Ingredients in Japan: Meat

This post is part of a series about the differences in ingredients between Japan and the U.S. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a lot of trouble at times because I wasn’t used to these differences, so hopefully this information is helpful! For the full list of posts in this series, see this page.

In general, there is less variety of meat available in Japan. The three main types are chicken, pork, and beef, of which beef is the most expensive. Horse meat is also available in some places. Most beef and pork is sold in packs already sliced thinly, which is really convenient for Japanese / Asian cooking. You can get some larger pieces of meat, especially pork (loin, shoulder, belly, pork chops, etc).

Chicken, or 鶏 (tori) is generally sold as boneless breast or thigh meat. The breast meat is sold as chicken tenders (ささみ, sasami) or the whole breast (ムネ, mune), which is cheaper. Chicken drumsticks and wings are also available. Occasionally you can find a cut-up whole chicken. I’ve heard that you can request a whole chicken from the supermarket’s meat department, but haven’t tried that myself.

chicken label

Pork, or 豚 (buta), is a very popular meat in Japan, and is sold in many different cuts. The domestic pork has more fat and more flavor than imported meat. Some commonly seen cuts are pork chops, pork tenderloin (called ヒレ, hire), thigh (モモ, momo), belly (ばら, bara). I can sometimes find pork shoulder or spare ribs.

Beef, or 牛 (gyuu), is the most expensive of the commonly-seen meat. You can find imported American or Australian beef, or domestic beef. The domestic product is the most expensive (and high quality). Japanese beef is usually very finely marbled with fat and is used for dishes such as sukiyaki. You can find both thinly-sliced beef and steaks, domestic and imported of each type, but there isn’t a lot of variety in the cuts. I sometimes see “blocks” of beef thigh.

As far as ground meat, most stores carry ground chicken, pork, beef, and pork/beef mixture. If a recipe calls for ground beef, I usually use the mixed meat because it has a beefy flavor, but is much cheaper.

beef,pork labelOrgan meat is also available, including liver, tongue, heart, skin, tendon, etc.

Other meats are probably available, but I don’t generally see them. Once in a while I’ve seen lamb. Some are available frozen at Costco and other import stores (e.g. turkey).

Bacon” is sold at grocery stores, but is significantly different from American-style bacon. Sausages of various types are sold as well. Cold cuts are not popular, except for ham. We have also seen salami and pastrami occasionally.

Some other prepared meats are available for slightly higher prices, including pre-marinated, pre-cut, or pre-made but uncooked hamburgers and meatballs.

Meat prices are higher than what I saw in the U.S., and are labeled per 100g. As I mentioned, chicken will generally be cheapest, followed by pork, and then beef. However, there are often several different types of meat which vary in price depending on their quality and whether they are domestic (usually more expensive) or imported (often from the United States or Australia). A final thing to be aware of is that laws in Japan about food storage tend to be more stringent than in the U.S., so supermarkets often discount meat at the end of the day, and it’s easy to find meat 30% or 50% off.

Christmas Cookies

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is not celebrated as much in Japan as in the U.S. Here, it’s more like New Year’s Eve in America – a night to go out and party with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Traditional foods eaten on Christmas in Japan include Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Christmas cake, a sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream. People are always shocked that we don’t do that in America too…

Anyway, every year that we’ve been in Japan, I’ve made a project of baking lots of Christmas cookies and giving them to neighbors, co-workers, and friends. This year I’ve made several types, including some new ones. Most of these are not yet on this blog, but I’ll link to them so you can see the original recipes. Many of them were changed or adapted, but these were the starting points.

IMG_7636Walnut Thumbprints
Biscotti (I made a version with candied kumquats and almonds)
Yuzu Black Tea Cookies
Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Bars
Roasted Chestnut Cookies
Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
Orangettes
Brownie Roll-Out Cookies

Have a great holiday!

Buttermilk Banana Bread


My husband loves banana bread, and it’s a great way to use up bananas that are overripe so they don’t go to waste. When bananas are completely brown on the outside and mushy, they are also extremely sweet. They also keep well in the freezer, so what I usually do is take those overripe bananas, peel them, and put them in a baggie in the freezer until I have enough bananas or enough time to bake. (They’re also great for smoothies!) Original banana bread recipe from here.

Ingredients
113g (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas (about 3)
60mL (1/4 cup) buttermilk (in Japan: mix 5mL lemon juice with 55mL milk and let sit 5 minutes before use)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-3/4 cups flour (Japan: mix strong and weak flours)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda

Instructions

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix well.

Add flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and mix until combined.

Bake at 180C/350F for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Scallion Pancakes


The instructions may seem long, but these scallion pancakes are simple to make after you’ve done it once, and if you cook Asian food regularly, you probably have all or most of the ingredients on hand already. One of my Korean friends once told me that for her family this is a “rainy day” recipe, since they didn’t have to go out to the grocery store to make this. Original recipe is from here.

Ingredients
Pancakes
1 cup (130g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (120mL) hot water
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 bunch thinly sliced scallions (Japan: use konegi)
salt
vegetable oil for frying

Dipping sauce:
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp sugar

Instructions

Put flour in a bowl and add about 3/4 of the hot water while mixing. If dough is dry, add more water a little at a time until it will come together.

Knead dough on a floured counter until smooth. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes.

In the meantime, mix together all the sauce ingredients and let them sit at room temperature until ready to use.

When the dough has rested, divide it in half. Take one of the halves and roll into a circle about 8″ (21cm) in diameter. Pour a little sesame oil on and brush with a pastry brush (or spread with the back of a spoon) to cover the surface. Roll the dough up like a jelly roll, then form into a spiral, tucking the end underneath. Flatten the spiral with your hand, and the roll it out again into an 8″ (21cm) circle.

Repeat the sesame oil, and sprinkle on some salt and half of the scallions. Roll up tightly again like a jelly roll, make a spiral, flatten, and roll out again.

Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Heat oil in a frying pan until hot and carefully put in a pancake. Cook until golden brown, then flip and cook on the other side. Transfer to a paper towel and cook the other three pancakes.

To serve, cut like a pizza into 6 or 8 slices and serve with the dipping sauce.

Almond Thumbprints


These cookies are very delicate and have a great almond flavor. You can use any flavor of jam for the middle. My favorite is raspberry, but raspberry jam is hard to find in Japan, so I have used blueberry, mixed berry, and cassis with success.

Ingredients
227g (1 cup) butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 cups flour
1/3 cup jam (raspberry or other – see notes)

1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tsp water
1-1/2 tsp almond extract

Instructions

Cream butter and sugar. Add almond extract and mix well. Finally, add flour and mix until combined.

If dough is soft, refrigerate about 1 hour or until firm.

Roll dough into 1″ (2.5cm) balls and use your thumb or the back of a spoon to make a hole in the center of each. Fill the holes with a small amount of jam.

Bake cookies for 14-18 minutes at 180C/350F.

Let cookies cool completely before glazing. Mix the powdered sugar, water, and almond extract and drizzle over cookies. Let sit for 30 minutes or so until the glaze sets.

Ingredients in Japan: Fruits & Vegetables

This post is part of a series about the differences in ingredients between Japan and the U.S. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a lot of trouble at times because I wasn’t used to these differences, so hopefully this information is helpful! For the full list of posts in this series, see this page.

fruitCurrently in season (November – December): persimmons and mikan.

Most fruits and vegetables go by their English names written in katakana: for example, avocado is called アボカド (abokado), so it’s easy to ask for or recognize them. In other cases, I have included the Japanese name.

There are so many fruits and vegetables that this page is kind of overwhelming. Also, I still sometimes come across fruits or vegetables that I’ve never seen before in Japan, so if you’re wondering about something that you don’t see here, leave a comment and I’ll let you know!

FRUIT
apple: common all year, ranges in price from cheap to expensive. In season in fall and winter. Japanese: りんご, ringo.
apricot: uncommon but available in summer; also sold dried
avocado: common all year round
banana: common and cheap year-round
berries: expensive and seasonal; strawberries and blueberries are available in summer. Strawberries are sold in December because they are popular at Christmas. Other berries are rare or unavailable.
cherries: available in spring and summer. Usually two varieties: American, which are called チェリー, cherii, and Japanese, which are 桜ん坊, sakuranbou.
citrus: There are many types of Japanese citrus, most of which are not found in other countries. Many are seasonal and sold in winter. Some common types are mikan (similar to clementines), yuzu, kinkan (kumquats), dekopon, kabosu, and sudachi. See this article for more.
figs: available in summer. Japanese: いちじく, ichijiku.
grapefruit: often available, especially in winter
grapes: seasonal; available in fall and winter. Many varieties are sold, but most of them have seeds and thick, hard-to-digest skin, so they must be peeled. Japanese: ぶどう, budou.
kiwi: usually available
lemon: always available; price varies
lime: quite rare, but can be found at certain supermarkets
mango: seasonal
melon: several types available, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, and winter melon, especially in fall and winter, but expensive
nectarine/peach: available in summer, generally expensive. Japanese: 桃, momo.
orange: Western-style oranges are sold, but native Japanese citrus are more common (see above).
pear: Western pears are sometimes available. “Asian pear”, called nashi in Japanese, is quite different, but is available in summer.
persimmon: seasonal and cheap in October-November. Japanese: 柿, kaki.
pineapple: usually available; price varies
plum: available in summer; Western type is called プラム, puramu, while the Japanese variety is called 梅, ume.
pomegranate: occasionally available (though expensive) in fall/winter. Japanese: ざくろ, zakuro.
quince: common in fall. Japanese: かりん, karin.

Other fruits are sometimes available seasonally. I have seen dragonfruit, akebi, and loquats (Japanese: biwa).

Vegetables
artichoke: have not seen
asparagus: available year-round; price varies
bamboo: bamboo shoots (takenoko) are sometimes available; menma is a kind of fermented bamboo used as a ramen topping.
beet: have not seen
bell pepper: usually available. Japanese: パプリカ, papurika.
bitter melon: usually available. Japanese: ゴーヤ, gouya.
bok choy: usually available. Japanese: ちんげんさい, chingensai.
broccoli: available year-round but price varies a lot depending on the season
brussels sprouts: available seasonally in winter. Japanese: 芽キャベツ, mekyabetsu.
cabbage: always available and usually cheap. Both Western cabbage and Napa cabbage (Japanese: 白菜, hakusai) are sold.
carrot: available year-round. Japanese: にんじん, ninjin.
cauliflower: sometimes available; always expensive and often not good quality
chili pepper: hot peppers (tougarashi) are sometimes available fresh, but more commonly dried. The most common kind of pepper is shishito, which are usually sweet, but occasionally hot.
corn: fresh corn is available for a time in the summer, but even at the cheapest it is expensive (rarely under 100 yen / about $1 per ear). Japanese: とうもろこし, toumorokoshi.
cucumber: available year-round; cheap in summer
eggplant: usually available. Japanese variety is smaller than Western. Japanese: なす, nasu.
fennel: have not seen
garlic: always available. Japanese: にんにく, ninniku.
ginger: fresh roots are always available and cheap; myouga, a related vegetable, is also common.
green beans: sometimes available; more expensive than in the U.S. Also available frozen. Japanese: いんげん, ingen.
greens: many varieties are sold, but many are unique to Japan or Asia. Spinach is always available (Japanese: ほうれん草, hourensou), as are arugula (rukora) and a few types of lettuce. Mixed salad greens are also sold. Common Japanese greens include 春菊, shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves), mizuna (used in nabe or salad), komatsuna (similar to spinach), mitsuba (similar to parsley), nanohana (similar to broccoli rabe), and nira (garlic chives).
leek family: Long green onions, or naganegi, are common and available year-round, as are the smaller konegi (green onions). There are several similar varieties, such as rakkyou (Chinese scallions), which are often pickled.
okra: sometimes available
onion: available year-round. Variations (red onion, shallots) are hit-and-miss, but are sometimes sold. Japanese: 玉ねぎ, tamanegi.
peas: snow peas are usually available. Green peas are not common. I have seen bagged frozen green peas at only one place.
potato: available year-round. Japanese: じゃがいも, jagaimo.
radish: small red radishes are sometimes available. Giant white radish, or daikon, is always available.
rhubarb: have not seen
root vegetables: Besides daikon, renkon (lotus root) and gobou (burdock root) are always available, as are taro, yamaimo and nagaimo (types of tubers).
rutabaga: have not seen
soybeans: available fresh seasonally; always available frozen. Japanese: 枝豆, edamame.
sprouts: daikon sprouts (kaiware), mung bean sprouts (moyashi), soybean sprouts (toumyou), and broccoli sprouts are common year-round. I have sometimes seen alfalfa sprouts as well.
squash: the most common type is kabocha, similar in taste to butternut squash. Zucchini is sometimes available in summer.
sweet potato: Japanese sweet potato is quite different from Western sweet potato. It is yellow inside with purple skin, and both sweeter and more starchy.
tomato: Usually available, but expensive in winter. Cheap and more widely available in summer.
turnip: sometimes available (white and red varieties). Japanese: かぶ, kabu.

There are many other specialty vegetables that are available for short times during the year, for example, romanesco, fuki (butterbur), and yurine (lily root).

Frozen fruits & veggies
Unfortunately not nearly as popular as in the U.S., probably because of lack of freezer space. You can usually find broccoli, corn, kabocha, spinach, and green beans. For fruit, I see blueberries most often, but sometimes strawberries and mango.

Dried fruit
Commonly available: apricots, figs, mango, persimmons, pineapple, prunes, raisins, and tomatoes. Others are sold at import stores or specialty shops.

Lasagna


I was never a fan of lasagna with lots of ricotta cheese in it. This version uses a white sauce instead, and has a really nice smooth taste. Original recipe from here. It does take a little work and time, but the sauces can be made ahead of time, which makes this dish quick to assemble and bake.

Ingredients
Meat sauce:
100g (1/4 lb) beef (or beef/pork mixture)
1/2 onion, diced
1 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp oregano
400g (14oz) canned diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

White sauce:
1 tsp olive oil
480mL (2 cups) milk
1/4 cup flour
salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste

Other:
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
200g (1/2 lb) shredded mozzarella (in Japan, “mix cheese” is fine)
lasagna noodles (enough to fill your baking dish)

Instructions

First, make the meat sauce. Brown the meat in a skillet and remove. In the same skillet, saute onion and garlic until softened, then add sugar, basil, oregano, canned tomato, and tomato paste. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring, then turn off the heat and let cool slightly. Finally, blend the sauce in a food processor or blender until smooth. Mix the browned meat back into the sauce, taste, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Next, make the white sauce. Heat olive oil and 360 mL (1-1/2 cups) milk in a saucepan. Whisk the remaining 120 mL (1/2 cup) milk with the flour in a small bowl until free of lumps, and add to the heated milk. Whisk or stir constantly over low heat until the sauce thickens. Add a pinch of nutmeg, plus salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, you can store the sauces in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna for dinner.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Prepare your lasagna noodles (check the package for instructions on how long to cook them, or use non-boil noodles).

Start by spooning a small amount of the tomato sauce into your pan and spreading it into a thin layer.

Add one layer of lasagna noodles to the pan. Spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the white sauce, 1/3 of the parmesan cheese, and 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat in that order until you have three layers, ending with cheese on top.

Bake for 30 minutes.