Mentsuyu is a popular dipping sauce or broth for Japanese udon and soba noodles. This sauce is widely available in Japan but may not be as easy to find in other parts of the world. If you are out of this noodle sauce, here are some of the best mentsuyu substitutes.
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Your best bet: Make your own mentsuyu
The process for making a batch of mentsuyu at home is fairly simple and fast provided you have the right ingredients. If you are a fan of Japanese cuisine, you may already have the essentials on hand.
There are different recipes, some of which call for dashi granules, others omit the granules but may use other Japanese staples like mirin and kombu. It will be possible to find most (if not all) of the ingredients in Asian grocery stores. Japanese food has long been popular in the West, so you may even be able to find them in a well-stocked Western-style grocery store.
Most of the recipes do call for the sauce to be simmered for a short time to burn off the alcohol from the mirin. It is strained after simmering and then allowed to cool before serving or storing in the refrigerator.
A decent second choice: Ponzu
Sometimes called ponzu sauce in the West, ponzu is the combination of rice wine vinegar with various sour citrus juices. Dashi and other ingredients will sometimes be added. Some versions have the bonito flakes (katsuobushi) and mirin that you see in mentsuyu recipes. It is widely used as a dipping sauce that is served with sashimi and as a sauce for stir-fries. Other ponzu applications include marinade and even salad dressing.
The traditional citrus juice used in ponzu comes from the yuzu fruit, a sour fruit similar in size to a tangerine. Ponzu has many of the flavor notes that you want from mentsuyu, which is what makes it such a good substitute. It can have umami and saltiness along with a little sweetness. It also has the same thin, broth-like consistency that you would get from mentsuyu.
Ponzu’s only real downside has to do with its tartness. Because of the citrus juice, you can expect ponzu to be a little more acidic than mentsuyu would be.
In a pinch: Dashi
One of the foundation elements of Japanese cooking, dashi is simply a glutamate-rich stock. The glutamate is the source of its rich umami flavor. The umami comes from ingredients like kombu and bonito flakes that enable dashi to enhance multiple Japanese dishes. Dashi is used in the same way that mentsuyu is used: as the broth for noodles. It is also the basis of miso soup and many tempura dipping sauces.
Dashi’s big drawback is its preparation time, which can range up to several hours.
Tentsuyu is a thin Japanese dipping sauce. Instead of being used for noodles, tentsuyu — sometimes written as ten tsuyu — is used for tempura. The ingredients used to make tentsuyu are the same as those used for traditional mentsuyu with one crucial difference: it contains a lower ratio of dashi when compared to mentsuyu.
Made for grilled meats, yakiniku sauce will provide much of what you want from mentsuyu. Yakiniku sauce is a glaze or dipping sauce that is traditionally served as an accompaniment for grilled steak or mutton. It is the most common of a class of sauces known as tare. It has some of the same ingredients as mentsuyu including soy sauce and mirin.