The right side dishes can transform a meal from something completely average to utterly delicious. In traditional Japanese cuisine, side dishes play an extremely important role, so it’s no surprise that there are countless Japanese side dish options, and that they are wide in variety and delicious in taste. You won’t find any limp side salads or overboiled vegetables here.
This list includes some dishes you can enjoy on their on, some that are great in combination with a main dish, and some that keep well, so you can add any leftovers to a packed lunch or Bento box (you can read about the difference between a lunch box and a bento box here).
20 Easy Japanese Side Dishes
1. Simmered Kabocha Squash (Japanese Pumpkin) by Just One Cookbook
This simmered Japanese Pumpkin dish has a delectable texture and is seriously addictive. I always surprise myself by just how much I can eat of it! It is surprisingly easy to assemble, and is the first dish I cooked when I moved to Japan, using this exact recipe.
2. Onigiri by Chopstick Chronicles
Onigiri is such a genius invention for so many situations – it’s obviously super portable for packed lunches, and is great for when you are catering for a group with different tastes as everyone can choose their own filling. You can make them ahead and the ideas for fillings are ENDLESS (here are some traditional onigiri fillings and here are some vegan filling ideas).
3. Stir Fried Japanese Eggplant with Ginger and Miso at Simply Recipes (recipe from Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton Hachisu)
I love this recipe so much that sometimes it actually takes the place of main meal in my house. It’s quick, easy and there is something about the combination of eggplant, miso and ginger that just works. Don’t take my word for it – try it for yourself!
4. Gomae (Japanese Spinach Salad) by Salu Salo
Gomae is a style of Japanese dish in which vegetables are seasoned in a sweet and salty sesame dressing. It is another great side dish for when you’re in a hurry, and it keeps well if you make it ahead of time. It’s flavoursome, light, and you can use the dressing on salads or other vegetables if you don’t have spinach in the house.
5. Inari Sushi by Cooking with Dog
Inari sushi is deep fried tofu pouches stuffed with sushi rice, and often served with pickled ginger. The tofu pouches are sweetened before stuffing, and the combination of the sweetness of the tofu and sharpness of the ginger bought together with yummy sushi rice is really incredible.
This is the kind of dish that you can keep on eating ‘just one more’ of so I recommend you make more than you think you will need!
6. Pickled Cucumber at Pickled Plum
Pickled cucumber is the perfect addition to a meal made up of dishes with strong flavours, as it works to cleanse the palette between mouthfuls. It certainly does it’s job and is incredibly refreshing. I normally make a batch using 2 cucumbers at the beginning of the week so that we always have some at hand!
7. Komatsuna (mustard greens) and Deep Fried Tofu by Japan Food Addict
This is another easy to assemble dish, and if you cant get your hands on Komatsuna (mustard greens), it also works with spinach. I like to make this if I feel like I am lacking greens on the table as it’s quick to throw together towards the end of cooking a meal.
8. Kinpira Gobo (Braised Carrot and Burdock) by Just One Cookbook
Kinpira Gobo is a staple in Japanese Bento boxes, as it is delicious, economical, versatile, and works well at room temperature. I like to make a big batch of this and then use it as a side dish and for packed lunches over the next few days.
9. Miso Soup with Greens and Tofu by The Minimalist Baker
Now that I eat Miso Soup on an almost daily basis, I’m not quite sure how I lived without it! If you can master a basic recipe using tofu and greens, it becomes incredible easy to adapt to whatever you have in your fridge. And if you are feeling under the weather, it becomes the perfect meal just by itself.
10. Japanese Potato Salad by Lovely Lanvin
The Japanese Style Potato Salad differs from the Western style which is quite commonly made with a vinaigrette style dressing and whole potatoes. In Japan it becomes a different affair, using mayonnaise (Japanese style of course!), eggs and a more mashed texture. It is quite common to add carrots and cucumber, but most families have a different way of making it and I normally adapt to whatever I have on hand.
11. Takikomigohan (Mixed Rice) by Chopstick Chronicles
If you find yourself a little bored of plain rice but fried rice seems too heavy and oily, then this recipe will become your best friend! It is simple and super delicious, especially the crust that forms on the bottom of the pot.
12. Takuan Japanese Pickled Daikon by Shizuoka Gourmet
This is for the serious picklers out there! Robert-Giles at Shizuoka Gourmet outlines two methods to make this pickled Daikon, one being the more traditional method, but both yielding results with a beautiful yellow colour which will brighten up your plate.
13. Harusame Salad (Rice Noodle Salad) by Hiroko Liston
Harusame salad is a great chilled addition to a summer meal as is satisfying without being too heavy. This recipe is also easily adaptable to whatever you wish to add or omit, and lasts well if you wish to prepare it in advance.
14. Hijiki Seaweed Salad by Just One Cookbook
This is another one of my favourite recipes by the wonderful Nami at Just One Cookbook. Hijiki seaweed is packed with minerals and nutrients, and this recipe is super super tasty! If you can get your hands on Hijiki you need to try it as soon as possible! I usually substitute the edamame for frozen peas unless it is edamame season, and it works just as well.
15. Tamagoyaki (Japanese Omelette) by Cooking with Dog
Tamagoyaki is so delicious, and even though at first the technique looks hard to master, I know very well from experience that if you do mess it up, it still tastes great anyway. If you do manage to master it though, it looks great in lunchboxes!
16. Kiriboshi Daikon Dried Cooked Daikon Radish by Japanese Kitchen in USA
This side dish has a slightly unusual texture with the addition of the dried Daikon radish, but the combination of the flavours works so well and it goes with almost anything, so it’s a fail safe option if you need to bulk up a meal.
17. Miso Glazed Eggplant by Delicious Everyday
This is another dish that makes the most of the eggplant-miso combination I mentioned earlier. It is simple, easy and showcases the flavours of the ingredients. It’s one of my favourite side dishes to cook as I can put it in the oven and leave the flavours to develop whilst I’m cooking the rest of the meal.
18. Japanese Garlic Fried Rice by Bear Naked Food
I’m not sure that any description is necessary here – fried rice is such a yummy, comforting addition to any meal! It goes without saying that you can customise the dish as you please to suit your taste and pantry!
19. Ramen Eggs by I am a Food Blog
Technically speaking this is a component to add to ramen soup but I love these eggs so much that I do sometimes just make them to have on the side! This recipe says to marinate the eggs for a minimum of 1 hour but I do recommend to leave them for longer, or even overnight if you can, for the best taste!
20. Cold Tofu with Ginger and Scallions by Pickled Plum
This is literally the quickest, easiest dish I have made in my life – you can assemble it in under 5 minutes and it is utterly delicious! Feel free to experiment with your own toppings.
So there you have it, my favourite Japanese Side Dishes. I hope you enjoy trying them!
Please share in the comments if I have missed a dish that you love 🙂