4 Simple Substitutes for Hard to Find Japanese Ingredients


Recently, we have been getting a lot of messages on Facebook and Instagram from people all around the world asking us what substitutes can be used for certain Japanese ingredients or cooking materials. 

My sister, who spent half a year abroad in the countryside of Finland, would complain often to me about being unable to find Japanese restaurants or even the ingredients to to cook Japanese food.

In some places where Japanese cuisine is not very common, certain ingredients like mirin, dashi or even ramen noodles can be difficult or even impossible to find. That is why I’ve decided to dedicate today's post to help you find a close substitute for the most commonly-asked about Japanese ingredients. 
 
  • Mirin/Sake: Both mirin and sake are alcohols. Mirin is a stronger version of sake and only used in cooking and never for drinking. Mirin and sake are good substitutes for each other. If you can’t find either of these, a close substitute would be Chinese shoaxing wine, which is a Chinese cooking alcohol. If you can’t find Chinese shoaxing wine either or can not have alcohol for religious or health reasons, you can skip this ingredient altogether. However, it will definitely have an impact on the overall flavour of the finished dish. 
  • Bonito: Bonito is dried katsuo which is used often in making soup stock. Bonito is commonly used in soup stock base as it can effectively transfer the umami flavour than its fresh (non-dried) counterpart. If you are using bonito to make stock base, a good substitute would be another type of dried fish like dried anchovies or sardines. A vegetarian option for a substitute would be dried seaweed (kombu) or dried mushrooms. These can also effectively transfer the umami flavour into soup stock. 
  • Dashi: The unique flavor and taste of dash is difficult to mimic exactly. Dashi is the essential foundation and base of many Japanese cuisines. Its purpose is to elevate the taste of food by highlighting the umami taste. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most difficult ingredients to find in places where Japanese cuisines are not commonplace. The ingredients to make dashi, can also be difficult to find. Although outcome of the taste is different, a workable substitute I find is chicken stock powder. Although this is a loose substitute, I prefer this for its convenience when I cannot find dashi. Any other type of stock powder would make a good alternative. For a vegetarian option, I would recommend vegetable stock. 
  • Ramen: In some countries or rural areas where ramen noodles or even instant noodle packs are not easily found, you can use this useful trick to make your own ramen. Not from scratch, but from spaghetti. 
 
Yes! You can turn spaghetti into ramen noodles. 
 
First, let’s take a quick look at the difference between ramen noodles and spaghetti and why spaghetti can be turned into ramen. 
 
Spaghetti and ramen noodles are both made of flour. However, the difference is that ramen noodles are a little bit yellow in colour, softer and chewier than spaghetti. If you mix kansui (alkaline solution) with flour, your spaghetti will turn into a ramen. Most ingredients to create this alkaline solution should already be available at home or easily attainable anywhere. Let’s take a look at this simple 4-ingredient recipe:
 
 
Ingredients:
  • Spaghetti 100g
  • Water 1L
  • Salt 1 TBSP
  • Baking Soda 1 TBSP

    Directions:
    1. Boil water
    2. Put in baking soda and salt
    3. Boil spaghetti as instructed by spaghetti package plus an additional 2 minutes

     

    Although this will taste different than the actual authentic ramen, this is a great option to recreate ramen noodles when you can’t easily get access to ramen!
     
     
    Recreate Japanese cuisine even without Japanese ingredients
    Now that you have all these substitutes available, you can make your own Japanese cuisine from anywhere around the world! To get you started, here are some of our favorite Japanese bowls!
    Happy Cooking! 

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