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Goin’ Japanesque!

6 Traditional Japanese Dishes Everyone Loves

Dishes that have been long-loved in the Japanese household; they are easy to make using simple ingredients found at home and are a perfect side dish to rice so it is made by Japanese families as the standard menu item for meals. Here we introduce some popular traditional dishes that continue to be enjoyed today. Photo:


1. Niku Jaga (Meat and Potatoes)


This is one dish that resonates with many as the most representative of home cooking. It is a simmered dish in which meat (niku), potatoes (jaga-imo), onions and ito-konnyaku (thin, translucent, gelatinous noodles made from the konjac yam) are first stir-fried then simmered in a sweet broth of soy sauce, sake, sugar and mirin (sweet rice wine). It has a gentle flavor that is easy for anyone to enjoy and it is a dish that has been eaten by the Japanese from long ago. 

It is uncertain how it originated, but there is one story that says it originated with a navy commander who had eaten beef stew in a foreign country. He requested a chef to recreate this dish he had eaten in the past, but the chef did not know of demi-glace sauce and so the dish he had created based on the naval commander’s description of beef stew turned out to be niku jaga.


2. Saba no Miso ni (Mackerel Simmered in Miso)


This is a seafood dish that uses cuts of mackerel (saba) simmered in a mix of seasonings such as miso, sake, mirin and sugar. It is a dish that uses sweet seasoning and tender cuts of fish, so it is enjoyed by children to elders alike. It is a great side dish to have with rice, making it a standard menu at restaurants that serve teishoku (set meals).


3. Kinpira Gobo (Braised Burdock Root)


This is a simple dish in which root vegetables such as gobo (burdock root) and carrot are sliced thin and braised in seasonings such as sugar and soy sauce. The funny name “kinpira” is said to come from a character “Kinpira Sakata” from a story in the Japanese traditional theater art of Joruri. Joruri is a theater art which tells a story accompanied by the playing of the Japanese lute called shamisen. The strong, tough and courageous characteristics of this character were likened to the nature of the gobo vegetable. Thus this gobo dish came to be called “kinpira gobo” in association with the name of the character.

Because the ingredients and cooking methods are both simple, it is a dish that is easy to make even for beginners of cooking. You can achieve different flavors by cutting the vegetables in different ways such as in thin or thick strips. It’s a good idea to try different ways of cutting based on your liking.


4. Dashi Maki Tamago (Rolled Omelet Seasoned with Stock)


This is an egg dish that uses stock mixed in with egg. The mixture is cooked in a thin sheet, which is then rolled in several layers and cooked into shape. The ingredients and cooking methods are simple, and the appearance and coloring is appetizing. Thus it is a dish that is often favored at the family table as well as in bento lunch boxes. It is also a dish that is often offered at izakaya restaurants as a dish to eat along with your drink.

By mixing other ingredients in the egg, you can create different flavors. It is a fun dish to get creative with and a convenient dish to know how to cook.


5. Chikuzenni (Braised Chicken and Vegetables)


This is a dish that uses chicken, carrots, gobo, renkon (lotus root), konnyaku (translucent, gelatinous block made from the konjac yam) stir-fried in oil, then braised in a sweet-savory seasoning of sugar and soy sauce. The first step to stir-fry the ingredients is said to be unique to the chikuzenni, setting it apart from other braised dishes.

It was a dish that was favored in the northern and western parts of Fukuoka Prefecture; the area once called Chikuzen. It is a local specialty that is a staple for celebratory events and New Year’s meals.

The vegetables and chicken is prepared in bite size pieces so it’s easy to eat. It’s a dish that’s perfect to eat with rice that once you start eating it, you won’t be able to stop moving your chopsticks to this dish.


6. Tonjiru (Pork Soup)


This is one type of Japanese miso soup in which pork is mixed along with various vegetables and ingredients like konnyaku, and then seasoned with miso. It can be made in large portions, and it is very warming so it is often made during winter soup-runs. The fat of the pork and miso are a good match, added with the flavors of the vegetables create the perfect blend of flavors.

Tonjiru is often offered at restaurants that serve pork, such as Japanese restaurants, beef-bowl restaurants and tonkatsu restaurants. It is a flavor that is loved by many and is popular with a wide age group from children to elders. It is a particularly good miso soup to have on a cold day as it can warm the body and satisfy the empty stomach.

In fact there is a soup dish called kenchin-jiru that is similar to the tonjiru. This was a dish that was originally eaten as a shojin ryori, which is a special vegetarian dish for Buddhist monks. This dish uses sesame oil to stir fry the vegetables that are added in the beginning, it does not use meat and uses soy sauce for seasoning, which are some points that differentiate it from tonjiru.  


We have introduced some representative dishes that have been long-loved at the Japanese dinner table. Other than the ones introduced here, there are many side dishes in Japan. When it comes to these types of dishes, each family has their own secret seasoning or method of making. If you ever come to Japan, it may be nice to try the different versions of these dishes made by different families. Or it may be interesting if you can also try making it for yourself to find your very own recipe.

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About the author

I'm interested in general in all things related to culture and fine arts with a focus on movies, art, and design. I hope to introduce to many people all the different sides to Japan in regards to Japanese culture.

View all articles by KAWATA