Japanese Basics: SaShiSuSeSo

Top row: Sa (satoh=sugar), Shi (shio=salt); Middle row: Su (su=vinegar), Se (shoyu=soy sauce); Bottom row: So (miso=fermented soy bean paste)

Besides dashi stock, the basic flavors of traditional Japanese cuisine are sugar, salt, soy vinegar, soy sauce and miso. While not many sauces uses all of these ingredients, many use at least 3.

The order in which these ingredients are used is quite important. Basically, the ingredients whose flavors are most susceptible to being changed by heat are added last = soy sauce, and miso. Sugar and salt are added first, and vinegar in between. The way we remember this is with Sa Shi Su Se So, which is the "s" row of the phonetic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) in Japanese.

There are regional variations in just how these ingredients are used. The refined Kyoto style of cuisine, which originated from the meals served at the emperor's court, tend to use avoid sugar, dark soy or strongly flavored miso. Tokyo (or Kanto, the name of the region where Tokyo is) style cuisine on the other hand is more strongly flavored. Since my family is from the Kanto region, most of the dishes I describe on this site are from the Tokyo style.

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