Essentials of the Japanese Kitchen

Kitchen Utensils: Part II


Many different utensils are used in the Japanese kitchen. In the ‘Kitchen Utensils: Part I’ episode of the ‘Essentials of the Japanese Kitchen’ series, chef Shimizu Akira of AKIRA restaurant introduced chopping boards, fish bone tweezers, and pots and pans. In this follow-on episode, Akira talks about the usefulness of zaru (sieves, strainers and colanders) and what to look for when choosing a pestle and mortar. 


Zaru are draining baskets typically made from woven bamboo and used to prepare and present food. Nowadays, the word is used to describe many different types of sieves, strainers and colanders. When choosing a colander, Akira recommends one made of stainless steel, as sturdy and practical items are best. It can be used inside a slightly larger stainless steel bowl to wash rice.

A multi-purpose strainer is useful for a variety of tasks, such as draining noodles and straining miso (fermented soy bean paste) or dashi (Japanese stock).

Akira considers a sieve to be an irreplaceable tool in the kitchen; it is particularly useful for pressing water out of tofu or sifting breadcrumbs.

Porous woven bamboo zaru are used not only to strain ingredients, but also as serving plates or trays for a variety of dishes. For example, the Japanese dish zaru soba, chilled buckwheat noodles, gets its name from the tradition of being served on a zaru.

Surikogi and suribachi 

Surikogi (pestle) and suribachi (mortar) are regularly used in the Japanese kitchen to grind various ingredients, such as seeds, nuts, herbs and spices, when preparing pastes and sauces. For example, suri goma, ground sesame seeds, are often used in Japanese cuisine for their rich, flavourful aroma. The suribachi has an unglazed interior with comb-patterned ridges called kushinome which helps to achieve a fine, consistent grind. The surikogi is typically made of wood. Akira suggests choosing a larger-sized surikogi and suribachi for your kitchen, as he believes a greater grinding surface is more useful. 

Essential utensils 

Throughout the two episodes on kitchen utensils, Akira has delved into chopping boards, fish bone tweezers, pots and pans, sieves, strainers and colanders, as well as pestle and mortar.

According to Akira, other essential utensils include stainless steel bowls, which are tough and resistant to both heat and cold. He also recommends choosing a ladle that can be used not only for scooping but also for measuring.

Though many other tools and utensils are used in the Japanese kitchen, Akira believes that a set of four key items can be sufficient to cope with most cooking tasks; a pot, a chopping board, a ladle and a knife. Akira suggests that with this set, you can make almost any dish.

Kitchenware, such as stainless steel bowls and shallow and deep stainless steel sieves of various sizes, from one of Japan's premier metalworking regions Tsubame in Niigata Prefecture, can be found in The Shop at Japan House London, in store and online.