After enjoying a sumptuous Japanese meal, do you ever pause to think about how simple dishes manage to make the biggest impressions? Japanese cuisine is regarded as minimalist, where soy sauce, sake, and mirin alone can have you preparing dishes that can fill a Japanese cookbook. However, the Japanese approach to minimalist food doesn’t equate to bland and repetitive.
The Japanese have perfected the art of using their seasoning sparingly, so no taste is ever too overwhelming. For instance, a slice of fresh sashimi with a smidge of wasabi and a stroke of soy sauce is enough to define a satisfying meal, enough to refresh your palette, and enough to bring surprises in every bite.
However, minimalism has never limited anyone from exploring flavors. Ponzu is a great example of this. While the origins of the name remain a mystery, one famous theory is that ponzu is a mix of the Dutch word “pon” meaning punch (like the fruit punch!) and “su” meaning vinegar. From this alone, you’ll surmise that ponzu is a savory sauce with a fruity punch to it! True enough, the traditional way of making ponzu involves simmering rice vinegar, mirin or rice wine, bonito fish flakes, and seaweed before adding the star of the sauce-- citrus.
The best ponzu sauces use Japanese citrus fruits like yuzu, kabosu, daidai, or subachi, to achieve the signature salted, tart, and bitter flavors of locally made ponzu. Unless you’re from the Kochi prefecture where yuzu is widely produced, these fruits might be hard to come by in your local grocery store. You can always use lemons or limes, in case you want to brew your own ponzu sauces from scratch.
At this point, you might be wondering, where is the soy sauce? Store-bought ponzu sauces incorporate soy sauce in the mix to extend its shelf life. Kikkoman’s Ponzu Citrus Seasoning Sauce is a great ponzu product that should be a staple in your pantries! Kikkoman has blended their world-famous soy sauce with lemon and orange extract for a refreshing ponzu sauce that you can instantly use for well-loved Japanese recipes.
It might not be commonly used for cooking per se, but it’s an excellent dipping sauce for your hotpot, sashimi, tatami or thinly sliced meat, soba noodles, or grilled fish. Due to its acidity, you can even use it as a marinade for ceviche in place of white vinegar. It also makes for a great and healthy salad or poke bowl dressing.
It might take years for someone to master Japanese cuisine but not everyone has to be experts to start preparing delicious Japanese meals. You don’t even need a big pantry with sauces you might not even use. Keep it simple and you’ll still be able to enjoy Japanese food that you’ve been enjoying in top-notch restaurants from the comforts of your home.