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Food in Japan

Food in Japan



John Rayner

John Rayner
Hailing from Sherwood Forest, Little John has been occupying space in the Far East for 10 years. His obsession with food and drink is only rivaled by his dedication to his beloved Saitama Jets.




Chawan-mushi is a steamed custard dish, served either hot or cold as an appetizer and eaten with a spoon. It is prepared in a tea-cup or similar shaped dish, usually with a lid on top, and contains a variety of ingredients depending on the chef and season. Chawan-mushi is traditionally eaten chilled in summer and hot in winter, and commonly appears on the menu as part of a traditional kaiseki course at Japanese restaurants, especially in autumn when shiitake mushrooms and ginkgo nuts are in season.

Removing the lid reveals a soft, yellow custard which emits a wonderful medley of aromas. The dish is usually stirred up with the spoon before consuming it in small bite sized pieces, allowing it to slip gently down your throat and captivate your palate with its wonderful array of flavors. This comes from ingredients such as wild shiitake mushrooms, mitsuba parsley, shrimps, chicken, ginkgo, lily, fish and conger eel. Common variations include adding udon noodles (odamaki udon) or tofu (kuuya-mushi), while in northern Japan, chestnuts are often included.

The roots of the dish can be traced back to the Genroku period (1689) when foreigners living in Nagasaki introduced a cuisine called shuppoku which was a Chinese way of cooking with mushrooms and vegetables, with chawan-mushi being one of them (although other sources suggest that chawan-mushi originated in Osaka during the Edo period (1790) before spreading to Tokyo and Nagasaki). Either way, the first specialist chawan-mushi restaurant is said to have been establised in Nagasaki in 1866 by Yoshida Sokichi, whose restaurant "Yosso" served both chawan-mushi and "steamed sushi". After pondering over the best ingredients to include for his signature chawan-mushi dish, Yoshida decided upon the following 9 ingredients: white fish, chicken, shiitake mushrooms, kikurage mushrooms, bamboo shoots, ginkgo, kamaboko (like fish paste), wheat powder and grilled conger eel.

For the Japanese, chawan-mushi is a dish to be eaten on special occasions such as at family gatherings and banquets. Children and adults alike look forward to the special flavor, texture and aroma that you can only get from chawan-mushi.

The dish is reasonably simple to make - combine the ingredients of your choice with egg and fish stock, and place in a steamer. It's also possible to line a lidded pot with water or prepare it in a rice cooker if you don't have a steamer.




- A soup/stock used for many bases in Japanese cooking, generally made from water, kelp and bonito fish flakes. (Vegetable stock or chicken stock may be substituted depending on the dish)

- Traditional Japanese course meal consisting of many small, delicate dishes, using high quality seasonal ingredients

- White fish paste or "fish sausage"

- A type of Japanese wild mushroom with a mild flavor and slightly crunchy texture

- A wild plant, often referred to as Japanese wild parsley or honewort.

- Japanese rice wine. ("Nihonshu" in Japanese)

Shiitake Mushrooms
- Large flat mushrooms, with quite powerful flavor

Soy Sauce
- A fermented sauce made from soybeans, roasted grain, water and salt. Called shoyu in Japanese.

- Soy-bean curd

- Thick noodles made from wheat-flour.


Photo provided by FOODEX JAPAN


Chawan-mushi Recipe

(Difficulty Rating: 2 out of 5)

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
  • 1 Teapoon Sake
  • 400 ml Cold Fish Stock (weak) or Primary Dashi Stock
  • 3 Eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 3 Shiitake* Mushrooms, Chopped (stems removed)
  • 100g Chicken, Sliced Thinly
  • Mitsuba (or Spinach) - small amount
  • 150g Small Prawns (shelled & deveined)

  • 4 strong tea cups / coffee cups

  • *Other mushrooms (preferably brown & pungent) can be substituted if shiitake are hard to obtain.


  1. If using dried shiitake place in water for a few minutes to revitalize them
  2. Combine stock, soy sauce, sake in bowl and stir in the egg slowly (so that it doesn't become frothy)
  3. Divide fish, meat and vegetables between 4 cups and add egg mixture to within 1 cm of the top
  4. Cover top with lid or cling film (plastic wrap)
  5. Place cups in steamer for about 20 mins until custard sets
  6. Remove wrap and serve



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