Kanako's Kitchen

Umani: Boiled Vegetables with Chicken

Posted in Recipe, side dish, today's meal by Kanako Noda on October 24, 2009

umaniYou want to talk about silly-sounding literal translations? Umani comes out as “delicious boiled thing”. Which pretty much tells the tale of this simple, unfussy dish which brings together several of Japan’s favorite vegetables with just a little bit of chicken for flavor. The vegetables – which include the delicious, potato-like taro roots – are chosen not just for their flavors but also for their colors: umani must have those orange carrots and bright green beans to keep it from looking like prison food.

One great thing about umani is that it scales up easily: you can just double or triple the portions below to feed more people. For this reason, it’s a typical choice when you have a lot of guests or in big family occasions.

As is usual with these kinds of recipes, there are any number of variations on umani. In a professional kitchen, you would cook each of the vegetables separately – but that’s far too much trouble for home cooking. It hardly needs pointing out that each family will vary the composition of the dish slightly to suit its taste.

This recipe is the version my mom used to make. It tastes like home.

umani ingredientIngredients (for five)


  • Taro roots – 6 to 8
  • Carrots – 1 large one
  • Chicken – 250 grams
  • Konnyaku – 125 grams
  • Shiitake Mushrooms – four or five. Fresh is better, but usually all you can find is dry
  • Konbu – one 5 cm. section
  • Optional: Gobou, renkon (lotus flower roots), bamboo shoots
  • Green beans or snow peas – a handful


  • Water – one cup
  • Chicken broth – (granulate is ok) – half a cube
  • Sugar – three tablespoons
  • Sake – three tablespoons
  • Soy sauce – three tablespoons


  • Place dried shiitake mushrooms under hot water to recompose
  • Cut carrots into longish irregular chunks
  • Cut chicken into chopstick-friendly pieces
  • Peel the taro roots, cut in halves or thirds
  • Put cut taro pieces on a strainer, sprinkle with two tablespoons of salt, massage the salt into the taro to get rid of the excess starch
  • Rinse the taro well
  • Tear apart konnyaku into smallish pieces using your hands, not a knife
  • Once the shiitake mushrooms are recomposed, cut them in halves or quarters. Cut off and discard the stems.

dry shitake cut carrot cut chicken

cut taro salt taro massage taro

wash taro tear konnyaku cut shitake

click to enlarge


  • Heat a mid-sized non-stick pot over a high flame
  • Toss in the konnyaku, stir fry, roasting off its excess moisture. Don’t let the weird noise it makes freak you out: that’s normal. After two minutes, you should see the outside become noticeably dryer.
  • Add in all the vegetables, the dried konbu and the chicken.
  • Add in the cup of water, the granulate broth, the sugar, sake and soy sauce
  • Bring to a boil
  • With a slotted spoon, carefully skim off any scum that rises to the top.
  • Using two layers of kitchen paper towels, make a little dome over the vegetables to seal the moisture in.
  • Cover the pot, bring fire down to medium
  • Cook for half an hour like this.
  • Just before it’s ready, bring a a separate pot with salted water to a boil. Boil the green beans or snow peas for just three minutes. Try to get their color as bright as possible. Then add to the main pot.

stir fry konnnyaku dryed konnyaku add ingredients

add sauce boil everything take away scum

cover with kitchen towel cook covered french beans

boil french beans cur french beans add french beans

click to enlarge

You could serve it at this point but, for best results:

  • Turn everything off, allow the pot to cool over 2 or 3 hours. Reheat. Serve.

Umani works well as a main dish, but it’s perhaps more commonly served as a side.


Today we had a standard “1 soup-1 dish” dinner: white rice, miso soup with tofu and wakame (recipe upcoming), umani and hakusai pickles.

22nd dinnerItadakimasu!


6 Responses

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  1. Mitchi said, on October 25, 2009 at 1:27 am

    This looks absolutely delicious.

    Translations can be weird sometimes…this reminds me of a dish my mom makes which is called “Nilaga” in our language, and it translates to “Boiled.”

    I don’t know if I’ll be able to find Konyaku here though, the only Asian stores around are all vietnamese, and they don’t seem to carry a lot of Japanese (or Korean) ingredients.

  2. kanako said, on October 25, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Hi Mitchi,
    maybe every culture have some dish call “Boiled” in different way. In Italy they have also “carne bollita”, and it is literally boiled meat.
    And don’t worry about konnyaku! Konnaku doesn’t have a strong flavor, so the taste would be almost the same without it.

  3. Tamiko Nimura said, on May 25, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Stumbled across your site as I was thinking, “Hey, I’m making umani tonight–I wonder if there’s actually a recipe?” I’m Sansei and make our family umani w/o a recipe. Ours includes aburaage–in my version, LOTS of it, since I love it! Nice since it soaks up the light sauce; even better the next day.

    I’m sure I’ll visit again. Arigato gozaimashita!

    • Quico said, on May 27, 2010 at 4:40 pm

      Hi Tamiko,

      Thanks for writing in!…so, do you do the silly little kitchen-paper dome thing, too?! I always thought that was a little too far, but Kanako swears by it…

  4. Keiko said, on November 6, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I am a third generation Japanese American and our secret umani recipe uses aburage like one of the previous commenters. Bachan’s secret recipe includes daikon, pork, and kamaboko at the very end. I just made some last week since the weather has gotten a little chilly here in California.

  5. Jonny said, on March 7, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Kill me now if I have to eat anything that looks this boring and bland! You guys wouldn’t know flavour and fine food if it bit you on the arse.

    Live a little people – is there no sense of adventure in Japan??!

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