Kitchen Culture

tasty tidbits from the Taisho & Showa Era (20th Century) Japanese Kitchen

The Japanese Culinary "Alphabet"


Unlike kanji (calligraphy) that typically have several possible pronunciations, hiragana is a Japanese syllabary in which each symbol is always pronounced the same way.  Another syllabary, katakana, following the same order as hiragana, is used for emphasis and to write words of foreign origin. A combination of these writing systems is used for most documents and literature. Just as English-language reference books alphabetize word lists beginning with A (then go on to B, followed by C etc.), Japanese dictionaries and other reference works list words and topics in hiragana order: A, I, U, E , O ... Ka, Ki, Ku, Ké, Ko... Sa, Shi, Su, Sé, So... and so forth.
To maximize flavor and achieve tenderness with minimal cooking time (frugal use of fuel), the Japanese speak of cooking in “alphabetical” order: Sa, Shi, Su, , So.

This refers to the order in which various key seasonings
should be added: first saké, then satō (sugar), shio (salt), su (vinegar), shōyu (soy sauce), and miso.

If you are unfamiliar with hiragana, the order will seem arbitrary. It is worth remembering, however, especially when cooking with kambutsu (dried foods).


(rice wine)








(soy sauce)

The hiragana "spelling" for shōyu does not include se but sounds like it does, and is listed accordingly.





(fermented bean paste)