Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

* * *

If cooking is something you do only occasionally, it is handy to use pre-mixed seasonings or meal kits complete with the necessary ingredients.

But if you cook regularly, the range of flavors will expand if you have Chinese or ethnic seasonings on hand. The aim of the four-part series starting this week is to master seasonings from around the world.

First comes the Chinese dish “hui guo rou,” known in Japan as “hoikoro.” The sweet and rich Tianmian sauce (“tenmenjan”) and the doubanjiang, which is not only spicy but gives a subtle sour aroma, are seasonings that add depth to the dish. Although both were originally fermented food, products sold today vary in the ingredients used and how they are produced.

In kanji characters, hui guo rou is written as “return pot meat.” Meat is cooked first and removed, then returned to the pot after the vegetables are stir-fried. The steps are easy, and the vegetables need not be parboiled but stir-fried with a bit of water.

Once you get the hang of it, you can improvise by using vegetables in your fridge or switching the meat to chicken or thick deep-fried tofu. The spiciness can also be adjusted by the amount of seasonings, and you will feel a surer sense of accomplishment than when cooking with a meal kit.

How long is storage period after opening bottle?

How quickly should we use up seasonings like the doubanjiang after opening them?

According to a spokesperson for Youki Food, a food manufacturer that handles seasonings from around the world, an indication is “one to two months in the refrigerator” after opening for seasonings that contain water.

Granular seasonings such as the chicken soup base are good for “two to three months in the refrigerator.” Doubanjiang can also be kept in the freezer, and the spokesperson says, “The indicated periods are just recommended by the manufacturer. If the seasonings are handled well, they can be used for a longer period.”

If you wish to learn various ways to use them, it is handy to use websites of seasoning manufacturers or retrieval sites in Japanese such as “Ryori Memo” (cooking memo) offered by asahi.com where you can search by typing in the names of ingredients.


(Supervised by Katsuhiko Yoshida in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

 * Ingredients (Serve two)

130 grams pork belly slices, 150 grams cabbage, 2 green peppers (“piman” variety), 1/3 long onion (“naganegi” variety), 40 grams eryngii mushroom, 1 clove garlic, 1 Tbsp oil, 1 Tbsp sake, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp Tianmian sauce, 1 tsp doubanjiang, 1 tsp sugar

 About 385 kcal and 2.5 grams salt per portion

1. Cut cabbage and green pepper into bite-size pieces. Slice long onion at an angle. Cut length of eryngii in half, slice lengthwise. Finely slice garlic also. Cut pork slices into width of 4 cm (PHOTO A). Measure seasonings. Tianmian sauce may be replaced by 1 Tbsp each of miso and sugar.

2. Pour oil in frying pan and place on medium heat. Add pork and cook while loosening pieces. When color has changed, turn off heat and remove meat. Do not wipe pan.

3. Turn on heat again, add all vegetables and stir-fry on high heat. When vegetables become tender, add 100 ml water and seasonings and mix (PHOTO B).

4. When seasonings have gone around, return meat and mix gently as if bringing the ingredients together (PHOTO C). It is done when meat and vegetables are mixed. Some sauce may remain.

* * *

Katsuhiko Yoshida is the owner chef of Jeeten, a restaurant in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Uehara district offering Chinese home cooking.

Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairwoman of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.


Pickled daikon radish

This is a small side dish to enjoy the contrast between the strong flavor and the refreshing taste of daikon radish. Cut 150 grams daikon into dices 2 cm on a side. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, mix well and leave for 10 minutes. Tightly squeeze out water and place in a plastic bag. Add 1 Tbsp Tianmian sauce, 1 tsp each of doubanjiang and sesame oil and knead lightly through the bag. The flavor will settle after about 30 minutes. It may be kept in the fridge for two to three days.


Doubanjiang is a seasoning like spicy miso where broad beans are fermented by “koji” mold, mixed with salt and chili pepper and matured. Tianmian sauce is like sweet miso where koji is added to wheat flour and salt. Umami and sweetness are created when the enzymes of the koji mold break down the proteins and carbohydrates. The aroma is enhanced through heating.

 * * *

From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column