Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

Since I posted my article about essential and not-so essential Japanese ingredients, a number of people have asked about the equipment I use for preparing Japanese food. It's taken me a while to get to it, but here it is finally. (You can consider this as a kind of gift guide for anyone who's into Japanese cooking too..'tis the season and all that after all!)

The list of special equipment that I do have besides the things you might find in any European-style or American-style kitchen is not that long, but there are some items that I find are well worth having. Keep in mind that, as usual, I'm speaking from the perspective of someone who doesn't live in Japan. If I lived in Japan chances are I'd have a lot more Japanese cooking-only items, such as a square pan for making atsuyaki tamago (the thick, square slightly sweet omelette often served in sushi restaurants). I also use some substitutes for things that I can use for Japanese cooking methods as well as other cuisines, as you'll see.

My must-have items

  • A good rice cooker. If you make rice, any kind of rice, more than once a week, you will never regret getting a rice cooker. [Update: a detailed look at rice cookers.
  • A wooden rice container, or hangiri. It's tempting to use the "keep warm" feature of your rice cooker, but if you want the best tasting rice don't! Once rice is cooked, you need to fluff it up with a rice paddle, then ideally transfer it to a container that breathes - like a wooden hangiri or ohitsu. Mine is narrower and taller than the one pictured, which is meant for sushi rice, but it serves the same purpose. (Also I haven't been able to find an online source for the tall narrow kind of ohitsu so far...if you know of one please let me know.) If you are making sushi rice you must take the rice out and put it in a hangiri (see my Japanese rice primer).
  • For mixing and scooping rice, you'll need a good rice paddle. Chances are you will get a free one with your rice cooker, otherwise a slightly curved one is handy. (The curved one is really handy for scooping up non-sticky grains, such as basmati rice).
  • A carbon-steel wok. I know that a wok is Chinese in origin, but every Japanese household uses a wok extensively - for stir-frying tasks and for deep-frying too. There are oil-draining racks designed to fit around the perimeter of a wok. If you have an electric or induction range like I do, you must get a wok with a heavy, flat bottom - that stays flat.
  • Several flat bamboo or water-resistant wicker baskets/sieves, or zaru. I haven't seen these offered online (so far) but you can often find them at Asian gift and food stores, and even in some department stores. Woven bamboo ones are the best since they are water-resistant and clean easily. These are used for serving things like cold noodles (soba, or buckwheat, cold udon, thin so-men, and so on). I also have some small ones which I use sometimes to make round-shaped tofu. There is a big difference between serving noodles in a plain old colander vs. on a nice bamboo zaru.
  • A bamboo sushi rolling mat. If you make sushi rolls this is an essential tool. You can also use it for making other rolls (like flavored spinach wrapped in nori).
  • Saibashi - long, uncoated wooden chopsticks, connected together with a piece of string. I have several pairs of these which I find essential for picking things up and turning them, stirring things around, and so on, If you're not used to handling chopsticks you may find a pair of tongs to be easier to manipulate.

    Great substitutes

The following items are ones that are not Japanese, and which might not be used much in Japan, but I've found to be very good for Japanese cooking.

  • A cast-iron stovetop grill pan. In Japan I might use an yakiami for grilling fish and shiitake mushrooms, but here I find a cast iron grill pan to do the job just as well. It also works great on an electric range (for an yakiami you need a gas flame).

  • Enamelled cast-iron pans. There are a lot of Japanese dishes that involve gentle stewing, such as nikujaga (stewed meat and potatoes). There are also nabemono which are big pots of meat or fish and vegetables all cooked together. For these kinds of dishes, in Japan I might use an earthenware pot called a donabe, but here I find the heavy, enamelled cast-iron pots made by Le Creuset to be very useful, since they cook things very evenly. Since they are so pretty to look at I can use them for serving in-pot too. Finally, if you don't want to invest in a rice cooker, a cast-iron pot is the ideal container for cooking rice on the stove top.
  • A sturdy metal strainer is useful for straining the bonito flakes out of your dashi stock and other tasks (the Japanese housewife might do this by adeptly picking it out with her saibashi, see above).
  • A good, heavy frying pan or two. I use three frying pans: a stainless steel one and two non-stick ones.

As you can see the list is not that long. The only other things you need are a couple of good knives. Knives are a whole topic unto themselves, so I'll leave that for another day.

Serving Japanese food

Besides the cooking equipment I have a variety of Japanese bowls and serving dishes I've accumulated over the years. If you're starting out on this road you can get a lot of very nice things from eBay these days. Jlist also carries many traditional and fun authentically-Japanese serving items. If you want to present a minimalist kind of plating though, just serve your Japanese food on plain white plates, and use plain white bowls for rice and soup. Don't forget to use chopsticks though!

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rowie | 27 December, 2006 - 17:50

Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

Hey, this is great! My boyfriend is interesting in learning more about cooking in a wok and I'll pass this info on to him. Peace.

get zen | 27 December, 2006 - 21:31

rice cookers

a, since you are in Japan (I assume) you have a huge choice of rice cookers which people living elsewhere don’t. The short answer is, you don’t need to spend more than 10,000 yen on a good, basic rice cooker. (Note for people not in Japan: the same rice cooker will be 2-3x the price outside of Japan.)

Now for the long answer: If you don’t plan to have a lot of parties and such where you need to cook for a crowd, then you probably only need a 1.5 gou, or up to a 3 gou (in case you do need to cook more rice at a time) capacity rice cooker. In any case, you need to specifically look for a cooker than can handle cooking 1 cup (1 gou) of rice at a time. Some of the bigger models can handle small quantities well (like the Zojirushi one I recommend) while others don’t.

Also, if you think you’ll need to cook brown rice, you need to find a model that can handle different kinds of rices/cooking times.

So, the basic features you want in a rice cooker:
- can handle the amount of rice you normally cook
- has a timer function, so you can wash the rice in the morning and set it to finish cooking when you get home (or wash in the evening, and it finishes cooking in the morning so you can make your obento)
- Can handle different kinds of rice, if you eat different kinds of rice
- I don’t use the keep-warm function, but that can be handy (just don’t keep rice around on keep-warm for too long, it will go bad)

As far as brands go…I am biased towards Zojirushi for any kind of kitchen small appliance, but that doesn’t say other makers don’t make good products. My old Zojirushi one is still perfectly functional and it’s at least 15 years old (though I did recently get a new Zojirushi.)

That Toshiba model is so expensive because it has a pressure system so it cooks rice ‘just like in a pressure cooker’ and keeps rice warm in a vacuum, so it stays fresh longer, etc. Way overkill, though I wouldn’t mind at all if someone gave me one. :)

Hope that helps!!

maki | 13 March, 2007 - 13:31

Much obliged. m(__)m

Much obliged.

m(__)m

a | 13 March, 2007 - 17:41

Zaru

This may be bringing owls to Athens, but I found a reference to purchasing the basics of a kitchen ‘toolkit’ on bento.com (Google is my friend), and the writer suggested the following stores:

Kappabashi: www.kappabashi.or.jp/
Tsukiji: www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/youkoso/welcom_e.htm
Tokyu Hands: www.tokyu-hands.co.jp
Loft: www.loft.co.jp

Unsurprisingly, it’s all in Japanese which leaves me up a linguistic creek, but you might be able to order your zaru from one of them, eh?

SFF_Corgi | 5 May, 2007 - 12:30

they don't ship outside Japan

You can get basic equipment anywhere in Japan, there’s no real need to go to Tokyu Hands or make a trip to Tsukiji. (Tokyu Hands is a tremendous store, but that’s besides the point). As far as I know those places don’t ship outside of Japan…most mainstream Japanese stores don’t unfortunately. (Also, Tsukiji is the famous market in case someone is around to nitpick, not a store.)

‘Zaru’ is just Japanese for sieve or flat basket/colander…you can use any suitable flat-ish basket that is safe for food. (not lacquered with something dangerous and so on.)

maki | 5 May, 2007 - 15:54

Yakiami grill

Hello, I see in your post that you said yakiami can be used on gas flame — I have recently purchased one but from the instructions on the package (my japanese is terrible) it appears that using my tabletop gas burner is a no-no: Do you know why that is?

If it’s unuseable on a gas flame, then I wonder why I bought it since we have an outdoor charcoal grill that we use in nicer weather!

Anna | 5 March, 2008 - 16:25

hmm, I really can’t say

hmm, I really can’t say since I don’t have the instructions :) If you can take a picture or scan it and put it up somewhere I can take a look if you like. Yakiami are made to use on gas flames since most Japanese households have gas ranges, so it can’t be the gas flame itself that’s a problem.

maki | 5 March, 2008 - 16:34

Re: yakiami grill

Thanks! I have made a photo of the instructions, which can be viewed here:

http://img254.imageshack.us/img254/3366/grillinstrdo8.jpg

I ordered it online so I hadn’t seen the instructions till I unpacked it.

Anna | 14 March, 2008 - 00:04

Oops - I’m sorry, I forgot

Oops - I’m sorry, I forgot to reply to this!

The instructions say - “this product is meant for city supplied gas and propane gas, so it is not suited for use with other heating elements.”

The next line: “This product may not work well with gas ranges with temperature sensors.”

Next line: “Do not use with cassette type gas cookers (the kind that you use a small can of gas). The gas can may explode, or the gas cooker surround may break.”

Next line: “This product cannot be used with halogen heating elements.”

I guess this means that the yakiami traps heat and may cause some heating elements to overheat in a dangerous way. (That’s why I can’t use it myself - my range has the bottom two types of heating elements, electric and halogen)

maki | 25 April, 2008 - 10:45

Cast iron grill pan

Hello Maki san. I am looking for something to cook grilled fish recipes like sake no shio-yaki, hamachi-yaki, and such. I am interested in the cast iron grill pan, which you say cooks just as well as a yaki-ami, because it looks easier to clean.

Which would you choose between a yaki-ami and a cast iron grill pan for sakana-yaki? Is it easy to turn over fish on a grill pan? Thank you so much!

Lemming | 25 April, 2008 - 04:12

My choice of a grill pan is

My choice of a grill pan is firstly made for me because I have a flat ceramic top electric cooking range - gas is impossible to get here in Switzerland. So for me, a yakiami simply wouldn’t work properly.

But as I wrote, a good cast iron grill pan does work just as well for fish, and it’s quite easy to clean. Once the surface is well seasoned, things don’t stick to it much so fish, etc. are easy to turn over. There’s also the advantage that dripping oils and such from the food you’re cooking don’t get down to the heating element but stay in the pan. If you have a gas range, you could choose either.

maki | 25 April, 2008 - 10:36

Your websites are so helpful

Your websites are so helpful Maki!! I’m still struggling with getting my sushi rice just right, but I’ve good results with a few of your bento components.

Now for my question: my husband will be visiting Japan (Osaka) in a few weeks and I’d like him to bring back a few items for me, such as a hangiri and assorted utensils. A rice cooker would also be nice, but I know that Japan uses 120V or so while we have 240V here in CH. Do you happen to know if there are dual-voltage devices available there that one can find with a little digging around? Probably unlikely, but I thought I would ask…

z | 16 August, 2008 - 14:44

Hi z, I forgot to answer

Hi z, I forgot to answer this earlier! If your husband goes to one of the electronics stores in Akihabara (in Tokyo) that is used to dealing with foreigners, he’ll be able to pick up a rice cooker modified for 220V usage. (This tip was posted a while ago by a JH reader, Peter from Wales). His hotel or for that matter any Japanese person should be able to point him in the way of Akihabara - it’s the electronics mecca.

maki | 29 August, 2008 - 09:02

Tokoyo Grill?

I am interested in purchasing a tabletop barbecue that I think is called a tokoyo grill.”
It is made of cast iron, with the charcoal going in the bottom. On top is a solid, round cast iron plate which you cook the food on. There are about five little bowls incorporated on the top plate into which you put a sauce you can dip your food in and it stays warm. Does anyone have any ideas?

anon. | 29 August, 2008 - 00:51

I don’t know anything

I don’t know anything about that particular grill…sounds interesting though. Good luck finding it!

maki | 29 August, 2008 - 09:09

Re: Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

hello Maki san, i am trying to get hold of a tempura fryer with the dranage rack, as im not comfortable with using too much oil in a wok. can you give any advice?

karen | 5 March, 2009 - 20:57

Re: Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

There really is no tempura fryer per se - most Japanese people use a wok with a drainage rack. If you are uncomfortable with a round-bottomed wok filled with oil, you can try to find a flat bottomed pan of some sort, or just use an electric fryer (not standard Japanese equipment but you can get it in North America and Europe easily. I've only seen industrial fryers in Japan).

maki | 5 March, 2009 - 23:08

Re: Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment for In

Requirement of Japanese Kitchen Equipoment for Industrial kitchen set up.

Kiran Kumar.A | 23 March, 2009 - 14:41

Want to know about tappankayi

Dear Sir / Madam,
Please give me details about Tappankayi equipments its top urgent we have a requirement for it. Please reply me soon if you that equipment with their specifications and prices.

Gowthami | 24 April, 2009 - 09:37

Re: Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

"Please give me details about Tappankayi equipments its top urgent we have a requirement for it. Please reply me soon if you that equipment with their specifications and prices."

English please!

Thanks for this information. I'm going to get one of these ASAP.

--Charles Orgin

CAO | 10 July, 2009 - 07:59

Re: Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

please post a complete japanese equipment for cooking. its incomplete you know that........

JULIUS | 11 July, 2009 - 13:44

Hangiri

Thanks for the descriptions! I just bought a hangiri, and I'm wondering...what's the best way to wash it? I'm a little worried because it's so pretty, and I don't want sticky rice grains to be glued to it, but I don't want to scratch it up with a hard sponge or anything. is there a good method for washing hangiri?

Thanks again! I love your site:)

rica | 5 May, 2010 - 21:11

Re: Hangiri

You should wash a hangiri with a soft sponge and water, using mild dishwashing detergent if necessary. If there's rice stuck to it, just soak it for a bit and it will come off. Remember to air dry it completely before putting it away.

maki | 6 May, 2010 - 02:01

Re: Yakiami

Hi, just need to ask on how to use the yakiami. I have just bought one and I wanted to know how to use it properly. Also, how to clean. The yakiami I have is a rectangular pan with removable grill and a foldable handle, and a ceramic screen plate. Thanks!

June Tong | 14 July, 2010 - 10:28

Re: Yakiami

Hi maki,

Despite this being a post from rather long ago, I would like to also know the reply to this question!

As I crawled across the web, there seems to be endless pages trying to see me a yakiami, and the usage information is very sketchy.

I used one that I bought from DAISO (and i was punished for being cheap. -_-||| ) and gosh! It seems got very messy and most of the fish was stuck to the grill!

Help!

Hui | 24 November, 2010 - 21:16

Re: Yakiami

"How to use a yakiami" is on my tremendously long list of things to write about, but briefly to use one, you need to let it heat up thoroughly so that the ami (net) part is really hot before putting stuff on it. Also fish needs to be thoroughly wiped dry. Whole fish like mackerel should be lightly salted to draw out excess moisture an hour+ before, then patted dry. Things like mochi should be ok, provided the ami is really hot when you put them on. Marinated fish etc. should be cooked on a piece of aluminum foil that's on top of the ami. All that being said, I must say that I prefer a grill pan myself...much easier to clean!

maki | 25 November, 2010 - 23:25

Re: Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

Hi,
I miss my Japanese rice cooker so much, I am willing to buy one. I still have friends in Japan that can send me one, but I would like to know if there is any specific model that is dual voltage, not only 240v as akihabra models for tourists, my friends doesn't live in Tokyo and I will probably leave next year to a 120v country, so a dual voltage feature will be really useful.
Thanks

Jaime | 18 October, 2010 - 23:06

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