In the pantheon of Japanese cooking spices and condiments, there are few more ubiquitous than the humble chili oil. Ra-yu (ラー油), as it's known in Japan, can be found on the tables of most Japanese restaurants and in the cupboard of most homes.
How Ra-yu is Made
Ra-yu is a relatively simple condiment, and most are actually a combination of different oils and spices. While each maker/brand has their own mix, the basics generally stay the same. It starts with chili pepper flakes and any other spices (usually garlic, ginger, or paprika) which are added to a neutral oil like vegetable oil or canola oil. The spices are cooked for a few minutes. After turning the heat off, a small amount of toasted sesame oil may be added (if added too soon, some of the sesame flavor will be lost). The solids are strained out and the result is a beautiful red chili oil. Some makers don’t strain out the solids and leave them in the oil for extra flavor.
Types of Ra-yu
On that note, you can often find two different kinds of ra-yu in stores. One version is marketed just as ra-yu (ラー油), and the other as taberu ra-yu (食べるラー油) or ra-yu for eating. Ra-yu is usually sold as just the oil, whereas taberu ra-yu is ra-yu with various ingredients added, most commonly with roasted garlic.
How to Use Ra-yu
So, what do you do with ra-yu? Most commonly, ra-yu is mixed with soy sauce and vinegar to create a delightful dipping sauce for gyoza dumplings. It's also often found on the table at ramen shops, where it is used to add a little
zing to noodles.
Personally, my favorite way to use ra-yu is to take some green onions (shonegi, 小ネギ), add a little salt, and rough them up a bit. After a few minutes, spoon a generous amount of taberu ra-yu (with lots of roasted garlic), and mix it well. Serve it over any fried food or as a topping for your home ramen. My favorite is serving it with fried chicken (hokkaido zangi or karaage). Trust me, you
won’t regret this decision!
Try our special Ishigaki Ra-yu which includes local spices from Japan's southernmost tropical islands of Okinawa.
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!