In addition to hitting the books, a fun way to learn new Japanese vocabulary is by making a Japanese dish. While I lived in Japan, it was tempting to resort to Cup Noodle or instant curry every night, but I eventually bought a video game called しゃべる！ＤＳお料理ナビ (Shaberu! DS o-ryouri nabi) for my Nintendo DS when it was released in 2006. This game—which will work on Japanese and American systems alike—is a portable, interactive cookbook with 200 common Japanese recipes. Sadly, an English translation of the game was never released, though an American version with mostly Western recipes called Personal Trainer: Cooking can be bought on Amazon.
A little animated chef walks you through each recipe, timing steps as needed and providing helpful videos regarding cooking techniques. As such, it’s perfect for beginner chefs, and all the often-repeated cooking vocabulary makes for great language study!
Some of my favorite recipes are some of the easiest such as teriyaki fish/beef or sukiyaki (a one-pot meal where almost anything can work as an ingredient). Though cooking authentic Japanese food in the states can be difficult because of a lack of ingredients, NYC has ample resources for international chefs, which I’ll soon cover in a future article. In my opinion, one of the biggest differences between Japanese and American cooking is the relative subtlety of flavors in Japanese dishes. Flavors tend to be balanced, but understated compared to some American classics like spicy BBQ or hamburgers with spices folded into the meat. That and traditionally, much Japanese food is cooked using very long chopsticks instead of a wooden spoon for sautéing. I cheated and used a spoon most of the time because I was tired of clumsily dropping and ruining my food.
Anyway, here is a simple recipe translated from the DS game that you can make yourself! Most of these ingredients can be easily found in most US grocery stores, but there are a few such as pickled ginger and mirin that might be a little more difficult to locate. I’ve included the ingredients list in English and Japanese, and more useful cooking vocabulary is listed below. Enjoy!
ぶりの照り焼き – Yellowtail Teriyaki
Yield: 4 servings
|4 yellowtail fillets
|Flour (as needed)
|2 Tbsp salad oil
|40 g pickled ginger
|4 Tbsp mirin
|4 Tbsp soy sauce
|1 Tbsp sugar
In a small bowl, mix together 1 Tbsp sugar, 4 Tbsp mirin, and 4 Tbsp soy sauce. Set aside.
In another bowl or plate, add some flour. Coat each side of the fish evenly.
Add 2 Tbsp salad oil to a frying pan and set on medium heat. Place the fish in the pan skin side down. Cook until you see a nice brownish golden color and flip over (a few minutes per side). Turn the heat to low. Soak up the excess oil with some paper towels.
Add the soy sauce mixture to the pan. Cook until the fish looks nice and coated.
Put the fish on a plate and add the ginger on the side for garnish. (I also cooked up some rice to make this more of a meal.)
||shouga no amazutzuke
||To put in (an ingredient)
||To cover (smear, sprinkle) (with)
||To bake or grill