As autumn passes the baton to the winter months and temperatures inevitably drop, many of us find our will to go out and explore diminish. However, keeping cosy inside the house doesn’t mean you can’t explore the wonderful world of Japanese cuisine. In fact, like much of Japanese culture, Japanese winter dishes reflect the turn of the season, and many dishes are not only simple to make but are also wholesome and rich in taste.
Join us as we look at what we think are the top 5 Japanese dishes to try this winter!
1. Sukiyaki (すき焼き)
Sukiyaki (すき焼き) is a variant of the nabemono (鍋物, hotpot) dish and usually consists of thinly sliced beef, slow-cooked or simmered in a shallow pot amongst other vegetables. The soup is usually made up of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin (みりん) and ingredients cooked inside the broth are usually dipped in a small bowl of beaten eggs before eating.
Meat is a common celebratory ingredient in Japan, and sukiyaki is often eaten at bonenkai (忘年会, New Year’s Parties). Popular ingredients cooked with the beef are usually tofu, negi (ネギ, Welsh Onion), Chinese cabbage or shungiku (春菊, crown daisy), shiitake (椎茸) & enokitake (えのき茸) mushrooms, and konnyaku (コンニャック, a gelatinous block made from an East Asian yam) or shirataki (白滝) noodles.
2. Yakiimo (焼き芋)
Just like the way Oden is a sign of the winter to come, the chime of the Yakiimo (焼き芋, sweet potato) truck is another hallmark of Japanese winter. Freshly baked in an open flame stone oven, customers only need to call over to the truck driver to receive their sweet meal.
While yakiimo trucks were more common 50 or so years ago, you can still find them all over Japan repeating the jingle “yaki-imo, ishi-yaki-imo” (焼き‐芋、石-焼き-芋, sweet potato, stone baked sweet potato). As a little nod to the age of the practice, truck sellers often have a chochin (提灯) lantern hung up, creating a nice traditional atmosphere to enjoy with your fluffy treat.
3. Nikujaga (肉じゃが)
Nikujaga (肉じゃが) is a dish that is predominantly made of meat, potatoes and onions. The dish is usually stewed in sweetened soy sauce, at times with ito konnyaku (伊藤コンニャク, konjac cut into fine threads) and vegetables. For the most part, potatoes make up the bulk of the dish with the meat acting as a source of flavour. Similar to the way meat is sliced for sukiyaki, the meat in nikujaga is sliced into thin pieces. This allows the flavours of the accompanying ingredients to soak into the meat for a tantalisingly juicy bite. Minced meat can also be used as a substitute should the cook want to do so, or tofu in the case of vegetarian and vegan diners.
While beef is generally used for nikujaga, Eastern Japan uses pork, though all areas of Japan serve the dish with a bowl of white rice and miso soup (味噌汁). You might think that nikujaga isn’t particularly Japanese thanks to the use of non-Japanese ingredients, however, it is an extremely popular Japanese winter dish, with many calling it a true taste of home cooking.
4. Oden (おでん)
Oden (おでん) is a Japanese one-pot dish that consists of placing ingredients like boiled eggs, daikon (大根, radish), konnyaku, ganmodoki (がんもどき, fried tofu patties with vegetables), hanpen (半篇, triangle-shaped flavoured ground fish, chikuwa (竹輪, fishcake shaped to look like tubes of bamboo) and kinchaku (巾着, deep-fried tofu cut into a purse shape) into a soy-flavoured dashi (出し) broth and is considered by many Japanese people as the modern-day start of the winter season. Originally eaten with miso (味噌) and a miso broth, oden gained its popularity as a result of the move to a dashi stock and the subsequent adoption by Japanese restaurants in the late Edo-period/early Meiji-period (江戸時代, 明治時代, 1868-1912).
Often sold in yatai (屋台, food cart) or konbini (コンビニ, convenience stores), the accessible and cheap nature of oden helps its popularity – oden is regularly sold at prices as low as 100 yen per ingredient! While the dishes popularity shoots up during the winter months, you can find yatai and restaurants that sell the dish all-year round, with some kitchens letting the soup simmer for months, deepening and developing the flavour.
1. Nabe (お鍋)
Nabemono (鍋物) or more commonly known as nabe (鍋), is the name for the wide variety of Japanese hotpot dishes. The name nabemono directly translates to ‘things in a pot’, and the way the dish is cooked reflects the simplicity of the moniker. Frequently cooked at dining tables, nabe is a dish that is cooked as it is eaten and reflects a true sense of family, be it your household family or friends.
Diners pick ingredients such as meat, tofu, eggs, and Chinese cabbage that go into the dish and add them as they see fit. There are two main variations of nabe that are eaten in Japan: those with lightly flavoured stock eaten with a tare (たれ, dipping sauce), allowing those eating to enjoy the taste of the ingredients themselves; and that with a strongly flavoured stock eaten without a tare.
Fancy making your own versions of these dishes? Try out our recipes!