Home
Back

A wide variety of condiments are used in the Japanese cuisine. Below is a list of some of the common spices, pastes and sauces that tourists are likely going to encounter at restaurants during their travels:

Sauces

Shoyu (soy sauce)

Provided at the table of virtually all restaurants
Shoyu is the most widely used condiment in Japanese cuisine and found in or added to a large percentage of Japanese dishes. The fermented soybean product adds depth to a dish when cooked together or when used as a dipping sauce like for sushi. There are different types of soy sauce, including light and dark ones. Soy sauce is produced across the country, and places particularly famous for the product are Chiba Prefecture and Shodoshima Island.

Tsuyu

Served as soup or dipping sauce at udon, soba and tempura restaurants
Tsuyu is a soy sauce-based condiment that contains a variety of other ingredients and is used for various dishes. The two most popular types of tsuyu are men-tsuyu, which contains seafood-based soup stock and is used in udon, soba and somen noodle dishes as soup or dipping sauce and ten-tsuyu, which is used as a dipping sauce for tempura and contains mirin and sugar.

Ponzu

Served as a dipping sauce at certain restaurants
Ponzu is a sauce made with soy sauce and the juice of a citrus fruit. The tart sauce has a light, clean and savory flavor. Ponzu is usually provided as a dipping sauce for hot pot and seafood dishes, and sometimes would be mixed with grated daikon to counter oily ingredients.

Su (vinegar)

Provided at the table of restaurants serving gyoza
The two most common vinegars used in Japanese dishes are rice vinegar (kome-su) and mixed grain and wheat vinegar (kokumotsu-su). The former is typically the vinegar of choice when making sushi rice, while the latter has a comparatively lighter taste and is a popular choice for many recipes that call for vinegar. Vinegar is usually added to the dishes before they get served. A prominent exception are gyoza whose dipping sauce is usually prepared by the customers at the table, mixing vinegar with soy sauce and rayu.

Rayu (chili oil)

Provided at the table of restaurants serving gyoza
Rayu is the Japanese term for chili oil, and it is often included as a table condiment at ramen and Chinese restaurants. The most common way of enjoying rayu in Japan is mixing a few drops with vinegar and/or soy sauce to create a spicy dipping sauce for gyoza dumplings.

Sauce

Served as a sauce or dipping sauce at certain restaurants
Popularly simply known as "sauce", this condiment is a dark sauce that comes in many variations, but can generally be described as Japanese-style Worcestershire sauce or to be based on it. It is used in a variety of dishes, including korokke, tonkatsu, okonomiyaki, takoyaki and yakisoba. It is usually either poured onto the dish or used as a dipping sauce.

Pastes

Wasabi

Provided at restaurants serving sushi or sashimi
Wasabi, Japanese horseradish, is easily one of the most well known Japanese condiments. The green root vegetable is typically grated into a paste. The spicy paste is most commonly eaten with Japanese dishes like sushi and sashimi.

Shoga (ginger)

Served on the side of some dishes
Grated ginger offers a refreshing flavor with some heat. It is most commonly encountered in sushi or sashimi dishes (especially with silver-skinned fish) as an alternative for wasabi, but it is also served with cold tofu and other dishes.

Karashi (Japanese mustard)

Provided at the table of certain restaurants or on the side of some dishes
Karashi is Japanese hot mustard. It is not as spicy as wasabi, but still offers a decent spice level. The yellow, spicy paste is most commonly paired with deep fried pork cutlets (tonkatsu), oden and natto (fermented soybeans).

Yuzukosho

Served on the side of some dishes
Yuzukosho is a slightly chunky citrus pepper paste made with yuzu peel, chili peppers and salt. It has a very fragrant and citrusy aroma thanks to the yuzu peel, while chili peppers provide the heat. Yuzukosho is more common in Kyushu where the seasoning is said to have originated. Many regional Kyushu dishes include yuzukosho in their recipes, and locals enjoy the spicy paste with dishes like grilled meat, hot pot, miso soup and sashimi.

Mayonnaise

Served as a topping or as a dipping sauce
Japanese mayonnaise is virtually synonymous with the brand Kewpie, which is credited as the first company to produce mayonnaise in Japan. Mayonnaise is often served alongside deep fried foods like chicken karaage and potatoes, added on top of dishes like okonomiyaki and takoyaki, and mixed into egg or potato salads.

Spices

Shio (salt)

Served with tempura and grilled meat or at the table of Western-style restaurants
Besides being an ubiquitous ingredient in the Japanese cuisine, salt is also used in religious rituals for purification. Salt is rarely added to dishes by diners at the table, except in case of tempura, which is sometimes flavored with salt instead of a dipping sauce, and for grilled meat and Western dishes. Occasionally, flavored varieties of salt may be served, for example mixed with curry spices or powdered green tea. Virtually all Japanese salt is gained from the sea. There are a number of salt farms across the country, including a traditional one on the Noto Peninsula that is open to tourists.

Shichimi

Provided at the table of many restaurants
Shichimi, which translates to "seven flavors", is a chili spice that contains a blend of seven ingredients. The seven ingredients vary depending on brand and region, but typically include chili peppers, sesame seeds, Japanese sansho pepper, hemp seeds and citrus peel. Shichimi is both spicy and fragrant, and can be a great addition to dishes with simple flavors. Common dishes over which shichimi is sprinkled include noodle dishes like udon and soba, pork miso soup (tonjiru) and some donburi dishes.

Ichimi

Provided at the table of some restaurants
Ichimi, which translates to "one flavor", is a chili spice that contains only one ingredient: chili pepper. Ichimi is used in a similar way as the above-mentioned shichimi but offers just the spiciness of the chili peppers without the fragrance of the other spices.

Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

Served as a topping on a number of Japanese dishes
Katsuobushi are shaved bonito flakes and a fundamental ingredient in Japanese cooking. Basic Japanese soup stock (dashi), which is used in a wide variety of dishes, is made with katsuobushi and dried kombu kelp. In addition to playing a vital role in making dashi, katsuobushi are also placed on top of a variety of dishes like cold tofu, vegetable appetizers, okonomiyaki and takoyaki.

Goma (sesame)

Provided at the table of certain restaurants
Goma, sesame seeds, are used in a number of Japanese recipes. While both white (shirogoma) and black (kurogoma) sesame are used, the former is by far more common. Goma can be used whole or ground up and sprinkled over stir-fried and simmered dishes. Sesame-based sauces and dressings are also popular in dishes like salads and shabu shabu.

Sansho

Provided at restaurants serving unagi
Sansho is a native Japanese pepper that is very aromatic and slightly spicy. The small leaves of the sansho plant are often used in kaiseki multi-course cuisine, while the seeds are ground into powder. The most prevalent use of sansho is at unagi restaurants, where the powder is sprinkled over grilled eel.

Kosho (pepper)

Provided at the table of some restaurants
Although pepper is widely available in Japan today, it has not been a popular ingredient in traditional Japanese cooking. Pepper shakers are sometimes encountered at the table of restaurants serving Chinese or Western dishes.

Aonori

Served as a topping for some dishes
Aonori are fine seaweed flakes that are typically sprinkled over stir fried, deep fried or grilled food, including okonomiyaki, takoyaki and yakisoba.