Photo/Illutration Sweet and sour stir-fry of meatballs and vegetables (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

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

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As represented by such dishes as sweet and sour pork, known as “subuta” in Japan, and chili shrimp, sweet and sour flavoring is a staple of Chinese cuisine.

The third in the series on popular dishes focuses on “sweet and sour stir-fry of meatballs and vegetables,” where a generous use of vegetables brings out the flavor of the meat.

The ground meat in the meatballs helps them retain their shape while the addition of chopped pork loin gives them texture. By mixing the meat with seasonings before adding katakuriko starch, the flavor will spread evenly and nicely.

By pan-frying the meatballs in an extra amount of oil before combining them with the vegetables, you can fuse in the umami and are more likely to keep the meatballs from falling apart.

The term “sweet and sour” is “tangcu” in Chinese. In Italian it is “agrodolce” while it is “aigre-doux” in French, showing that it is a taste liked in Asia as well as Europe.

Research has shown that people favor sweet and sour more than simply sweet.

“Fondness of sweet and sour seems to be shared by mankind,” says Sho Ishii of the Mizkan Group Corporation Central Research Institute.


(Supervised by Katsuhiko Yoshida in the cooking aspect and Sho Ishii in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients (Serves two)
30 grams carrot, 30 grams lotus root, 30 grams onion, 20 grams field mustard (nanohana), 100 grams ground pork, 100 grams pork loin (buta-rosu), Base seasoning for meatballs (salt, white pepper, sake, katakuriko starch), Seasonings (3 Tbsp vinegar, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 Tbsp each of sake and soy sauce)
1 tsp sesame oil

About 415 kcal and 1.7 grams salt per portion

1. Slice carrot and lotus root into quadrants that are 5 mm thick. Cut onion randomly into 2-cm-wide pieces. Cut field mustard into width of 3 cm.

PHOTO A: Mix until meat becomes sticky before adding the katakuriko starch. Mix meat mixture in circular motion with hand and by pressing down occasionally. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

2. Cut pork loin into dices 5 mm on a side, place in bowl with ground pork. Add a pinch of salt, bit of white pepper, 1 Tbsp sake and mix. Add 1 tsp katakuriko starch and mix further (PHOTO A). Makes 8 meatballs that are 3 cm in diameter (PHOTO B).

3. Heat 200 ml oil in frying pan and brown surface of meatballs on medium heat (PHOTO C) and remove. Pour oil into metal bowl.

PHOTO B: Squeeze out meat mixture between your forefinger and thumb to form meatballs. The meat becomes less sticky if you apply a bit of oil on your hand. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)
PHOTO C: Roll meatballs with cooking chopsticks as if letting them swim in the oil to brown their surface evenly. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

4. Pour 300 ml water in frying pan, place on high heat and stir-fry meatballs and vegetables. When pan comes to a boil, lower to medium heat and simmer with lid for 2 minutes. Add seasonings, simmer for 1 minute on high heat and turn off heat. Add katakuriko starch mixed with water (1 tsp katakuriko and 2 tsp water) and mix. Place on heat again and when it comes to a boil, add 1 tsp sesame oil in a circular motion.

Tips on making sweet and sour stir-fry of meatballs and vegetables (Masahiro Goda)


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

Sho Ishii works at the Mizkan Group Corporation Central Research Institute.


Egg soup with meatballs (Serves two)

Egg soup with meatballs (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

Mix 50 grams of pork loin cut into dices 5 mm on a side, 50 grams of ground pork, bit of salt and white pepper and 1 tsp sake. Add 1 tsp katakuriko starch and mix further and make 8 small meatballs. Bring 600 ml chicken stock soup to a boil, set to medium heat and add meatballs. Add 40 grams enoki mushroom, 1 Tbsp sake, bit of white pepper and 1/2 tsp salt. Add 20 grams daikon sprouts (“kaiwarena”) and pour 1 beaten egg slowly in circular motion in boiling pot. Add 1 tsp sesame oil as a finishing touch.


Sourness, which people often associate with immature fruit, is a taste not favored on its own. Yet when it is blended with sweetness, the likability rises. People like “sweet and sour” more than just “sweet,” and the ratio is said to be when the added sourness is one-50th to one-100th of the weight of the sweetness (example in weight comparison of sugar and acetic acid).

The Asahi Shimbun

43 select articles compiled into a book

“Chorikagaku-de Motto Oishiku Teiban-ryori 1”

The Gohan Lab articles have been compiled into a book.

It includes 43 recipes and arranged dishes such as fluffy shaomai made with grated pork and tofu as well as fair and crispy vinegared lotus root.

The book comes with a bonus that gives you access to view five videos of popular recipes including “spaghetti carbonara.” The book in Japanese and titled “Chorikagaku-de Motto Oishiku Teiban-ryori 1” (Staple dishes made tastier with cooking science 1) is in A4 size and has 100 pages. Priced at 980 yen including tax, it is available at bookstores and ASA (Asahi-Shimbun Service Anchor) delivery outlets nationwide.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column