Along with having the right ingredients, using the proper tools when cooking Japanese food can be a big help. Here are six essential kitchen toolsyou're sure to find in every Japanese kitchen.
Long Cooking Chopsticks (Saibashi/菜箸)
Chopsticks are as important in the kitchen as they are in the dining room. Different from the regular chopsticks you may be used to, cooking chopsticks are usually around 30 cm (12 inches) long, compared to the standard 23 cm (9 inches), allowing you to keep your hands away from the heat. From mixing eggs foroyakodon to cookingtofu, chopsticks are one of the most versatile kitchen tools (tip: try using it to fry bacon - if you are comfortable with chopsticks, you will never look back!).
Japanese Knives (Hocho/包丁)
Japanese knives are known around the world for their quality and craftsmanship (crafted in the same way as samurai swords). Typically made of carbon steel, they're extremely sharp and wear-resistant but also more fragile, and are ideal for cutting everything from vegetables to meat or fish. When caring for Japanese knives, make sure to not leave them in the sink overnight and wipe them after washing in order to prevent rusting.
Japanese Mortar & Pestle (Suribachi/すり鉢 & Surikogi/乳棒)
The Japanese mortar and pestle is different from their Western counterparts because the mortars have groves rather than a smooth surface and the pestles are made of wood rather than rock. They're essential for grinding common ingredients like sesame, but can also be used when cooking western food (I use mine to mash potatoes and grind nutmeg!).
Flat Ceramic Grater(Shouga Oroshi/生姜おろし)
Although shark skin wasabi graters are well known in the west, ceramic graters are easier to find and great for grinding roots such as wasabi and ginger for the home chef. Ceramic graters allow you to grate effortlessly and efficiently while maintaining essential oils as they slice the fibers without crunching. Another benefit is that because they are odor-free and don’t rust, you are able to enjoy the natural flavor of your ingredients.
Fine Mesh Skimmers (Akutori/アク取り)
Fine mesh skimmers are essential for making soups and simmering dishes such as nabe or nikujyaga. It picks up any scum which develops while a dish cooks, creating a cleaner, more refined tasting dish.
Drop Lids (Otoshibuta/落とし蓋):
Drop lids are a unique cooking tool used for Japanese stews, which allow for the even distribution of flavors by preventing simmering and the breakdown of ingredients. They are traditionally made of wood but stainless steel ones are now popular as they are adjustable.
If you don’t have access to a drop lid try cutting aluminum foil or parchment paper into a circle with a smaller diameter than your pot and poking holes into it!
Nice to haves:
Not as necessary, but great to have as well:
High Quality Japanese Rice Cooker (Suihannki/炊飯器)
Being Japanese, I can’t imagine not having a rice cooker (it was the first purchase I made after I moved to Europe, more important than a bed in my opinion), but are not essential if you have a good stove-top recipe for Japanese Rice (this one is tried and tested by us at Kokoro Care Packages)
Rice Paddles (Oshamoji/おしゃもじ)
Japanese wooden (or plastic) paddles have grooves which prevent rice from sticking to the paddle, which makes serving and cleaning up much easier than what you may be used to. Until you have access, a regular wooden spatula will do the trick!
Daikon Grater (Oroshigane/下ろし器)
If you like to have grated daikon (daikon oroshi/大根おろし) with your food, then this is definitely worth the investment. Japanese graters vary in size but lay flat rather than horizontal, allowing the daikon juice to be preserved.