Reading and writing Japanese cooking recipes

Japan has some of the tastiest and most iconic cuisine of any country making Japanese cooking at home one of the most rewarding culinary endeavors.

While there are many useful websites and videos detailing how to cook Japanese food in English, if you really want to learn how to make authentic Japanese food, you have to go straight to the source —the original Japanese recipes themselves!

Learning the vocabulary and grammar involved with reading and eventually writing your own Japanese recipes yourself may take a little work. However, with enough studying, you’ll be cooking like a pro in no time!

Japanese vocabulary for ingredients found in recipes

Before learning how to read and write recipes in Japanese, the first step is to acquaint yourself with some common ingredients that will come up often in Japanese recipes.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re looking to bring a recipe from home and then translate it into Japanese, there are many ingredients that can potentially be difficult to find in Japan or may differ from your home country.

To get started, we recommend stocking your pantries with the basics. The following list of vocabulary words are some of the most essential ingredients that you’ll see pop up when you are reading a recipe in Japanese.

While covering every single ingredient that you’ll need for Japanese cooking in one article is impossible, the next set of Japanese vocabulary words are some of the most common when it comes to reading or writing a recipe in Japanese:

We also have an article on Japanese food vocabulary, which covers common Japanese foods as well as how to describe food in Japanese.

Japanese vocabulary for cooking utensils

So now that you’ve gotten your ingredients together, you can get started! But what will you use to make your feast? Japanese kitchens tend to be quite compact and so many of the kitchen gadgets and gizmos you may be used to in your own country may not be part of a standard kitchen.

Nonetheless, let’s learn what the most common kitchen necessities are called in Japanese.

Cultural Tip: Most Japanese houses don’t have a stove so baking anything in Japan such as bread, roast chicken, or cake is pretty much impossible unless you’re willing to shell out some major cash to install a proper oven. As a result, most people in Japan will cook nearly all their meals on a stovetop.

But if in Japanese you ask someone to use their stove (ストーブ - Sutōbu), they’ll probably give you a puzzled look and ask if you are cold. Why is this? This is because in Japanese, ストーブ means a heater.

In fact, what you really want is to use their “Gas” (ガス - Gasu). It may sound counterintuitive, but that’s just how things are.

Grammar tips for reading or writing Japanese recipes

When reading or writing a recipe in Japanese, the most common grammar pattern that you will encounter is the imperative te-form. For example:

玉ねぎを切って (Tamanegi wo kitte) Cut the onion 水を注いで (Mizu wo sosoide) Pour the water 火をよく見て (Hi wo yoku mite) Watch the flame carefully

When we use the te-form, we are telling someone to do something. This is how most of the instructions are formulated when writing a recipe in Japanese.

Here are the basic rules for constructing the te-form in Japanese:

If the verb ends in:
change it to:

The two exceptions to these grammar rules are « くる » and « する » which become « きて » and « して » respectively.

Sequential words in Japanese

Which do you add to the pan first? The chicken or the egg? Sequential words are an important part of understanding how to read a recipe in Japanese because they tell you what order to add the ingredients in.

For example, let’s pretend you are making scrambled eggs:

先ず、卵を割って (Mazu, tamago wo watte) First, crack the egg 次、卵をフライパンに入れて (Tsugi, tamago wo furaipan ni irete) Next, put the egg into the frying pan そうして、フライパンの中に卵をスクランブルして (Sōshite, furaipan no naka ni tamago wo sukuranburu shite) Then, scramble the egg in the frying pan 最後、卵をお皿に置いて (Saigo, tamago wo o sara ni oite) Finally, put the egg on the plate

« 先ず »(first), « 次 » (next), « そうして »(then), and « 最後 » (last) are the most common sequential words you’ll see when cooking a Japanese recipe.

Here are some additional Japanese vocabulary words that will give your recipe a sense of flow and direction in addition to telling you what order to do things.

Japanese Cooking Phrases

So now that you know ingredients, utensils, and a few helpful grammar points that will help you to read and write recipes in Japanese, the next step is learning some helpful verbs that will be the backbone of any recipe.

As mentioned before, unlike most western-style cooking that heavily relies on an oven, Japanese cooking tends to only involve the stove top, rice cooker, and maybe even the grilled fish oven.

While some of the cooking methods may be unfamiliar, let’s take a look at some common cooking verbs in Japanese.

Kitchen Mistakes

It happens to the best of us. Sometimes we add too much of one ingredient or not enough of another one. Other times we mistake sugar for salt and make a soup way sweeter than any of us ever intended. And in the worst-case scenario, we forget about what’s been cooking on the stove and burn our dish to charcoal.

猿も木から落ちる - Saru mo ki kara ochiru - Even experts make mistakes

It’s okay! It happens to the best of us! The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes and that we own up to them. Here are a few helpful phrases to help you express yourself in Japanese when things go wrong in the kitchen:

Japanese adjectives to describe flavors

So now that you’ve sliced, diced, and minced your way through the kitchen, now it’s time for the best part - eating your creation! The Japanese culinary palette has a large range but primarily embraces a salty, sour, bitter, spicy, or sweet flavor profile.

Let’s learn how to describe the food we learned how to make with some new Japanese flavor adjectives.

Not familiar with the last term on that list? «Umami» is actually a loanword from Japanese and is described as “savoriness” or the general flavor of the earth. Some ingredients that are said to give a dish that special umami touch would be mushrooms, beef, and root vegetables.

Practice session: reading and writing a recipe in Japanese

So now that you’ve learned a whole slew of Japanese vocabulary words to help you read and write recipes in Japanese, let’s put your skills to the test and try making a traditional recipe entirely in Japanese.

In authentic Japanese fashion, today we’ll be learning how to make a very popular umami Japanese dish known as takikomi rice or takikomi gohan.

Takikomi rice is a popular home-cooked meal that for a lot of people serves as a comfort food. It is said that when you eat takikomi rice, with each bite brings the feeling of coming home.

  1. first, we'll look at the recipe written entirely in Japanese
  2. next, we'll see this same recipe in Japanese phonetic transcription (Romaji)
  3. finally, we'll see the English translation of this recipe

1. The practice recipe written in Japanese

炊き込みご飯 材料 (4人分)
  1. 先ず、炊飯器で米を研ぎ水に浸して。その間に、鶏肉を1㎝角に切って。
  2. 次に、人参、しめじ、やえのきを3㎝角に切って。油揚げもを短冊切りにして。
  3. その後には、塩、醤油、酒、やみりんを米に付けて。水も炊飯器の2合の線まで入れて。
  4. そうして、鶏肉、人参、しめじ、えのき、や油揚げも米に入れて。
  5. 炊飯器の中で、材料をよく混ぜたら、炊飯器を付けて。
  6. 最後に、全部ができ終わったら、茶碗に盛って、いただきましょう!

2. The practice recipe written in phonetic transcription (Romaji)

Takikomi gohan Zairyō (4 ninbun)
Toriniku (momo)
150 g
1/ 4-pon
1/ 2 pakku
1/ 2-pakku
kosaji 1/ 2
ōsaji 2
ōsaji 2
ōsaji 2
Kosaji 2
Kosaji 2
  1. Mazu, suihanki de kome wo togi sui ni hitashite. Sono aida ni, toriniku wo 1 -kaku ni kitte.
  2. Tsugi ni, ninjin, shimeji, ya enoki wo 3 -kaku ni kitte. Aburaage mo wo tanzaku-kiri ni shite.
  3. Sono ato ni wa, shio, shōyu, sake, ya mirin wo kome ni tsukete. Mizu mo suihanki no 2-gō no sen made irete.
  4. Sōshite, toriniku, ninjin, shimeji, enoki, ya aburaage mo kome ni irete.
  5. Suihanki no naka de, zairyō wo yoku mazetara, suihanki wo tsukete.
  6. Saigo ni, zenbu ga deki owattara, chawan ni motte, itadakimashou!

3. The practice recipe translated to English

Takikomi Rice Ingredients (4 people’s portion)
2 units
Chicken (thigh)
1/4th a stick
Shimeji mushrooms
1/2 a pack
Enoki mushrooms
1/2 pack
Fried tofu
1 pack
1/2 teaspoon
Soy sauce
2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons
2 teaspoons
2 teaspoons
As needed
  1. First, wash your rice and let it soak in water in the rice cooker. As you wait, cut the chicken into 1 cm cubes.
  2. Next, cut carrots, shimeji mushrooms, and enoki mushrooms into 3 cm cubes. Cut the fried tofu into strips.
  3. After that, add salt, soy sauce, sake, and mirin to the rice. Add water up to the 2nd line of the rice cooker.
  4. Then, add chicken, carrots, shimeji mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, and fried tofu to the rice.
  5. After mixing the ingredients well in the rice cooker, turn on the rice cooker and cook the rice..
  6. Finally, once everything is all done, serve it in a bowl and eat up!
Bringing it all Together

So what did you think? Were you able to do it all in Japanese? Did you have to check back on the Romaji? It’s okay if you had to rely on the English translation too. Reading and understanding a recipe in Japanese is very difficult but the more you practice the easier it will become.

Now it’s your turn. If one day you hope to go to Japan, you’ll need to know not only how to read a recipe in Japanese, but also how to write one as well.

Cultural exchange goes two ways so make sure you translate your home country’s recipes into Japanese so that all of your local friends can enjoy your culture as well.