For those visiting Japan wanting to stock up their suitcase for foodie items that are hard to find outside of Japan I have come up with my list of “gotta gets”. When I have lived outside of Japan I also make a stop at the 100 (or 99) yen shop and stock up on cheap and light things to stock up my pantry.
The first list below is for items most commonly found at 100 yen shops. The second list is for your supermarket shopping. If you are limited on time then just go straight to the supermarket as most items at 100 yen shops are also sold at grocery stores.
Goma – toasted black (kuro) and white (shiro) sesame seeds. Crush the seeds and add sugar and soy sauce for a dressing for cooked vegetables. Try crushed black sesame seeds with sugar over ice cream.
Hashi – long cooking chopsticks and regular chopsticks
Hashioki - chopstick rests available in seasonal designs
Ichimi – crushed, dried red chili pepper
Kinako – flour made from roasted soybeans, a great topping for ice cream, or mixed into a cold glass of milk.
Kushi – long bamboo skewers for grilling, also great for appetizers and hors d’eourves
Makisu – rolling mat for making sushi rolls at home.
Misoshiru gu – if you like to make miso soup at home, these packs of dried ingredients like wakame, fu, just need to be tossed into the soup.
Neriume – tube of umeboshi paste. Some are mixed with shiso leaves (shiso iri). Use to mix into salad dressings or for rolled sushi.
Ochoko and tokkuri – if you are a casual drinker of sake, then these cups are perfect as they are sturdy and can be thrown into the dishwasher. Tokkuri are like small carafes for sake in lieu of wine, and ochoko are the small cups.
Shamoji – rice paddles, the Japanese version are plastic and studded and easy to use as rice does not stick to them.
Shichimi – seven spice mix to top miso soups or noodle bowls.
Yukari – packets of dried purple shiso leaves. Use for making rice balls.
Yuzu kosho – yuzu and salt in a paste. Try mixing it with mayonnaise to spice up sandwiches or as a dip for crudités.
Items to pick up at supermarkets:
Cha – different varieties of tea including sencha, genmaicha, and houjicha.
Katakuriko – a thickening agent
Katsuobushi – dried, smoked flakes of katsuo, an essential for making dashi.
Kokuto - black sugar from Okinawa and nearby islands.
Kombu – if you cook at home you will want to stock your pantry with kombu, the base for making any dashi.
Kuzu – a trendy ingredient with top chefs throughout the world. It is used as a thickening agent.
Mattcha powder – traditional mattcha is expensive and can be hard to work with in the kitchen. You can find instant versions to make mattcha lattes at home or to mix into vanilla ice cream for mattcha ice cream.
Miso koshi – strainer for incorporating miso into stock for miso soup.
Strainers – Japanese fine-meshed strainers are excellent for straining soup stocks. There is also a special strainer used for getting tofu out of hot broths.
Umeboshi – if you love the salty, tart taste of these pickled apricots.
Wasabi – tubes of wasabi. Ask for “hon wasabi” or “nama wasabi” for 100% wasabi. Much of what is served outside of Japan is actually horseradish paste mixed with food coloring.
Yuzu – look for dried yuzu citrus peels (kizami yuzu by S&B is a popular brand at most retail shops) if you like to make homemade pickles.
Yuzu kosho – a salty and citrusy condiment (good quality yuzu kosho is very different from the kind at 100 yen shops. There are two types, green or red.)
Here is my post on where to go shopping in Tokyo.