Ichiju Sansai: The Secret Healthy Japanese Meal

Are you looking for a delicious, healthy, and balanced meal? Look no further than Ichiju Sansai! This traditional Japanese meal style is an incredibly delicious and nutritious way to get all the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. In this article, we'll discuss the origins of Ichiju Sansai, how to make one, and start incorporating it into your diet today. 


What is Ichiju Sansai? 


Also known as "One Soup Three Dishes," Ichiju Sansai is a traditional Japanese meal that consists of a bowl of steamed white rice, soup, and three side dishes. This simple yet elaborate meal is rooted in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). At the time, members of the highest classes in society were served in the Honzen Ryori system; a banquet-style meal service served on small tables called zen. Today, the luxurious dining theatrics of Honzen Ryori live on in households all over the country as Ichiju Sansai.

Let's take a closer look at the different components of this dish:

  • Gohan - Steamed rice bowl, plain
  • Shiru mono - Bowl of Soup
  • Okazu - Main dish (typically comprised of fish, sashimi, or meat) and two side dishes (a combination of simmered or stir-fried vegetables, tofu, and meat).
  • Kuono mono - side of pickled vegetables

If you're the type of person that prefers to avoid settling for one dish or flavor per meal, then Ichiju Sansai is for you! One of the reasons this combo-style meal is so prevalent in Japan is that it is very satisfying for the taste buds and the body. In addition, this centuries-old dish has a minimalistic presentation, making it an easy and convenient way to prepare a balanced meal. As a result, if you visit a Japanese home, you are much more likely to see Ichiju Sansai than something more conventionally associated with Japanese food, such as sushi or ramen!


How to make your own Ichiju Sansai 


When putting together your own Ichiju Sansai, the possibilities are endless! As one of the most famous Japanese meal styles, people have devised creative ways to switch up their flavor combinations to keep it interesting. To give you some inspiration in crafting your very first Japanese combo meal, let's have a look at some of the most common options:


Gohan (Rice)

While white rice may be the most popular option, there are several other Japanese rice options that you can try switching it up with:

  • Brown rice - high in fiber and a great source of B vitamins
  • Mixed (multigrain) rice - often mixed with millet, barley, or other grains for a nutty and chewy texture
  • Red rice - has a nutty and mildly sweet flavor, with its red color coming from the anthocyanins it contains.
  • Takikomi Gohan - rice cooked with assorted ingredients, including mushrooms, fish cake, and konnyaku (konjac).
  • Mame Gohan - cooked with green peas and kombu seaweed.
  • Taimeshi - a more traditional dish consisting of sea bream, bamboo shoots, and other ingredients cooked together with the rice.
  • Chestnut Rice - cooked with chestnuts and seasonings, giving it a slightly sweet flavor.


Shiru (Soup)

The best type of soup for Ichiju Sansai is something flavorful and nutritious yet light. While ramen might be one of the most famous Japanese soups, it doesn't belong in this meal! Here are some of our favorite soups to incorporate into your combo meal:

  • Miso Soup - made with a miso base, is typically served with cubed tofu, wakame seaweed, and green onions.
  • Ushio-jiru - Japanese clam soup made from Manila clams in a clear Kombu/dashi broth.
  • Kenchinjiru - this hearty vegan soup is made with a mix of root vegetables, shitake, and tofu, cooked in a kombu broth.
  • Matsutake Suimono - a luxurious dish made with mushrooms, tofu, and mitsuba herb in a dashi broth (known as an autumn delicacy!)
  • Sanpeijiru - originally from Hokkaido, this is a chunky soup with salted salmon and an assortment of root vegetables in a kombu dashi broth.
  • Tonjiru - This pork and root vegetable soup is simmered in a miso broth, giving it a unique flavor.


Okazu (Main & 2 Side Dishes)

This is the heart of Ichiju Sansai, where you can get creative with your meal combinations. The dishes you select for your Okazu can determine how light or filling your meal will be. For example, you might include vegetable and chicken stir-fry with a green salad and hijiki seaweed for a lighter summer menu. For a heartier meal to satisfy a winter appetite, you might choose pork Katsuni, agedashi tofu, and potato salad. Here are some delicious ideas to try out:

  • Potato Salad
  • Green Salad
  • Warm Mushroom Salad
  • Coleslaw
  • Tonkatsu (Panko-breaded pork cutlet)
  • Karrage (Japanese-style breaded fried chicken)
  • Gyoza (Japanese fried dumplings)
  • Pork Katuni (braised pork belly)
  • Nikujaga (potato and pork braise)
  • Vegetable and chicken stir-fry
  • Saba Misoni (mackerel poached in miso)
  • Tonteki (pork loin)
  • Chicken Teriyaki
  • Yellowtail Teriyaki
  • Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ)
  • Agedashi Tofu (deep-fried tofu cubes served in dashi-based seasoning)
  • Hijiki Seaweed
  • Spinach Ohitashi (blanched spinach in dashi)
  • Vegetable Tempura (deep-friend vegetables) 


Sample Menus: 


Here are three very different samples menus that display the versatility of Ichiju Sansai:

A light meal (vegetarian option)

  • Mame Gohan (green pea rice)
  • Kenchinjiru (vegan root vegetable soup)
  • Tofu teriyaki
  • Warm Mushroom Salad
  • Hijiki Seaweed

A light meal (pescatarian option)

  • Brown Rice
  • Ushio-jiru (Japanese clam soup)
  • Yellowtail Teriyaki
  • Green Salad
  • Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura

A hearty meal for bigger appetites (meat version)

  • Mixed Rice
  • Sanpeijiru (chunky salmon & root veggie soup)
  • Takiniku (Japanese Barbeque)
  • Gyoza (Japanese fired dumplings)
  • Coleslaw


Ichiju Sansai makes healthy eating delicious!

Thanks to Ichiju Sansai, you'll never have to sacrifice flavor for health. With various flavors and textures to play with, you can make your meals both nutritious and tasty. Enjoy one of many different flavor combinations with a bowl of Japanese rice, and you've got yourself a wholesome, balanced meal!