Simple guide to Japanese cooking: Sa-Shi-Su-Se-So
Japanese cooking uses sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce & miso and there is actually a chemical logic to this culinary method.
The main condiments that flavor Japanese cuisine are remembered in alphabetic order with a simple phrase for those who are interested in learning to cook Japanese meals. “Sa-Shi-Su-Se-So” is the 3rd column in the Japanese alphabet or “hiragana”. Each hiragana sound stands for a specific cooking ingredient in the order of when it should be used.
さ “Sa” for 砂糖 (さとう) “Satou” – Sugar
し “Shi” for 塩 (しお) “Shio” – Salt
す “Su” for 酢 (す) “Su” – Vinegar
せ “Se” for 醤油 (せうゆ intoしょうゆ) “Shouyu” – Soy Sauce
そ “So” for 味噌 (みそ) “Miso” – fermented soy bean paste
There are also two other key ingredients in Japanese cuisine:
酒 (さけ) “Sake” – rice wine
本みりん (ほんみりん) “Hon-Mirin” – sweet rice-based cooking wine
The reason behind using these ingredients in this particular order has to do with the chemical transformations that occurs when cooking. Sugar is harder for your taste buds to recognize when used in cooking, and thus goes in first. Salt has an osmotic effect on the ingredients and will seep into things and push out the water. Vinegar has an effect to stop the salt from penetrating further, so add it after your salt. Also, if vinegar is added too early in the cooking process, the sourness will evaporate. Soy Sauce and Miso both are mainly for flavoring purposes, even though they contain high amounts of sodium and adding too much can make your food more salty, these are added last.
Sake and Mirin are used mainly to rid the smell of ingredients like fish and are added before any of the other ingredients on the list. The alcohol will evaporate by the time your cooking is finished.
Anyone interested in learning more about Japanese cooking should check out G-Veggie Macrobiotic Cooking School in Ginza.