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Japanese Pantry


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In the Chinese forum, there was a thread about items a novice would require to properly stock a Chinese pantry. I rely on my parents to be in the know about which brands to use in Chinese cooking because the quality does vary from brand to brand and it does affect the dish. I would think that must be true for Japanese products as well. After reading the Panko thread, it seems that there are certain brands that are exclusive to North America. I was wondering if we could come up with a list for a Japanese pantry.

The following is a link to a store that I go to in Toronto, but I’m somewhat overwhelmed and intimidated by the different brands, and am unsure of what to buy. As you can see they have quite an array of Tsukemono (Pickled Foods) and seasonings. I knew to try the Japanese Mayonnaise because Jinmyo had mentioned it in various posts.

What do you have at home?

What brands do you recommend for some of the must-have pantry basics?

Sanko Trading Co.

Edit: It would be appreciated if a kind moderator can correct my typo in the title.

Edited by Degustation (log)
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When i first started reading this I was thinking, 'Japanese pantry'?, there's nothing special that you need to cook Japanese food.

Just shows I have been cooking this stuff so long that these have become staples in my house.

To start off with:

soy sauce ( I find the Yamasa brand unpalatable, and would stick with Kikkoman but not the American made one; buy one at a Asian grocer. I like the marudaizu kinds for a slightly more complex flavor)

If you don't cook to much Asian food just stick with one type of soy, you don't need the usukuchi (light) or tamari.

Actually these 2 are used more in US cookbooks than Japanese ones. I finally decided to go on a hunt for tamari a little while ago and actually had a hard time finding it, and I live in Japan!

sake a true drinking sake is your best bet, similar to using a real wine vs a 'cooking' wine

mirin look for one called hon mirin for the same reasons as above

rice vinegar mitsukan is a good brand, just get the regular one not the seasoned, it is better to season the sushi by yourself

dashi no moto (instant dashi) I would estimate about 85% of Japanese use instant dashi, in most cases it is fine. the only exceptions would be when the flavor would really stand out, in clear soups, etc

miso I am not too sure of the types they have outside of Japan, but yur best bet would be a light brown miso, I actually prefer to cook with either the white or red, but the common brown one is just that the most commonly used especially in soup making (the white tends to be too sweet and the red too strong)

These would be the main things, the Japanese use very few 'spices' although it would be nice to have shichimi (7 spice powder) and sesame seeds

panko is nice to have because it has applications in any type of cooking

other things including various seaweeds etc could be picked up on an as needed basis

The Japanese use a lot of premade sauces that I find unnecessary to buy, they can all be made with the above ingredients, I do however use a yuzu flavored ponzu and an okonomiyaki sauce (I prefer this flavor over the tonkatsu sauce and use it the way one would use tonkatsu sauce)

I know I am missing some major things here, this seems too short

Anyone else have any ideas?

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"


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I'd say bonito and kombu. Instant dashi is okay if you're just making a quick bowl of something.

But a good dashi is fundamental.

Togarashi, ponzu, sesame oil.

Japanese bottled sauces are as vile as Western bottled sauces. If one likes the latter, the former would do.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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mmmm, meltykiss.

OK- what's meltykiss? Please :biggrin:

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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meltykiss is a brand of chocolate that comes in little squares individually wrapped and then is dusted with cocoa powder.

There are other variations like white chocolate and with almonds...

I like the original one just fine.

It melts in your mouth.


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I actually haven't seen the boxes of meltykiss available in England, yet. But when we lived in NY I used to get them at Okashi-land (I might be making that name up... its on the corner of elizabeth and hester east of the aji ichiban store) and as soon as I got home, my husband, who will tell you that he doesn't like candy or chocolate, would open one after the other until they were gone. I was lucky if I got to eat two out of the box before they were gone.

Japanese chocolate is pretty amazing, If I could get my hands on them, those chocolate covered almonds would be in my pantry too... only they wouldn't last very long because they would get eaten.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was at the Pacific Mall today (the largest indoor asian mall in North America or so says their website) and I stumbled across Meltykiss. Mmm, very smooth, deelish. I also got talked into buying some candy made by the Bourbon company in Japan. They were olive-shaped white chocolates with a grape -flavoured candy centre. Interesting but not worth the price - should have bought another Meltykiss.

Edited by Degustation (log)
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  • 1 year later...

i have 1/2 bottle left (from two bottles originally) of some sesame oil squeezed from my aunts sesame seeds in my fridge.

im not sure what im going to do after this bottle runs out.

when i went to a mill (it clearly said "mill" in korean on the store front) in los angeles and asked if they turned sesame seed into oil, they snickered and said "just buy the bottles at the grocery store". i dont know how they can call their store a mill. perhaps the previous owners made oil before these guys moved in... i have to ask around for a proper mill. i dont think i will find any though. :sad: theres really nothing as intense as sesame seed oil from the millers. (incidentally, the millers in korea also grind chiles and any kind of grain for you -- kinako, for example)


sometimes i feel like i should open up a tofu shop or a mill, but then i wonder if theres any real demand for such services in america.

"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo
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Melonpan, that is pretty cool. I've never thought about actually trying to extract oil from sesame seeds myself instead of buying my bottle at the japanese food store.

Can you describe the difference in commercially packaged sesame oil and the freshly milled product?

Although, I think I'll have even less luck finding someone to do this for me in London! I never saw such a thing when I lived in Japan either. I wonder if this is distinctly something that is limited to Korea.

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i knew that i was going to be moving to los angeles about six months before actually moving here. and i had made a lot of assumptions. one was because la is the home of the largest korean population outside of korea that there would surely be at least one mill if not more... if i had known that i couldnt find one, i would have gotten more oil for myself during my last trip to korea.

perhaps in korea they arent as popular as they used to be either. i do not know. but when visiting, i always asked to be taken to the local mill and was always taken to one nearby. we saved up several single liter bottles of water (and a few coke bottles for good measure), washed and dried them over days and brought them with us to the mill.

the local mills grind either what you bring or they will grind grains and seeds that they get wholesale.

during research, i found a company with a photo of a mill from the outside, just like the ones ive gone to: samdae company page. on their page they advertise that they make oils from sesame, perilla, walnuts, apricot seeds and safflower seeds.

so, whats so special about the oils and flours from the mill?

they are stronger, more intensely flavoured. its as simple as that. i think you could get the same from the extremely expensive grocery brands too. those bottles go for, what, us$10 for 500 ml? what were the prices at the korean mills? i dont quite remember since i wasnt as sensitive (i would have bought it any price). let me guess though. last summer when i went to korea, i bought 4 liters of oil (gave away 3+ liters to aunts and my mother in the states)... we must have paid something on the order of $10 per liter? im guessing. but i remember forking over at least a couple 10,000 won bills.

the misutgaru that i get whenever i go, though is really something special. my aunt goes out and buys grain (her recipe, her proportions) and roasts them before presenting them to the mill. the resulting powder/flour is soooo delicious. use it over shave ice, make a kind of drink from it (like a hearty horchata, actually) or sprinkled over fruits. but it doesnt last very long. it tends to go rancid quickly and so we eat it up within two months.

one time we got gochugaru (chile powder) from the mill.

wish there was one here!

"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo
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Vinegar: Genmai-su is my basic vinegar (except for jobs which just require acidity, not flavor). This is a brown rice vinegar produced entirely by fermentation.

Soy sauce...still looking for that perfect aroma and taste in anything other than boutique sizes!

Miso: I buy a reasonably salty mid-brown miso with koji grains still visible in it, plus akadashi. I don't buy hatcho-miso very often, because it just takes so long to blend it smoothly with liquid. If I can't get Kyoto white miso I prefer to buy a very light "tanshoku" miso and add mirin if needed, rather than buy the east-Japan version with rice malt or sake lees added. Sake lees is forgivable, but not rice malt!

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Actually, I think pantries are not very common these days, at least in Canada.

My family in Canada has one (actually, it was meant as a closet but my Mom converted it) and I always got the impression, based on visitors' reactions, that it was unusual.

I really dislike the yukashita shuunou. Not only is it hard to get things in and out of, it's really dirty- dust and hairs from the floor fall down into storage space. And it makes sweeping hard, since you have to sweep carefully around it so as not to send more dirt down there.

I want a pantry!

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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I don't like the underfloor storage either - the plastic is too fragile to take the heavy large pots and pickle jars I only use occasionally, and even worse, things get moldy in there. Not to mention the dust and dirt...

So how does everybody physically store their food stocks?

I used to keep stuff in drawers, but decided that even tiny bits of broken noodle or whatever were attracting cockroaches, so now all packets are in vacuum-seal plastic boxes in cupboards. We still have cockroaches, but surely they're skinnier...?!

Other than that, under the sink or along the corridors (cans and pickle barrels). Maybe because of the dirty air or because roads are so close, maybe because of our disintegrating house, dust is a much bigger problem than in New Zealaland, so my pickle containers all need some kind of dust-cover too.

Anybody got any variations on that?

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  • 4 weeks later...

Pantry must haves:

Kikoman shoyu, dashi, kombu, bonito, mirin,Kadoya sesame oil, Mitsukan rice vinegar, panko, dried shitake, sesame seeds, wasabi (powdered), sake (for cooking of course :wink: ), wakame, S&B curry powder, nori for sushi and eating.

Pantry like to haves but not necessarily staples:

Furrikake (for guests/kids), Ochazuke, togarashi, S&B instant curry blocks.

As for specific brands, I've listed the brands that I know I go back to over and over again. Everything else I usually get whatever looks good.

Edited by dougery (log)

"Live every moment as if your hair were on fire" Zen Proverb

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  • 3 years later...



rice, sweet/sticky (mochi) rice, sprouted brown rice

non-rice grains: hie (barnyard grass), millet, barley

rice cakes (mochi) in winter

Potato starch, wheat flour, tempura flour (good for making tiny quantities of tempura for lunchboxes).

(Rice flours, real arrowroot flour, powdered green tea, red sweet-potato flour for keen confectionery makers).


Mirin, good rice vinegar, cheap cereal vinegar, bulk soy sauce, good soy sauce, canol a oil, sesame oil, umeboshi (salted dried plum, whole and in paste form), sake (cooking), shouchuu (preserving).

Home-made sushi vinegar, simmered-dish seasonings and other pre-mixed seasonings

Spices etc:

Whole chili pods

Fresh ginger


Szechuan pepper (sansho)

Mixed red chili spices (shichimi-tougarashi)

Japanese mustard (tube)

Garden herbs:

Green shiso, nira (giant chives), mitsuba, seri (for soups, salads), sanshou


Plain "spoon sugar" (granulated sugar for bakers), black sugar, san-on-tou light brown sugar.


Green beanthread vermicelli (harusame), somen, hiyamugi (slightly heavier), soba. (Buy udon fresh or frozen).


Water-packed cooked soybeans, small white beans, azuki beans, tora-mame

Other dry goods:

Dried wheat gluten (fu), dried tofu, small cube style

Konbu, wakame (soup-cut), chewier wakame root, hijiki

Black nori (various names) little clusters of nori, for soups, ochazuke.

Sheets of dried nori, various sizes

Ao-nori for sprinkling on rice, etc.

Katsuo-bushi in small packs

Sakura-ebi (tiny flat pink shrimps)

tea-bag style dashi packs of kombu, fish flakes, mushrooms etc.

Shiitake mushrooms, assorted northern Japanese dried vegetables

Black and white sesame seeds, whole and ground

White poppy seeds

Dried yam powder, for okonomiyaki in an emergency!


pack of small cans of tuna

can each of: saba (mackerel), corn, tomato, mandarins

Ready to eat:

Some form of soft-dried squid, kakinotane drinking snacks

Senbei or crackers

Small stock of ochazuke sachets (usually don't use sachets)

individual serve miso soup sachets to pack with lunchboxes

Green tea (usually only one type, as fresh is best)

Vegetables in stock most of the year:

Seasonal green leafy vegetables

Daikon (giant radish)

onions, potatoes

winter: taro, burdock, carrot

spring: citrus, flowering greens

summer: eggplant, tomato, bitter melon, various gourds

fall: fresh shimeji, maitake, preserved chestnuts


Usually chicken breast or thigh, pork scraps (komagire), salt fish.

Chikuwa (tubular fish-sausage)

Konnyaku (devil's tongue root jelly)


natto (fermented soybeans)

miso - at least 2 types, plus neri-miso (seasoned sweetened miso spread)

Ponzu (citrus/shoyu seasoning)

Japanese mayonnaise, tonkatsu sauce (thickened worcestershire sauce)

Men-tsuyu (concentrated noodle soup)

Numerous useless packs of sauces or dipping sauces from bought noodles...



Salted cherry-blossoms, mostly for cheering people up in lunchboxes

Furikake, sprinkles for lunchbox rice

Nuka-doko, rice bran pickling bed.

Miso-doko, miso pickling bed usually with fish in it.


Used konbu awaiting recycling

Aburage (thinly sliced fried tofu)

Satsuma-age, emergency stock

Filleted sardines (prepped when cheap, emergency lunchbox stock)

frozen udon noodles

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