For pantry-led and creative cooking, here are a collection of delicious and easy Japanese recipes you can make at home anytime. Think Japanese curry, miso soup, soba salad, and more. Also, find quick tips and resources on how to make the best of your pantry meals.
Love to cook more Japanese food at home but not sure where to start? In this pantry meal guide, you’ll find 28 delicious and easy Japanese recipes that are affordable and pantry-friendly. These favorite home-cooked dishes include curry udon, onigiri rice balls, donburi rice bowls, soba salad, and more.
I’ve also included tips, ideas, and resources on how to optimize your ingredients. Whether you’re a home cook or a college student, you’ll be empowered with the know-how by the end of the post.
In my kitchen, I always make sure I have staples such as rice, dried noodles, tofu, eggs, and frozen vegetables. Not only they are convenient, they really can save the day when I need to feed my hungry family in an unexpected situation. Bonus points: cooking at home is always so much better than taking out. We save a lot of money, and time and essentially eat healthier!
Let’s get cooking!
Quick Tips on How to Make the Best of Pantry Meals
1. Build your pantry staples based on categories and shelf life
Start with the type of food/ cuisine you prefer to eat and cook. Then build the pantry based on grains, freezer-friendly proteins, frozen vegetables, and essential seasonings. Go for longer shelf-life ingredients. For example, root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes.
For cooking Japanese food, you need to stock up on these 6 must-have condiments. Dried ingredients such as dried kombu, dried wakame, nori sheet, tofu, and dried mushrooms are well-worth adding too.
2. Simplify & improvise
You can still enjoy some of your favorite dishes even when you don’t have access to fresh foods. Emergency meals are about simplification and improvisation. Skip non-essential garnishes or cut down on one or two ingredients on the list. Use eggs, tofu, or mushrooms – these 3 powerful ingredients make wonderful stand-ins for many recipes.
3. Use recipes as your guide
When you’re new to cooking, it’s understandable to feel like you need to follow everything listed on a recipe. That’s not true! I recommend reading through any key tips and getting a quick understanding of the dish. If you really wish to cook it but don’t have everything on hand, it’s ok. Once you learn how to use the recipes as a guide instead of strict instructions, you would discover more freedom, knowledge, and creativity as a cook.
4. Cook in a big batch and freeze
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about time management and efficiency. When I prepare a meal that is suitable for freezing, I’d make a bigger batch so there’s something to eat when my kids are hungry at odd hours. I’d make pickles with leftover vegetables so we can always enjoy them on the side.
28 Easy Japanese Recipes Using Basic Pantry Ingredient
Here is a list of basic pantry ingredients commonly found in a Japanese kitchen. They all have their place in the pantry and can be used in many things. Under each ingredient, you’ll see my favorite recipes with substitutions and variations. There are also plenty of ideas for vegetarians and vegans.
Click to jump to ingredients:
If you need ideas for specific Japanese pantry items not listed above, use our SEARCH function on the top right corner of the website. Alternatively, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.
Ingredient 1: Japanese Short Grain Rice
Rice is a staple in Japanese home cooking, and we always have rice in our kitchen. As they said, rice can feed a nation. It sure can feed a hungry family, and fortify your tummy. Here are some great ideas on how to cook and enjoy rice with minimal effort!
I believe fried rice was created out of necessity. It is indeed the most convenient and comforting meal that turns leftovers into something so delicious! You can whip up this classic Japanese fried rice under 20 minutes.
Substitutions: I used ham, egg and green onion in the recipe, but you can easily use bacon, frozen edamame, crab sticks, green peas or whatever you have in the fridge.
Zosui (Japanese Rice Soup)
Zosui is a comforting Japanese rice soup that works beautifully with pantry-ready ingredients like ready-cooked rice, eggs, and leftover ingredients. The easy template is flexible, yet you’re guaranteed a nourishing meal at the end of the day.
Substitutions: Use fish (salmon, cod), tofu, or other protein if you don’t have chicken. No shiitake mushrooms? Don’t worry, any mushrooms are fine, or just skip them. This is a very flexible recipe. I think non-Japanese rice works for this recipe (I never tried it but Jasmine rice or any long-grain rice is ok!)
Lightly brushed with savory soy sauce, these grilled Japanese rice balls are simply irresistible. It requires only rice, salt, and sweet and soy sauce (or my take, delicious Unagi Sauce! It can be a store-bought or my homemade recipe on the blog). You can make them plain or stuffed them with fun fillings such as canned salmon. They are so easy to make that you want to grill them up at home!
Substitutions: Check your fridge to see other seasonings that you can brush on – Mentsuyu (Japanese noodle soup base) works too! Make sure you use Japanese short-grain rice to make these rice balls. Other types of rice will not be sticky enough to make onigiri.
- Onigiri – Simple rice balls that can be filled with a variety of flavors such as tuna mayo, kimchi, etc.
- Miso Yaki Onigiri – Tired of soy sauce flavor? Try it with miso.
Spam Onigirazu (Rice Sandwich)
Eggs, ham, sushi rice, and nori sheet. That’s all you need to make this yummy Spam Onigirazu. I used a special mold to create a perfect shape for the rice sandwich, but you really don’t need one. Follow my diagram and tips in making onigirazu here.
Substitutions: You’ll need to use Japanese short-grain rice for the sticky texture, but feel free to keep the filling simple. You can use only the ham or eggs to make a quick lunch if that’s all you have.
Takikomi Gohan (Japanese Mixed Rice)
This Japanese Mixed Rice is a one-pot wonder! You can literally cook it with any seasonal ingredients or pantry items you have in the refrigerator. Think dried mushrooms, canned tuna, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.
Substitutions: Japanese short-grain rice is ideal, but you can use Jasmine rice or any long grain rice if needed.
Ingredient 2: Udon Noodles (Frozen or Dry)
Thick, chewy, slippery udon is a beloved Japanese noodle that can be enjoyed in endless ways. I often grab a few extra packs when I do my run at the Japanese grocery stores. These days you can even find the dry versions at major grocery stores.
Kitsune Udon is a Japanese noodle soup in dashi broth, topped with seasoned fried tofu (Inari Age), pink-swirled narutomaki fish cake, and scallions. It is the easiest noodle soup to make. Both frozen or dried udon noodles work fine in this recipe.
Substitutions: The deep-fried tofu pouch is a great pantry item to have for Japanese cooking. Feel free to leave out the fish cake.
- Beef Udon – Thinly sliced beef or chicken also makes a delicious noodle soup!
Thick chewy udon noodles soaked in a rich, fragrant curry sauce, this Curry Udon will satisfy your noodles craving in an instant!
Substitutions: Sub the pork with chicken, beef, shrimp, tempeh, or any protein you have on hand really. For extra fiber, feel free to throw in some greens.
- Cold Curry Udon – It’s too hot to eat hot noodle soup? Try this cold version instead!
Japanese udon noodles stir-fried with vegetables and your choice of protein, Yaki Udon is definitely a keeper when comes to easy pantry meal.
Substitutions: Use chicken, tofu, or any protein, or simply add more vegetables to make it hearty noodle dish!
- Yakisoba – If you don’t have udon, you can still make this with Yakisoba noodles or other types of noodles, including spaghetti noodles!
Miso Nikomi Udon
Miso Nikomi Udon is a hearty and comforting noodle soup where chicken, fish cake, and udon noodles are simmered in a miso-flavored dashi broth. When you need something warm at the end of a busy day, this noodle soup will deeply satisfy.
Substitutions: Use chicken, tofu, or any protein, or simply add more vegetables to make it a hearty noodle dish! Leave out anything that you don’t have.
Ingredient 3: Miso
Miso is a very important pantry item in Japanese cooking, which means the majority of you who have tried Just One Cookbook recipes may have one or two types of miso in your pantry. Another reason to have a tub of miso around? It’s full of probiotics and many other great health benefits. Here’s how you can use this condiment to flavor your pantry meals.
I cannot live without miso soup. Luckily, you can make a really good bowl of miso soup with only pantry items like dried kombu, silken tofu, and dried wakame. You can even enjoy it plain! Packed with umami goodness, it’s hands-down the easiest soup anyone can pull off anytime.
Substitutions: As I said, you can enjoy miso soup plain or with minimal ingredients. As long as you have miso paste, you can enjoy a bowl of delicious warm soup anytime.
Known for its Omega-3 fatty acid, salmon is a great protein to have in the diet. For that reason alone, I always have frozen salmon fillets in my freezer. This Miso Salmon recipe is really simple to make. You just need to marinate the fish for 30 minutes, you’d get a flavorful fish to serve for dinner. We love it with Japanese ginger rice.
Substitution: You can use the same marinade on other white fish such as cod or halibut.
All-Purpose Miso Meat Sauce (Niku Miso)
This easy Miso Meat Sauce (Niku Miso) is a great side dish to go with steamed rice, noodles, or lettuce wrap! It’s meal prep and freezer friendly too.
Substitution: Ground pork or ground beef are typically used in the dish, but you can also use ground chicken, ground turkey, or cubed firm tofu. To make it into a meal, feel free to toss in some vegetables like frozen peas, broccoli, leafy greens or minced carrots.
Ingredient 4: Soba Noodles (Frozen or Dry)
Just like udon noodles, soba noodles or buckwheat noodles are essential in Japanese cooking, and we always have these noodles in our pantry. They make quick and easy lunch options!
Enjoyed chilled or at room temperature, this Soba Noodle Salad tossed in a honey-soy dressing is exactly what you need for a quick, light meal. Great on its own, or bulk it up by topping the salad with ramen egg, cucumber slices, sauteed mushrooms or some greens.
Substitutions: No fresh herbs? Replace it with furikake seasoning or shredded nori sheet. A dash of shichimi togarashi will give it a nice kick too.
Soba Noodle Soup
This soba noodle soup is here to warm you right up when all you need is something easy and soothing. It’s about as simple as dinner gets.
Substitutions: You can choose to top the soba noodle soup with any greens, or just keep it plain. For a fancier version, top the noodle soup with frozen tempura from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.
For a light and refreshing lunch option, make this Zaru Soba (Cold Soba Noodles) and served with Mentsuyu dipping sauce. It’s a simple dish but tastes amazingly good. Homemade Mentsuyu sauce is best, but you can definitely use the store-bought one.
Ingredient 5: Japanese Curry Roux
Japanese curry is one of the most-make dishes for Japanese cooks. You can always find curry roux, whether it’s homemade or store-bought cubes, in a Japanese kitchen.
The good news is homemade Japanese Curry Roux requires only 5 basic pantry ingredients. So, make a big batch, pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze! They come in handy in making a whole variety of flavorful curry dishes.
Japanese Chicken Curry
Tender pieces of chicken, carrots, and potatoes cooked in a rich savory curry sauce, this Japanese version of curry is a must-keep for your family meal. I have a stovetop version and an Instant Pot version for the curry recipe. To save time, double up the portion, and store the extra in the freezer!
Substitutions: The aromatics such as garlic and ginger are always good to have on hand. They have a long shelf life and so essential in creating flavorful meals. But if you’re out, skip them. The recipe calls for 1 fresh apple, you can use unsweetened apple sauce if needed.
- Beef Curry – Got stew meat? It makes a hearty curry!
- Seafood Curry – Turn a bag of frozen seafood into fancy dinner with this easy curry recipe!
- Keema Curry – This curry comes together very quickly. You can sub the meat with lentils or chickpeas.
Curry Doria (Rice Gratin)
Similar to lasagna but made with rice instead of pasta noodles, Curry Doria is Japanese rice gratin topped with flavorful curry meat sauce and cheese and baked into perfection in a casserole. It screams comfort food!
Substitutions: No ground meat? Try it with beans like lentils. Use diced frozen vegetables instead of fresh carrots and celery.
- Seafood Doria – Got a bag of frozen mixed seafood? You can make this impressive dinner even when you’re stuck at home.
- Meat Doria – This non-curry version gets its flavors from other basic condiments such as canned tomato, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce. Turn it into a vegetarian meal by using lentils or a mixture of beans.
Ingredient 6: Pasta of All Kinds
Japanese-style pasta is a thing! We love it so much that we often cook up all sorts of pasta dishes at home. To give the pasta a Japanese flair, we cook them with Japanese seasonings and ingredients. Tired of the usual tomato-y or overly cheesy pasta? It’s time to give these Japanese pasta recipes a try!
This cozy pasta gets plenty of flavor from the earthy, umami mushrooms. The cream adds layers of comfort and the salty bacon elevates everything. You’d be happily chowing down this pasta with a glass of red in hand than going out to a fancy restaurant.
Substitutions: While my original recipe calls for fresh mushrooms, you could definitely use dried mushrooms here. This is pasta that works great with a wide range of ingredients, fresh or dried. Leave out the bacon, if you’d like.
- Macaroni Gratin – With similar ingredients, you can make a gratin dish in the oven!
Easy Japanese-style Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus
This Japanese-style pasta with shrimp and asparagus is seasoned with soy sauce and flavorful dashi broth. You can make it in less than 30 minutes. Plus, it’s gluten-free!
Substitutions: No asparagus? Use broccolini, green beans, spinach, frozen broccoli, or peas! For vegetarians or vegans, you can switch the shrimp to crispy baked tofu or tempeh.
Ingredient 7: Tofu
Tofu is the MVP of the Asian pantry. They’re packed with protein and very affordable. You can pan-fry them, bake them, scramble them, or add them in a hot pot. I always have a few blocks in the refrigerator and a few boxes of silken tofu that keep well in a cool place.
Instead of pizza dough, this Japanese version of Tofu Pizza uses crispy pan-fried tofu as the ‘dough’ and is topped with melted mozzarella cheese. It’s a really simple dish that you can enjoy for lunch, snack time, or dinner!
Substitutions: Just like pizza, you can keep it minimal or be creative with the rest of the ingredients. Sneak in leftover roasted vegetables or pickled veggies if you like.
Crispy on the bite, yet delicately soft, this pan-fried Teriyaki Tofu is amazingly flavorful. It’s a dynamic recipe for anyone to try, with easy options to turn the dish into vegan or gluten-free. Top your steamed rice with the tofu and toss in some veggies, you’d have a great satisfying rice bowl for dinner.
Substitutions: Leave out the bonito flakes and garnishes if you don’t have any.
Pan-Fried Teriyaki Tofu Bowl
“This cooked tofu recipe is the best I’ve come across and I am not a vegetarian!” – Masae
Looking for something quick and easy to make, not to mention delicious? This Japanese-style Mapo Tofu will surely satisfy you! You can adjust the spice level easily so the children can enjoy it too.
Substitutions: Switch the ground meat to finely minced mushrooms or seitan.
Ingredient 8: Flour
Flour is pretty much a given when comes to essential pantry item. Besides baking, have you tried making noodles or gyoza wrappers? Let’s find some new uses and make some inspiring dishes with it!
Do you know you can make udon noodles from scratch with just 4 ingredients? Yes! That includes flour, water, salt, and cornstarch. It’s that simple! Give this a try, and you will be rewarded with delicious homemade noodles.
Homemade Gyoza Wrappers
Gyoza making is one of the most meaningful projects you can do together as a family. It’s therapeutic and creates a sense of bond. All you need is salt, water, and flour. Watch the video tutorial and enjoy this process! You can keep the gyoza wrappers for about 3-4 days in the refrigerator or up to a month in the freezer. Just dust with a little more flour if you’re not using the wrappers right away.
Variations: With the homemade wrappers, you can make this classic gyoza recipe, gyoza with wings or napa cabbage gyoza. Depending on your preference, you can adjust the thickness of the wrappers slightly. Try not to overfill the dumplings.
Made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, and meat/ protein, this popular Japanese street food is a savory version of Japanese pancake. Once tried, you’ll be coming back for more.
Substitutions: Okonomiyaki literally means ‘grilled as you like it’. That means you can cook with whatever fillings and toppings you like. Read the recipe for more suggestions.
- Korean Pancake – There are many directions you can take with this thin, crisp savory pancake, but less is more here. You can leave out the shrimp, and use only the green onions. Otherwise, use only one type of vegetable and do not overcrowd.
Fluffy Japanese Souffle Pancakes
No one would mind staying at home if you serve these Fluffy Japanese Souffle Pancakes for brunch. They are fluffy, airy, and so good with homemade whipped cream and fresh berries!
Substitutions: No fresh berries? Thaw out some frozen berries. Or change it up with tropical flavors like mango or toasted coconut with chocolate flakes.
- Matcha Souffle Pancake – Love Matcha green tea powder? You have to give try it next.
- Best Homemade Crepes – Perfectly thin and deliciously buttery, they are a staple for a weekend breakfast, brunch, or desserts!
I hope these recipes inspire you to make something new while using what you’ve already got. The goal here is to be flexible & creative —and know that you can still make it delicious. If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll be ready to help!
More Resources on Japanese Cooking
Wish to learn more? Visit my resource pages below:
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on March 22, 2020. It’s been republished with new content on May 18, 2022.