Even if you're a seasoned eater of sushi and ramen, walking into a Japanese grocery store can be intimidating. Beyond the staples that find their way into regular supermarkets—soy sauce, miso soup—you're likely to encounter aisle upon aisle of unfamiliar foods with unreadable packaging. You know these things probably taste awesome—the only problem is, you have no idea how to use them.
To brush up on our knowledge of Japanese ingredients, we enlisted chef Ivan Orkin of the newly opened Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop in Gotham Market West. For 10 years, Orkin and his wife, Mari, lived in Tokyo, where he opened two restaurants that made him an unlikely ramen celebrity (his new book details how a Jewish kid from Long Island rose to noodle supremacy).
Orkin and his wife (a Japanese food expert herself) recently led us on a guided tour of Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, NJ—the largest Japanese supermarket in the U.S.—and gave us the rundown on their pantry essentials. In the guide that follows, Ivan and Mari decode everything fromkatsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) to Japanese Kewpie Mayonnaise, and offer up easy-to-execute ideas on how to use each ingredient. Think of this as your gateway to making simple but delicious homestyle Japanese food in your own kitchen.