If you’re just starting to learn how to cook and want to avoid gaining weight from convenience store food, buy a denshi renji (microwave) from a second-hand store. You might find that Japanese microwaves are more versatile than the ones back home. Once you understand the power of your finger on the start button, prepare to fulfill your destiny as the next Iron Chef.
Here’s a list of four easy and cheap Japanese comfort food eaten at least once by most people living in Japan. These are my special recipes, refined through trial and error. For a single person in a hurry, this could be just what the doctor ordered.
1. Dashimaki tamago (rolled omelet)
These eggs are special because they contain umami or savoriness from the soup base. They are also sweetened to a child’s taste. Today you find them in almost every small child’s bento. Mothers usually use a skillful rolling technique that is probably beyond the foreign beginner.
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon of mirin (rice vinegar)
- 2 teaspoons of mentsuyu (soup base)
- ½ teaspoon sugar
Beat eggs and mix all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover loosely with cellophane, wrap and cook at 600 watts for four minutes. Wrap and spin the omelet in the cellophane to shape it like a miniature rugby ball. Let sit five minutes before unwrapping and slicing to your desired size.
2. Napolitan Spaghetti (ketchup spaghetti)
The story behind ketchup spaghetti is that Japanese chefs at the Yokohama Grand Hotel saw army cooks whip this dish up for MacArthur’s men in 1945. The chefs named it after Napoli and a Japanese classic was born. This might be every Japanese child’s first foreign pasta meal. It’s still sold on the bento shelf every day at the supermarket.
- 100 grams of spaghetti
- 1 cup of water
- 2 small sausages
- 25 grams each of onion and carrot
- 1 tablespoon of ketchup
Break the spaghetti in half and slice the ingredients thinly. Place all the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and cover loosely with cellophane wrap. Cook at 600 watts for seven minutes. Mix thoroughly and let cool for a few minutes before eating.
3. Buta Shogayaki (Ginger Pork)
A list of Japanese comfort food dishes needs a ginger-forward representative. Even when the ginger is not cooked into the dish, it is often available on the side. You’re more likely to see a jar of ginger on your restaurant table than a salt and pepper shaker. Again, although this is found in most Chinese restaurants all over the world, it is a staple Chinese-inspired dish for many Japanese.
- 150 grams of pork loin
- Four small green peppers
- 1 tablespoon of potato starch
- 1½ tablespoons of Worcester sauce
- 1½ tablespoons of yakiniku sauce
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
- 5 centimeters of tube ginger
- Black pepper to taste
Thinly slice the pork loin and coat it with the starch. Cut the peppers into bite-sized portions and put them along with the pork into a microwave-safe bowl. Mix in the two sauces and tube ginger then cover the bowl loosely with cellophane. Microwave at 600w for approximately eight minutes. Uncover and mix before adding the sesame oil and black pepper.
4. Taco Rice
Taco rice also has its roots in the American soldiers’ ubiquitous postwar presence in Japan. However, this particular fusion originated somewhere around the military installations in Okinawa. This dish is simply a deconstructed taco minus the shell, placed on top of a bowl of white rice.
- 50 grams of ground beef or pork
- 2 tablespoons of Old El Paso Taco Sauce
- 1 tray of microwave rice
- 1 leaf of lettuce
- ½ a small onion, ½ a small tomato, 20 grams of shredded cheese
Dice the onion and tomato, shred the lettuce and set them aside. Mix the minced meat with the taco sauce and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover loosely with cellophane and microwave at 600w for two minutes until the meat is thoroughly cooked. Microwave the tray of rice per the instructions and put the cooked rice into a bowl. Layer all the other ingredients on top starting with the hot taco meat followed by the cheese and ending with the vegetables any way you please.
What kinds of Japanese comfort food have you tried making at home? Let us know in the comments!