From sushi to ramen to matcha tea, Japan is loved for its unique and wonderful food and drink. So, as you can imagine, there is a range of Japanese kitchen essentials that every foodie should know about! If you’ve ever sat down at a traditional Japanese restaurant and not known what each bowl is for, or if you’re feeling keen to prepare some Japanese food at home, then this guide is for you. We’re going to take you through fourteen Japanese kitchen essentials, including Japanese tableware ideas and cooking utensils you should know about.
Japanese Tableware Ideas
One key aspect of Japanese tableware is the use of bowls: large, small, decorated with lids – the Japanese use them all when eating, so knowing which bowl is used for what will prevent you from placing miso soup in a noodle bowl!
For the majority of Japanese meals, you’ll find that a O-Chawan will be used. An O-Chawan is a small bowl which is used primarily for soft, sticky Japanese rice. Rice is a staple food within the Japanese diet and is eaten with a range of dishes. The O-Chawan bowls are small enough to be held with one hand. While you’re eating, it is considered good manners to hold the O-Chawan in one hand rather than leaving it on the table. (In Korea though, it is considered to be bad manners to lift any crockery off the table! Interesting, isn’t it?).
An O-Wan is a Japanese kitchen essential if you’re serving miso soup. The O-wan is a small bowl which comes with a lid to, and miso soup is served in this. The lid is designed to keep the soup nice and warm. This bowl should be placed on your right-hand side, whereas the O-Wan should be placed on your left-hand side. O-Wan is a classic piece of Japanese tableware and is often made from Japanese Laquer.
Donburi bowls are used for a range of meals, including oyako-don (a chicken and egg dish), rice bowl dishes such as gyu-don (gyu = beef, don = donburi), noodles and ramen. These bowls are often much larger than the typical Japanese bowl and are a staple for enjoying Japanese cuisine.
In the western world our typical cutlery layout includes a knife, a fork and a spoon. However, in Japan they primarily only use one piece of cutlery and that is chopsticks.
Chopsticks are an essential part of the Japanese tableware setting. If you are planning a trip to Japan then we advise that you practice the art of eating with chopsticks because it can be trickier than it looks! There is certain chopstick etiquette to know about, too. For example, there is a set way of holding chopsticks which is holding them at the end as opposed to in the middle. Also, passing food to another person using chopsticks is frowned upon as this is part of a funeral tradition.
Placing your chopsticks on your plate during your meal or when you’ve finished your meal is considered to be bad manners. Instead of placing your chopsticks on your plate, use the Hashi-oki, which you’ll find next to your plate. Hashi-oki, also known as chopstick rests, often come in a range of beautiful designs and is a Japanese tableware idea that shouldn’t go amiss.
Japanese soup spoons are predominantly used to enjoy various noodle broths and soups, such as ramen or miso soup. They usually have a thick handle and a deep, flat bowl. Smaller soup spoons are referred to as renge, whereas soup spoons with longer handles and a deeper bowl (these look like ladles) are referred to as otama jakushi.
Depending on your meal, you may be surrounded by one plate or a range of different Japanese plates. The Japanese tend to serve different parts of their meal on different plates as opposed to piling everything onto one plate. The most notable plate which is used often within Japanese tableware is the Yakimono-zara
The Yakimono-zara is a flat plate which is usually rectangular in shape. This plate can vary in size depending on how many people you are feeding. A Yakimono-zara is most commonly used to place grilled foods on such as beef, chicken or meat kebabs. The host serves the meat off the plate to the guests and it is then left in the middle of the table once everyone has been served so that people can help themselves if they’d like a little more.
The Japanese are famous for their range of teas and elaborate tea ceremonies. They drink powdered green tea after their meals which is said to soothe and cleanse the palette. As tea is drank after most meals, many households own their own elaborate tea sets, including tea caddies, which can be made from wood, paper, metal or ceramics, as well as teapots and small tea cups.
Yunomi-jawan, also known as tea cups, are a key part of the Japanese culture. What makes these tea cups different to those in the western world is that they have no handles. Japanese teacups vary in size depending on the occasion and come decorated in intricate Japanese designs. Yunomi-jawan is used more informally, for everyday use. On the other hand, Chawan is a Japanese tea bowl that is most commonly used in Japanese tea ceremonies. These are similar to Yunomi-jawan in that they are also handle-less, however they are designed specifically for preparing and serving matcha tea and are used in the more formal, traditional tea ceremony.
Japanese tea caddies, or Chaki, are essential for Japanese tea drinkers. They are designed to store your loose tea powder in, keeping it as fresh and flavoursome as possible. A cherry bark tea caddy is a classic option, hand made entirely from wild cherry tree bark. Or, for something more budget-friendly and colourful, you can opt for a metal tea caddy covered in beautiful washi paper!
A Chasen whisk, also known as a bamboo whisk, is a traditional tool used for preparing matcha. Traditionally made from a single piece of bamboo, you quickly beat the whisk in a zig-zag motion across your tea bowl, creating the perfect frothy matcha!
Japanese Kitchen Essentials
Japanese Kitchen Knives
Knives are another Japanese kitchen essential – in fact, Japanese knives are often considered the best in the world and all of the knives we stock are made from stain resistant Damascus steel. If you are interested in investing in a quality Japanese knife, you should understand the different types available.
A Gyuto knife is your main kitchen knife, i.e. the chef knife. It’s the most versatile of Japanese knives, so a great option for starting your collection. It was originally designed to cut meat, however it can be used for preparing practically anything.
The Petty knife is smaller in size and is predominantly used for more delicate kitchen work, like chopping herbs and finely slicing fruit and vegetables. Alongside the Gyuto, many people consider the Petty knife a Japanese kitchen essential due to its practicality and versatility.
Sujihiki knives are slightly more unique with a very long and narrow blade. It is designed to smoothly and finely slice through large boneless meats and boneless fish, reducing the number of tears and preserving flavour.
For an iconic Japanese knife, look no further than the Nakiri knife. It has a large, rectangular blade which is best used for chopping vegetables. It will help you achieve a clean cut with more robust vegetables, like root vegetables, and finer vegetables, like spring onions.
We hope this guide has provided you with Japanese tableware ideas and kitchen essentials for your next Japanese feast! At The Japanese Shop, we stock a range of authentic, beautiful Japanese tableware that is all made in Japan. If you’d like to learn more about our product range, please don’t hesitate to contact us!