Learn the true meaning of Japanese ingredients and cooking terms from the sensei of Kaiseki, Seattle chef Shota Nakajima of Naka. Then you’ll better know your way around a Japanese menu.


It has been over a century since umami, which roughly translates to “savory,” was discovered in Japan, but umami is just now attracting global attention primarily from chefs and others with a strong interest in food. Umami is the fifth taste, joining sweet, sour, salty and bitter. These are the unique meaty tastes that can’t be created by mixing and are known as the basic taste sensation.


A Japanese soup stock that is the base of all of our cooking and used in 80% of our meals for the Kaiseki courses. Our base is kombu, a kelp from Hokkaido, also called ma-kombu, which is largely used in Osaka. I couldn’t find kelp that I liked in Seattle or the United States so I import it from Japan. Bonito flakes are traditionally used in a dashi, but we use tuna flakes instead for a very light, elegant flavor. Even though I’ve made dashi for three to four years straight, there is no way that I can make it the same as the day before, so we adjust the flavoring as we go.

Basic Words

After all of these words we would add mono, so for example “yaki-mono” would mean something grilled.

Mono: thing

Su (Zu): vinegar

Ae: tossed

Yaki: grilled

Sui: soup

Ni: braised

Mushi: steamed