and is the mother of two children.


  1. The Base of Umami is Good Dashi Broth
  2. For All White Rice Lovers ~ Make Rice in a Pot without a Rice Cooker
  3. Heart-warming Miso Soup
  4. A Classic Side Dish: Nikujaga (Japanese Meat & Potatoes)
  5. Charaben -- A Mother's Labor of Love
  6. Japanese Fast Food: B-Grade Gourmet
  7. Valentines' Day in Japan: A Constantly Evolving Festivity
  8. A Japanese Spin-off of Foreign Cuisine: Japanese-style Spaghetti?
  9. A Recipe using Pancake Mix for Novice Bakers
  10. Remake Leftovers to Enjoy Tomorrow
  11. Widely Popular! Shio-koji -- An Umami-rich Condiment
  12. Bean Sprouts Will Help You Cut Costs
  1. Will This Dish Go with Rice?
  2. Let's Warm Up during the Winter Season with Hot Pot
  3. "Torori" -- A Love for Thick and Viscous Textures
  4. Drinking Appetizers for Dad
  5. Cook with Curry Roux
  6. Dinner with the Family on an Electric Griddle
  7. Why Are the Japanese so Obsessed with Mayonnaise?
  8. The King of Stocked Side Dishes: Burdock Root Kimpira Stir-fry
  9. Noodles, Noodles, Everywhere ~ New Year's Eve Soba
  10. Regional Discrepancy Among Ozoni Mochi Soups
  11. Crazy Lines for KFC Fried Chicken during Christmas?
  12. Christmas Cake with the Family
  13. Passed Down from Generations: Grandma's Recipe

01. The Base of Umami is Good Dashi Broth

The first recipe of the series is dashi broth, one of the key components of umami-rich Japanese cuisine! This dashi recipe is a combination of the glutamates of kombu seaweed and the disodium inosinate of dried bonito flakes, thus resulting in an umami rich broth. It's very easy to make dashi at home. Try and see for yourself!

Freshly brewed dashi has a clear golden amber hue. The enticing fragrance will waft through your kitchen and fill you with bliss. If you cannot obtain the necessary ingredients, feel free to use dashi stock powders or chicken stock.

02. For All White Rice Lovers ~ Make Rice in a Pot without a Rice Cooker

For the Japanese, delicious rice alone is enough to fill the stomach and soul. Each grain of cooked rice glistens and is pleasantly plump that each morsel will make you smile. You can easily cook rice with just a pot without the aid of a rice cooker.

To best enjoy a bowlful of plump and glutinous rice, use Asian short-grain rice. If the rice is still on the firm side after cooking, add a tablespoon of water and cook again from the beginning for the same amount of time.

03. Heart-warming Miso Soup

Along with a bowl of white rice and side dishes, a necessary dish to complete the foundation of Japanese home-cooked meals is miso soup. This is also packed with umami-rich flavors.

This recipe calls for a dashi broth made of dried sardines (niboshi). There are many different varieties of dashi out there. As the dried sardines are used whole, this recipe may be suitable for families with children as the dashi broth is packed with calcium. They could also nibble on the dried sardines as well.

As for miso, there's a wide variety that's often closely associated to a specific region in Japan. Not only is it vital for miso soup, it can be used in hot pot and stir-fries, or as dipping sauces. It's a multi-purpose condiment.

04. A Classic Side Dish: Nikujaga (Japanese Meat & Potatoes)

Nikujaga is one of the quintessential Japanese home cooked dishes, which are beef and potatoes simmered in a robust sweet-savory sauce. You'll be able to savor the sweetness of the meat and vegetables. It is a pleasing dish for all ages, and is reminiscent of mom's home cooking. Most Japanese students learn how to make this during home economics class at school.

Besides beef, you could use thinly sliced pork or ground meat. The tip is to let the dish cool once it simmers to let the flavors penetrate, then reheating it before serving. It'll result in a delicious and well-seasoned simmered dish.

05. Charaben -- A Mother's Labor of Love

Charaben was born from mothers' desires to have their children enjoy finishing the contents of their bento, including foods they don't like. Nowadays, charaben culture has become so widespread that you can buy nori punches and cutters at supermarkets and online.

During the Christmas season, many mothers pack Santa Claus shaped edible dishes in their children's bento. This recipe calls for hanpen fishcakes, which is derived of white fish paste and mountain yam (yamaimo), but you could also use processed cheese slices. Why not make a Charaben and impress your friends?

06. Japanese Fast Food: B-Grade Gourmet

B-Grade Gourmet refers to cheap and simple good eats that have grown into a culinary sub-culture. It may not be too far of a stretch to call it Japanese fast food. Regions have also developed their own local B-grade cuisine to attract tourists from all over to stimulate their economies. Annual events and championships are held to vote for the tastiest offerings. B-grade gourmet is not limited to eating out and can also be made at home by busy mothers quickly preparing meals for their families. I make these simple dishes for my family often and my children love them!

A classic example is Okonomiyaki, which looks like Jeon (Korean pancakes). Water-dissolved flour is mixed with various meats and vegetables, grilled on a hot plate, and topped with generous squirts of Okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise. Okonomiyaki fillings vary by region; some add noodles and the like. The term "Okonomiyaki" is a combination of "okonomi" (to your liking) and "yaki" (grilled), meaning you can personalize the ingredients to your liking. It's not difficult to make, so give it a go!

07. Valentine's Day in Japan: A Constantly Evolving Festivity

Valentine's Day is constantly evolving? What does that mean?

In Japan, we often modify other cultures and adapt it into our own context, thereby creating new and unique customs unseen anywhere else. One example is "Valentine's Day" -- the day on which women confess their feelings to their love interests with homemade chocolates. Recently however, this custom has evolved into something else...

Nowadays, it's popular for school girls to exchange chocolates among friends. For many in these recent years, Valentine's Day remains associated with romance in name only. It'll be interesting to observe the changing cultural implications of this holiday as it continues to evolve. Wouldn't you like to make sweets to present as gifts on this happy occasion?

08. A Japanese Spin-off of Foreign Cuisine: Japanese-style Spaghetti?

The Japanese adore spaghetti so much that every lunch menu at a cafe serves at least one spaghetti dish. It's not uncommon for the seasoning to be "Japanese-styled", for example, flavored with dashi stock or soy sauce, topped with natto (fermented soy beans), nori seaweed, or grated daikon radish. The Italians would probably be surprised how their national dish has been taken out for such a unique spin.

One great example of Japanese-style is this fragrant and savory butter and soy sauce dish. The recipe calls for salmon, but you could use mackerel, Pacific saury, or whatever seasonal fish is available. I add mushrooms to the pan and top the dish with shredded nori seaweed. You'll definitely be addicted, so give it a shot!

09. A Recipe using Pancake Mix for Novice Bakers

Can you find "hot cake mix" in your local supermarket? Maybe it can be found only in Japan?

While「ホットケーキ」("hot cakes") is translated as "pancakes" on COOKPAD, there is a difference between the two; "hot cakes" refer to fluffy, thick, and sweetened disks eaten as a snack topped with butter and syrup, "pancakes" are less sweet, flatter, and are viewed more as breakfast food.

"Hot cake mix" is composed of white flour, sugar, and a rising agent. You can make fluffy pancakes by adding just eggs and milk. But it has a far broader use, such as for cakes, cookies, and other baked goods. It’s such an essential pantry staple for Japanese cooks that there are over 20,000 Japanese recipes uploaded on COOKPAD using it. Those recipes are delicious, easy to make, and appealing to children.

This recipe is shaped like Totoro from the Ghibli movie "My Neighbor Totoro". "Hot cake mix" could be a good souvenir from Japan if you can make these pretty cookies?

For more pancake mix recipes

10. Remake Leftovers to Enjoy Tomorrow

Recently, it's been popular to remake dishes for a creative spin-off. Instead of eating leftovers from yesterday's dinner, a few touches can transform simmered dishes or salads into a completely different dish. Perhaps this is evidence that COOKPAD users value not only the ingredients, but also the meals shared with the family.

One example is Oyaki -- savory dumpling, which is a regional fare from Nagano prefecture. It could be labeled as the origins to remake recipes. The dumplings are usually stuffed with a sweet and savory vegetable stir-fry or leftover simmered dishes. The most prominent filling is sweet and savory stir-fried Nozawana -- a type of Japanese mustard leaf native to Nagano prefecture.

11. Widely Popular! Shio-koji -- An Umami-rich Condiment

Have you heard of Shio-koji? It's the latest food trend that has taken Japanese kitchens by storm these past few years. It began when a shio-koji recipe uploaded on COOKPAD became popular amongst our users, pushed into stardom by TV shows and the media, and it's now a staple ingredient found at any supermarket across Japan. It's a mixture of koji (rice malt), salt, and water left to ferment for a week. Check out the recipe.

A reason for its wide appeal is because it imparts a rich and savory flavor just by letting it brine in meats and vegetables. Add to chicken karaage for a fluffy and tender finish. It's even delicious cold, so it's perfect to pack in bento. I hope Shio-koji finds a place in your heart (and fridge) as well!

12. Bean Sprouts Will Help You Cut Costs

Bean sprouts are an economical and cost-efficient vegetable that often makes an appearance at dinner tables across Japan before pay day. It's usually not served at restaurants, but is a staple for home cooked meals. You could add it to salads, blanch it, toss into stir-fry dishes, and boost the heartiness of your dishes. It's a versatile vegetable.

This speedy dish doesn't require you to pull out your knife or cutting board. Home cooking is about cooking and caring for your family. Therefore, it's important to dish up a quick and nutritious meal without making a dent in your wallet.

13. Will this Dish Go Well with Rice?

A bowl of rice is the center to a Japanese meal. It's not an exaggeration to say that the side dishes are accompaniments to the rice. Thus, when planning out a meal, it's crucial to think of the overall balance with rice. It's best to serve a robustly flavored side dish to accompany the delicate morsels of rice.

This recipe derives from a mother's concern on how to encourage her vegetable-loathing child to eat them. Don't you feel the love and dedication? It's a hearty and nutritious stir-fry packed with inexpensive vegetables. This recipe is also one of the most highly acclaimed recipes on COOKPAD.

14. Let's Warm Up during the Winter Season with Hot Pot

Winter calls for hot pot, simmered with delicious winter vegetables, meats, and fish. Not only is it nutritionally packed, but it warms you up from within. I serve hot pot on weeknights during the frigid months when my entire family assembles for dinner.

There's a huge variety of hot pot dishes. One in particular shares the same name as the 1963 top Billboard Hot 100 charts song "Sukiyaki" (though the lyrics are totally unrelated to the dish). Sukiyaki is a simmer of thinly sliced beef and vegetables in a sugar-soy sauce broth called warishita. You dip the cooked ingredients in a whisked raw egg to eat. Sukiyaki seasoning differs by region.

15. "Torori" -- A Love for Thick and Viscous Textures

There are over 1.6 million recipes uploaded on COOKPAD. Often, recipe authors are quite creative with the titles so that their recipes are distinguishable from other similar ones. Thus, adjectives describing textures such as "fluffy" and "rich" are often used to lure readers. "Torori", suggesting a thick and heavy consistency, is used frequently to describe a certain texture foods very much loved by the Japanese.

This is a recipe for rice mixed with a raw egg and topped with natto (fermented soybeans). It's a typical breakfast food that'll have you addicted to the creamy raw egg and the sticky web of natto. It may seem daunting for first-timers, but it's delicious so definitely give it a try.

Notice: Consuming raw eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness. Please check with your local public health department if it's safe to consume raw eggs in your country/region.

16. Drinking Appetizers for Dad

"Banshaku" refers to an evening drink in the comforts of the home. "Otsumami" refers to the appetizers that accompany it, like tapas and pinchos from Spanish cuisine. It's a common sight to see fathers drinking beer and snacking on otsumami at the dinner table.

"Moro-kyu" is an abbreviation of "moromi miso" and "kyuri" (cucumbers), and is a typical otsumami: cucumber sticks dipped in miso. If you can't get cucumbers, you could use daikon radish or carrot sticks instead, and if the salt is too harsh for you, mix a little sugar into the veggies.

17. Cook with Curry Roux

Japanese curry rice is always ranked in the top five most popular home cooked dishes, and is another Japanese home-cooked favorite. Something different between Indian and Japanese curry is that instead of being made from a spice blend, Japanese curry is made from a roux. The curried stew has a thick and heavy consistency.

This is a super easy recipe where you just mix the curry roux into a simmer of vegetables and meat. Pour everything over a bed of rice and eat with a spoon. Make a salad for a side dish and dinner is set. I always stock up on curry roux as my family loves it.

This recipe was made for a child's birthday. Decorating curry hasn't become a trend yet, but perhaps it will soon?

18. Dinner with the Family on an Electric Griddle

Have you tried cooking on the dinner table as you eat? Sound strange? Well, let me introduce you the electric griddle, an essential home appliance that exists in almost every household in Japan. You could grill meats and vegetables or make pancakes and okonomiyaki. The family sits around the griddle, and eats the piping hot meal straight off the griddle. It's a cozy familial custom.

Electric griddles have a slightly thick metal pan for grilling and come with a lid. COOKPAD users have come up with creative ways to cook on a griddle, and one popular fad is making paella on it. There's no need to pull out your paella pan. It also has a colorful presentation, so serve as the main meal at home parties.

19. Why Are the Japanese so Obsessed with Mayonnaise?

The Japanese obsession with mayonnaise is perhaps well-known outside the country. There's even a nickname for the obsessed, "Mayora" ("Mayo" with the suffix "-er"), who season everything with mayonnaise. Not only do they use it for veggie dips, but also squirt it over rice, and use it to season stir-fry dishes. It's quite the all-purpose condiment.

Commercial Japanese mayonnaise is distinctive from American brands in a couple ways. For one, you use egg yolks instead of a whole egg to create a creamier texture. Rice vinegar is added to mellow out the flavor. The result is a rich, slightly sweet and tangy condiment. Kewpie mayonnaise is available at most U.S. supermarkets and has a cult following in Japan.

One delicious example is "Ebi Mayo", a mayonnaise shrimp stir-fry that originated in the Chinatown areas of Japan. The batter coated shrimp is fried, then tossed in mayonnaise. The sweet and tangy seasoning is excellent with the plump and succulent shrimp. If you don't have katakuriko potato starch flour at hand, replace with cornstarch or plain flour.

20. The King of Stocked Side Dishes: Burdock Root Kimpira Stir-fry

You always want to keep a stock of side dishes that you don't need to reheat, can be served cold, and can keep in the fridge for several days. You could pack them in bento, serve it as a drinking appetizer, or just serve it if another dish is needed for dinner. I stock up on a variety of side dishes whenever I have time during the weekend, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

The first dish I learnt in home economics class was kimpira stir-fry. It's a classic side dish that's a sweet and savory stir-fry of shaved burdock root and carrots. You can play around with the veggies and replace with daikon radish or lotus root. To leave a satisfying crunch, briskly stir-fry over high heat.

21. Noodles, Noodles, Everywhere ~ New Year's Eve Soba

In Japan, an important New Year's Eve tradition is eating "toshikoshi soba" (literally, "passing year soba") for the last meal of the year. There are several theories to the reason, but the most commonly known is that when making the noodles, the dough is rolled out, thinly cut, and eaten, hence symbolizing the wish for longevity and prosperity.

Soba has received a lot of attention for its high nutritional content. It's packed with vitamins B1 and B2, and an abundance of essential amino acids that aren't present in udon noodles or pasta. It has received international attention as a health food. If you make delicious dashi at home, serve with boiled soba noodles.

22. Regional Discrepancy Among Ozoni Mochi Soups

January 1st is New Years in Japan, a day to reflect on the passed year and to celebrate the new year. Many return to their hometown to visit their parents or grandparents, and stay with the family eating New Years food. "Ozoni" mochi soup is one such New Years food. It differs by region and household, and thus the mochi shape, ingredients, and miso differs. This is perhaps proof that ozoni is closely related to the regional and family histories, and thus a culture passed down through generations.

This is a recipe posted by a Kyoto-based user, which was passed down for three generations. It calls for "Saikyo Miso", a type of miso from Kyoto with a distinctive sweet flavor and has a straw yellow color, and "Maru-mochi" (round mochi) to pray for a harmonious life. The recipe must have been passed down because of these meanings.

23. Crazy Lines for KFC Fried Chicken during Christmas?

This may be strange to hear but around the Christmas season, there are huge lines crowding in front of KFC around Japan. This is because chicken is the "Christmas bird" eaten at the family dinner on Christmas Eve. There are many theories to this strange tradition, but it is mainly thanks to KFC's clever marketing scheme. Although Christmas Day is not a national holiday and is detached from the religious background, the festivity and commensality are closely linked on this culturally modified day.

This recipe was the culminating result of a user's attempt to recreate KFC's fried chicken recipe at home. There are a lot of copycat recipes posted on COOKPAD, such as scones from Starbucks or fries from McDonalds. Spice up your Christmas dinner with this centerpiece dish!

24. Christmas Cake with the Family

Merry Christmas! Along with the fried chicken, a Christmas cake is essential to a Japanese Christmas feast. Similar to the gigantic line in front of KFC restaurants, a large line forms in front of patisseries and bakeries. As I was born and grew up in Japan, eating chicken and cake during Christmas was the standard norm and it was only recently that I learned that this is a distinctively Japanese take on the Christmas holiday unseen elsewhere. Although, it's obvious if you reflect upon the actual meaning of Christmas...

For home bakers, this is the season to bake a cake. This masterpiece calls for a sheet of chiffon sponge cake molded into a Christmas tree shape, and has a height of 26 cm. Surprise your guests with this cake! This is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

25. Passed Down from Generations: Grandma's Recipe

Japanese home-cooking has mostly been passed down from mother to daughter, where the family recipe is taught to the next generation. The importance is not exactly recreating the recipe word-by-word, but to use whatever ingredients that can be obtained and to adjust the flavor to your liking after many trials.

Chirashizushi (literally "scattered sushi") is a dish my grandmother made when I passed the entrance exam, on birthdays, and on Girl's Day (March 3rd). Laboriously prepared with much love and care, not only does the presentation look good, but the dish is also delicious. I've since then learned how to make this from her and make it for my family, and hopefully I'll pass down this recipe to my daughter. If you have the opportunity, learn your family recipes from your grandmothers and mother.

COOKPAD Recipes are windows to Japan

Translating a recipe lovingly written by a COOKPAD member is almost like getting a letter from home.

As a longtime Japanese expatriate, the strongest bond that I have with my home culture and my family back in Japan is its food. While I love the wonderful cuisines of the various countries I've lived in and visited, nothing tugs at my heartstrings as hard as a simple onigiri (rice ball), or is as soul satisfying as a steaming hot bowl of ramen. My favorite fried chicken is still karaage, and my proverbial last meal is going to be sushi for sure. Many of us Japanese expats are informal ambassadors for our home country in some respects, and a surefire way we can connect with people in our adopted countries is by introducing them to Japanese cooking.

Translating a recipe lovingly written by a COOKPAD member is almost like getting a letter from home. Although the recipes may not be from our own families, they are from families just like ours in many way, the ones we miss all the time. When I translate a recipe for sukiyaki for instance, I'm instantly drawn back to the hot pot dinners we had at home when I was growing up. A handmade udon noodle recipe reminds me of the thick, hearty handcut noodles my aunt made on sweltering summer days, a cloth towel wrapped around her head to catch the perspiration. A recipe for strawberry mousse cake brings back memories of going to a pastry shop-café after school with my girlfriends in suburban Tokyo, and the agony of trying to decide which perfect little sweet to sample that day.

The bilingual and bi-cultural translators who have been working on the English COOKPAD recipes are of various nationalities and backgrounds; some live in Japan, others are overseas like me. What we all share in common, wherever we're from and wherever we are, is a love for the food, language and culture of Japan. If I may be so bold as to speak for us all, it's been a real pleasure and privilege for us to bring these slices of Japanese life and everyday Japanese food to you so far, and we look forward to continuing to do so.

I hope that the recipes we've worked on will bring many delicious moments to you and your loved ones, during this holiday season and in 2014 and beyond. Happy Holidays!

Makiko (Maki) Itoh

Makiko Itoh writes about Japanese food and culture on her blogs Justhungry.com and Justbento.com, The Japan Times and other publications, and is the author of the bestselling Just Bento Cookbook (Kodansha USA). Born in Tokyo, she's lived in the UK, the United States and Switzerland. She now divides her time between Provence, France and Yokohama.

Thanks to

Recipe Authors

ががりん, wなおw, sachieママ, 平井婦人, good_fortune, きちりーもんじゃ, yurizumi, KT121, ♡Kanaden♡, chikappe, 満月152000, moj, izakeiji, MyDining, ★RED_SPIC★, たけおじ, sweetsroom, カヌレ314, バカゾク, 涼キッチン, バナナざくろ, cafe-cafe, NY, らんぷあい, image

Our Community Translators

alispalmer, alysmith, amym55, annyenil, ariso07, Benny0122, bluesky1, canadadeb, CGallagher, chrysalis, Devonblue, elleturtle, emimemi, EMKB, erika0529, framboesa, grocryoko, hokanny, Home, jabarinnen, JALA, JanetYK, kenkuwata, laurara, lianakerr, makikowi, matchasuki, May79, MayumiItoh, megnadeau, mew1983, mikedough2, MikiPowell, millys, MrGraham 17, mrkain, msmate, muncharina, naruseyama, neigeB, Norgus, onionbasan, polkapot, rock70s, sahmij, sbcolli, seasidecat, shiga_cook, stnb, Takacoma, teacheramy, thehammer, Tokyo_Duck, Translator, tsurumari, UjiKat, victoriatb, yterris, yucakosugi, yuuichiben, YuYamamoto, zetastarz, えりんご☆, かえるプリンセス, ちびかんがるう, にこりキッチン, まっぽこりん, カナダみかん, フシッチェ, 一期一会愛