Japanese Shredded Cabbage Salad

cabbage_otoushipWhile in Japan we usually follow the same eating pattern: restaurant for lunch and izakaya for dinner. Izakaya could be described as the equivalent of a pub, but no one goes there only to drink and the food is as good as in “real” restaurants (or even better, but at a lower price!). Izakayas serve small food portions and this makes them perfect places to end the day in a cool atmosphere, whether very hungry or just a bit. Most izakayas make customers pay for “otoshi/otoushi”, which could be described as an obligatory welcome snack (if you are lucky, you might also receive another non-ordered snack in the middle of your meal and even at the end, but these will be on the house, so make sure to compliment them, even if you don’t like them!). Otoshi tells a lot about the place : if it is bad and it’s our first visit to the place, I order very cautiously and immediately search internet for another izakaya to continue the evening, just in case….

Strangely, among all the different otoshi, some of them very unusual, this cabbage salad, served in one of our favourite izakayas, was was the most extraordinary. Having gone there twice this year, I memorised well all the ingredients and prepared it as soon as we came back. It’s by far the best raw cabbage dish I have ever eaten in my life! If you like typical Japanese flavours, I guarantee you will dream of this salad every time you see the humble cabbage in your grocery shop (at least that’s what happens to me every time I go shopping!).

TIPS: This dish is not vegetarian, but can easily become such if you skip the dried bonito flakes. (I don’t advise skipping the remaining ingredients which are essential in my opinion).

Those who never cook Japanese, might be put off by some ingredients, but they are easy to get in any Japanese grocery shop (or can be ordered by internet, at least in Europe, US or Canada).

Ponzu is a slightly sweet, slightly tangy and savoury light sauce. The tanginess comes from the Japanese citrus : yuzu.

Nori is the seaweed sheet used to make maki sushi.

Dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi) look a bit like wood flakes, but are made from very hard pieces of dried fish. They are used in the preparation of the most popular version of dashi (stock) and to put on top of dishes, such as okonomiyaki (they are delicious simply sprinkled on rice).

If you have never tasted Japanese mayonnaise, try it at least once. I consider it the best mayonnaise in the world.

I haven’t managed to shred the cabbage as finely as it’s done in Japan, but the thin slices are sufficient and are easily obtained with a mandolin.

Because of the ponzu’s tanginess, I find this salad particularly good with fried meat or fish (as long as you don’t exaggerate with the mayonnaise!). You can also serve it as a starter.

You can shred the cabbage in advance, but add the remaining ingredients only just before serving.

Preparation: about 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a side-dish): 

1/3 small white cabbage

2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise (the Japanese mayonnaise is just perfect here)

1/2 nori sheet, shredded (the seaweed used to make maki sushi; sometimes you can find it already shredded)

4 tablespoons ponzu sauce

 a small handful of dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

Shred the cabbage with a mandolin or a special shredder.

Place the cabbage into individual bowls.

Sprinkle with ponzu, add the mayonnaise, nori and bonito flakes and serve immediately.

16 Replies to “Japanese Shredded Cabbage Salad”

    1. Thank you, A_Boleyn. Ponzu is roughly a sweetened soy sauce mixture with yuzu (citrus) juice. You can find it in every Japanese grocery shop (I use it all the time as dipping sauce too) but just in case, you can try to make something similar with lime juice maybe (instead of yuzu). The salad is really addictive.

      1. I looked for ponzu at the only Japanese grocery store in town. They had ponzu salad dressing but no ponzu juice or anything similar. I could try some combo of lime and lemon.

        1. I think as long as it’s called ponzu, it’s always the right thing! Ponzu is a “salad” (or anything else) dressing/sauce. The juice I mention is yuzu juice (hence the-zu at the end of the word ponzu), but ponzu is just a sauce, so if you hesitate, go ahead (unless it’s really expensive)! You can make a photo with ingredients in Japanese and I’ll tell you if it’s ponzu. I really love it and many people who aren’t used to Japanese cuisine like it too, so I hope I don’t advise you something you’ll hate 😉

            1. Oh, but yuzu juice is veeeery expensive! Here I think a tiny bottle costs 15 dollars… I’ve never bought it…

  1. Another beautiful salad, Sissi. I mentioned to you before that my wife and I will be visiting Japan this April, so thank you for these tips on visiting restaurants. And yes, saving money is good, so we have to be choosy on where to eat.

    1. Thank you, Ray! Do not hesitate to write to me if you need tips, practical advice or even names of restaurants/bars! We’ve been going to Tokyo four 4 years, so I hope I am able to share some practical tips. (Definitely, skipping restaurants in the evening is a great saving idea: sometimes you can have a delicious lunch for twice or thrice less in the same place… not to mention the fun you have in izakayas!)

  2. It sounds like you have your eating pattern in Japan down to a science. There’s a lot to be said for a welcome snack and what it says about an establishment – I love your tip about complimenting even if you don’t like it! (I know exactly what you mean ;-). The way you describe this salad does make it sound dream-worthy Sissi – another original (to me anyway) Japanese beauty. My cabbage salads (which I eat almost daily) are not nearly as inspired as this one 🙂 I love how you’ve served it too (looks so pretty in that dynamic bowl).

    1. Hi, Kelly. Thank you so much for the compliments. After four trips I wish I had known from the start everything I know now…. it would have been much easier (though, thanks to my dear Japanese friend I already was prepared and introduced to many things). I wrote it because once for example we were offered an “on the house” grilled huge head of a fish which was delicious (I mean the small bits of flesh), but I imagine so many Westerners put off by it… or hating it. I paid attention to this salad only the first time. Since then I’ve made it so many times I can prepare it with my eyes shut 😉 It’s really so simple and so unusual at the same time.

    1. Thank you so much, again! You are so right about umami here. I must use this combination more often.

  3. I love finding great cabbage recipes since that’s one of the most plentiful vegetables that I can find during the winter. A very interesting dressing for a simple salad. Can I substitute the punzu with Gochujang? 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. I’ve just had it as a side dish for dinner. It’s irresistibly good and I cannot imagine getting tired of the flavours. Haha! Gochujang sounds like a wonderful hot kick idea here 🙂

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