While it’s one of my favorite things to do, cooking in Japan used to be a pain. I couldn’t find the 材料 (zairyō, ingredients) or 調味料 (chōmiryō, seasonings) for any of my favorite レシピ (reshipi, recipes): tortillas, deli-cut turkey, pesto, jalapeno peppers, black beans, hummus, you get the idea.

No, I was stuck making half-formed 炒め (itame, stir-fries) with 玉ねぎ (tamanegi, onion), ピーマン (pīman, bell pepper) and ひき肉 (hikiniku, ground meat), lightly seasoned with 醤油 (shōyu, soy sauce) and ごま油 (goma abura, sesame oil). It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t really understand or make the most of the available 材料.

The solution came much later: simply make more 日本のレシピ (Nihon no reshipi, Japanese recipes). Of course, that would require knowing Japanese, as English versions of Japanese recipes are often butchered, modified in strange ways or use American ingredients. だから日本語を習うために、「肉じゃが」を作りましょう (Dakara Nihongo o narau tame ni, “nikujaga” o tsukurimashō, Therefore, in order to learn Japanese, let’s make “nikujaga” [a meat and potatoes stew]).

ために or “in order to” comes in particularly handy when cooking. 炒めるために (itameru tame ni, in order to stir-fry) you need フライパンとサラダ油 (furaipan to sarada abura, a skillet and vegetable oil); お菓子を作るために (okashi o tsukuru tame ni, in order to make sweets) you need 砂糖と小麦粉 (satō to komugiko, sugar and flour). 肉じゃがを作るために、日本語の料理関連の単語を理解しなくてはいけません (Nikujaga o tsukuru tame ni, Nihongo no ryōri kanren no tango o rikai shinakutewa ikemasen, In order to make nikujaga, you need to understand Japanese cooking-related vocabulary).

Nikujaga is a good place to start because it’s pretty basic. We’ve already covered a lot of the vocabulary for ingredients that you need: 玉ねぎ, 醤油, 砂糖, in addition to 豚肉・細切れ (butaniku komagire, thinly sliced pork), じゃがいも (jagaimo, potato), にんじん (ninjin, carrot), 水 (mizu, water), 酒 (sake, sake), みりん (mirin, sweet fermented cooking alcohol) and 和風だし (wafū dashi, Japanese soup stock).

The first step: じゃがいもとにんじんを乱切りにします (Jagaimo to ninjin o rangiri ni shimasu, Cut the potatoes and carrot into chunks). 乱切 means hardy chunks of vegetable, not too big or too small. Commonly found commands in recipes also include: 切る (kiru, to cut), 皮を剥く (kawa o muku, to peel the skin), おろす (orosu, to grate), 熱する (nessuru, to heat), 混ぜる (mazeru, to mix) and 加える (kuwaeru, to add).

Next up, 玉ねぎはくし切りで、お肉を一口大に切ります (tamanegi wa kushigiri de, o-niku o hitokuchidai ni kirimasu, cut the onion in half vertically and then into equal parts, and cut the meat into bite-size pieces). Specific details of ways to cut can be one reason Japanese recipes are frustrating, でもそのために日本語を頑張っていきましょう (demo sono tame ni Nihongo o ganbatte-ikimashō, but for that reason let’s keep doing our best at Japanese).

The volitional form mentioned above is for “let’s” or “I’ll” do something — and in the above case, it’s talking about trying hard at Japanese. But いきましょう here doesn’t mean “Let’s go!” like it commonly does. By attaching いく to the te-form of a verb, we can indicate that the verb continues into the future. So when we add the volitional いく to the te-form of 頑張る (ganbaru, to try hard), we express that we’re going to keep trying our best at Japanese moving forward, or in this case, 今から肉じゃがを作っていきたいと思います (ima kara nikujaga o tsukutte-ikitai to omoimasu, I think I’d like to cook nikujaga from now).

Which brings us to step 3, 油を熱して、お肉を炒めます (abura o nesshite, o-niku o itamemasu, heat up the oil and stir-fry the meat). Even by the third step, we’ve already studied most of the vocabulary required for the recipe.

Step 4: 野菜も加えて炒め合わせ、砂糖とお水を注ぎ入れます (Yasai mo kuwaete itameawase satō to o-mizu o sosogi-iremasu, Add and mix-in the vegetables in the stir-fry, and then pour in sugar and water). 合わせる (Awaseru, To mix together) can be used as a compound verb, in this case with 炒める, indicating that everything must be well-stir-fried together. Step 5: 調味料も加えて落としぶたをして、弱火で20~30分煮込みます (Chōmiryō mo kuwaete otoshibuta o shite, yowabi de nijuppun~sanjuppun nikomimasu, add seasonings [including dashi], cover and simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes).

And there you go! 肉じゃがが完成しました (Nikujaga ga kansei shimashita, The nikujaga is complete). 日本語を習うために、たくさん料理をしていきましょう (Nihongo o narau tame ni, takusan ryōri o shite-ikimashō, in order to learn Japanese, let’s keep on cooking a bunch).

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