Japan: Kinpira Gobo

kinpira gobo

I usually choose my recipes based on the unusual ingredients that I find here and there. This Japanese recipe is no exception to the rule.

It had been weeks since I bought dried sardines and I intended to make tazukuri at our next (virtual) stop in Japan. Tazukuri is New Year specialty in Japan. But then, last week, I went out with friends at a Korean restaurant in an Asian neighborhood not far from my place. After dinner, we all went for a walk to the nearby Japanese supermarket. And then, I still gave in on my habit to buy ingredients and preparations which I have never heard of!

In the fruits and vegetables aisle, I came across a root of nearly a meter long. I had never seen such things. My friends apparently knew about gobo, since it is its Japanese name. It is also called greater burdock or Arctium lappa in English. I could not resist. That same evening, at home, I started looking for recipes to use this unusual ingredient. Gobo root is prepared primarily as an side dish for a bento. Bento is a Japanese quick meal that is served in a bento box (bento bako) and where foods are varied to achieve a balanced diet. There are generally 40% rice, 30% protein, 20% vegetables, 10% of pickled vegetables or fruits.

I chose to cook kinpira. Kinpira defines a style of cooking where you basically sauté then simmer vegetables or especially roots such as carrots, gobo and lotus in soy sauce and mirin.

I could not see myself cook this side dish by itself… so I went snooping in my freezer where I found a smoked mackerel that I had not cooked yet. I just needed to make white (sushi) rice as an accompaniment. The day before, I had bought furikake, a Japanese condiment with ingredients such as dried bonito (mackerel), seaweed and sesame seeds, which can be sprinkled on rice. I had all my bento in my mind, I only had to execute it.

After a busy morning of work, I decided to start cooking my bento at 1PM. It still took over an hour to cook as it takes 30 minutes to soak the gobo and also 30 minutes to marinate mackerel (which can obviously be done in parallel). I had not realized that gobo root oxidizes very quickly. Soaking it allows to get the root back to white but also soften it before cooking.

Finally, a very healthy meal for an almost healthy body. Burdock root is indeed very popular for its nutritional content, but also for its diuretic and laxative properties (although I have no problems in that area).

Verdict: I loved it, my wife loved it, the children who love vegetables rejoiced at this unusual preparation. I would definitely do it again!

Recipe of Kinpira Gobo


    2 gobo root or Great Burdock root
    2 carrots
    2 tablespoons mirin (or a mixture of sake and rice vinegar)
    2 tablespoons sugar
    4 tablespoons soy sauce
    2 tablespoons sesame oil
    1 tablespoon dried chili flakes (optional)


Peel gobo root with a peeler. Cut 2-inch long sections. Cut them in matchsticks of about 1/10 inch (2-3 mm) thick.

Immerse them in water for 30 minutes to slightly soften and remove the oxidation. For those in a hurry, it is possible to immerse them in water for a few minutes, change the water and re-soak for a few minutes.


Meanwhile, peel the carrots and cut into matchsticks also the same length and thickness.

carrots kinpira gobo

Heat the sesame oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat.

When the oil is hot, add the gobo root and carrots. Toss to coat.

Add the dried chili flakes (optional).

Add the sugar, mirin (or sake / vinegar rice), soy sauce. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat.

Then add 1/2 cup of water and stir. Cook until liquid is evaporated.

Check gobo and carrot. If they are still crunchy, continue to cook, adding a little water and soy sauce.

kinpira gobo rice mackerel sake

As for the mackerel, I just marinated it in sake, sesame oil, grated ginger, soy sauce and sugar for 30 minutes. I then grilled on the grill that I placed in the oven. Alternatively, the fish can be cooked on the grill placed on the gas.

I cooked the rice according to the directions on the package with just a trickle of neutral oil. Once ready to serve, I sprinkled furikake.