Chicken katsu curry

8 of Japan’s most popular dishes to recreate at home

by Henry Coldstream 6 August 2021

Few cuisines have quite as many stand-out dishes as Japanese. We take a look at how to make some of the country’s most popular plates of food.

Henry is a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Henry is a food writer at Great British Chefs. Having previously written pieces for a variety of online food publications, he joined the team in 2021 and helps with all editorial aspects of the site. When not writing, Henry can usually be found eating and drinking his way through London's many restaurants and bars, or cooking in his kitchen at home.

Japan may be well over 5,000 miles away from the UK, but that hasn’t stopped its food from making serious in-roads into our own cuisine. It all started with sushi, spurred on when restaurants like Nobu and Yo! Sushi opened up in the 1990s. Since then we’ve fallen for the charms of katsu curry, warmed ourselves up with steaming bowls of ramen, enjoyed the pinnacle of sandwich-crafting with sandos and so much more. However, considering how much of a hit Japanese food has become in the UK, it’s still seen as an intimidating cuisine to recreate at home.

People presume that they won’t be able to match the same umami-rich flavours and precise, perfected textures they experience in Japanese restaurants, but a whole host of Japan’s most classic dishes are easier to cook than you might think. While you might not turn into a sushi master overnight, these eight recipes for some of Japan’s most recognisable dishes are a perfect illustration of how accessible Japanese food can really be.

Katsu sando

Plenty of dishes slowly ingrain themselves into the UK’s dining scene and start popping up on restaurant menus, but some seemingly come out of nowhere to take us by storm. Japan’s katsu sando – a perfect example of how good Japan is at taking something and refining it until it’s world-class – is very much in the latter camp, having seen a surge in popularity in the late 2010s thanks to a few restaurants’ highly Instagrammable sandos. This recipe is for Tātā Eatery’s famous Iberian katsu sando, consisting of beautifully tender pork collar paired with raspberry sauce and soft white bread. Whilst it requires a little more time and effort than your average sandwich, the resulting sando is on a different level altogether.

Chicken katsu curry

Universally loved, wonderfully warming and incredibly easy to make, it’s not surprising that chicken katsu curry is as popular a dish as it is. A mouthful of breaded chicken slathered in a mild Japanese curry sauce is a combination you can’t go wrong with. The key with a katsu curry is to make sure you use panko breadcrumbs to get that crisp yet light coating on the chicken. Sally Abé’s chicken katsu curry recipe takes just an hour to prepare, making it an ideal option for a midweek Japanese meal.

Salmon nigiri

It’s impossible to think of Japanese food without sushi coming to mind. Whilst there are countless different varieties of sushi, there aren’t many more recognisable than nigiri. Something about the simplicity of a ball of perfectly cooked rice topped with a gorgeous, thin slice of the best quality raw fish has led to nigiri being a staple of any sushi menu. This simple salmon nigiri recipe is a demonstration of how easy it can be to make sushi at home, as long as you have a sharp knife and high-quality fish. We think these make particularly good canapés for when you’re looking for something a little more exciting than your standard blini.

Ramen

Japan’s ultimate comfort dish, ramen is a relatively modern phenomenon, gaining mass popularity across Japan in the 80s with Brits only clocking on to the craze over the last twenty years or so. Essentially a big bowl of flavoursome goodness, ramen is perfect for when you’re not feeling like eating anything too heavy. There may be countless different styles of this noodle soup around but you’ll find that braised pork belly, known in Japan as chashu, plays a large part in many of them. This chashu ramen recipe from Larkin Cen requires some forward planning to allow time for the eggs to pickle and the garlic oil to infuse, but is otherwise a fantastic demonstration of how easy it can be to make a beautiful bowl of ramen at home.

Chicken yakitori

Sometimes it’s the simple things which are the most delicious. Yakitori is essentially just skewered meat Japanese-style, cooked over a grill and basted with a sauce called tare, but it never fails to go down a treat. The key to getting plenty of flavour into your yakitori is the tare dressing, which is made here by combining chicken stock with soy sauce, mirin, tamari and various other ingredients, and used for both dunking the skewers in halfway through cooking to get beautiful caramelisation and as a sticky dipping sauce at the table.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki may not be quite as common in the UK as some of Japan’s other dishes but given how quick they are to knock up and adaptable they are, we think they should be in any home cook’s repertoire. Made from a batter of grated potato or yam, cabbage and eggs, these gorgeous fritters can be served any time during the day, whether that be topped with a fried egg for breakfast or as a starter in the evening. Traditionally they’re topped with a sauce also called okonomiyaki and mayonnaise, with plenty of bonito flakes which gently curl up and flutter in the residual heat. What’s more, you can use up whatever you have in the fridge when making them; in this okonomiyaki recipe, sweet potato is used in the batter, and spring onions and toasted sesame seeds thrown in for good measure.

Donburi

Much like ramen, donburi is a great example of a Japanese comfort food. Centred around a bowl of rice, there is a huge array of different varieties of donburi, differing in terms of toppings, sauces and presentation. In this chicken donburi recipe, the rice is topped with a runny soy-cured egg yolk, along with mushrooms, avocado, red cabbage and finally the sticky, marinated chicken thighs, to create a warming, elegant and quick-to-prepare plate of food.

Tataki

Also known as tosa-mi, tataki is a technique of cooking meat which is very specific to Japan and involves briefly searing seasoned meat or fish on the outside before immediately allowing it to cool down. This leaves the centre of the meat almost if not completely uncooked. For this reason, as is the case with the nigiri, it’s important you only use high quality produce when preparing tataki. When done right, tataki makes a fantastically indulgent starter and can be garnished with all manner of things to add a bit of zing. Scott Hallsworth uses beef fillet in his tataki and adds thin garlic crisps for extra texture along with a tangy ponzu sauce — a great dish to impress with at dinner parties.