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.
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.
- Spaghetti 100g
- Water 1L
- Salt 1 TBSP
- Baking Soda 1 TBSP
- Boil water
- Put in baking soda and salt
- Boil spaghetti as instructed by spaghetti package plus an additional 2 minutes
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