A classic, home-cooked dish for over one hundred years, the Japanese Potato Salad is distinct because of its colorful addition of fresh vegetables, creamy texture, and rounded flavor. It’s the ultimate crowd-pleaser!
Summer cookouts and holiday get-togethers are where potato salads typically shine, but this recipe for Japanese Potato Salad (ポテトサラダ) is one that I enjoy making year-round. In Japan, it shows up in bento boxes, convenience stores, and even as a bar snack at izakaya.
Today, let‘s learn how to make this classic Japanese potato salad that all ages will love.
Table of Contents
What is Japanese Potato Salad?
A Brief History
It may surprise you when I say potato salad has been a popular menu item in Japan for at least 125 years. That’s right!
As with many other yoshoku dishes (like Curry Rice, Croquettes, and Tonkatsu), potato salad likely made its first appearance during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). After a Japanese chef tried to recreate the popular Eastern European Olivier Salad (also known as Russian Salad), this Japanese version quickly gained popularity.
What Makes It Different?
German and American potato salad recipes are often vinegar-based with chunks of waxy potatoes and ingredients like mustard, bacon, and fresh parsley or chives. But in the Japanese version, you will find a variety of colorful ingredients like carrots, corn, hard-boiled eggs, cucumber, and ham.
The vegetables add sweetness and substance to the salad, and the simplicity of seasonings delivers a balanced flavor. There is less of an acidic base because of the absence of vinegar.
Every family in Japan has its own take for the potato salad, and that’s one of the many things I love about it. You can add ingredients of your choice (e.g., onion, peas, string beans, apple, or canned tuna). It will be just as nutritious and eye-catching.
The potatoes are almost completely mashed (but I recommend leaving a few chunks), so the texture is creamy. Most importantly, the key difference in flavor comes from the type of mayonnaise we use (more on this below).
How to Make Classic Japanese Potato Salad
You can find most of the ingredients for this potato salad in a regular supermarket. However, to make it distinctly Japanese, I highly recommend using Japanese mayonnaise, which adds a rich and tangy component that you can’t easily substitute. You can find the famous, red-capped squeeze bottle of Kewpie mayo in most Asian grocery stores. If you have a little bit of time, try this homemade version of Japanese mayonnaise!
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Russet Potatoes – Waxy potatoes are commonly suggested for potato salad, but there is a reason we use a starchier potato for this recipe. Japanese potato salad is creamier in texture than its Western counterpart. While we don’t mash them all the way, the texture of russet potatoes makes it easy to break up while mixing.
- Corn – I love the addition of corn in potato salad. The tiny kernels are packed with sweetness and embody the flavors of summertime. You can use canned or frozen for easy preparation.
- Carrots – This adds another element of natural sweetness to the salad. If you can cut the carrot into super-thin slices (with a knife or mandoline slicer), just sprinkle salt to make them tender. However, if you struggle to slice super thinly, blanch them quickly (or use a microwave) till carrots are just tender.
- Cucumber – Mixing thinly sliced cucumber into the salad gives it a refreshing flavor, not to mention a nice crunch!
- Boiled egg – Egg and potatoes are extremely complementary. Plus, the added protein makes it a substantial dish.
- Ham – Instead of the traditional bacon, we use ham in Japanese potato salad. It’s less oily with a nice amount of saltiness that brings out all the other flavors. If you don’t eat meat, simply omit it!
- Seasonings – Japanese mayo, rice vinegar (gives the salad a slight zing), salt, and pepper.
Much like potato salads in the US, Japanese potato salad is a popular party dish. It has the perfect balance of rich, tart flavors with a touch of sweetness and a pleasant variety of textures.
- Peel, cut, and boil the potatoes until a skewer pierces a potato smoothly, about 15 minutes.
- While cooking the potatoes, cut all the rest of the ingredients and prep them.
- Mash the cooked potatoes and mix them with other ingredients.
- Season the potato mixture with Japanese kewpie mayo.
- Chill and serve.
6 Helpful Tips When Making Potato Salad
- Cut ingredients into a bite-sized, uniform shape – Because of the smooth texture of the smashed potatoes, you‘ll want to cut the other ingredients in small pieces so they incorporate well.
- Remove excess moisture from all ingredients – Excess moisture will ruin the texture and flavors of potato salad. So it‘s key to withdraw the moisture from cucumbers, carrots, and potatoes before mixing them all together.
- Add seasonings to hot potatoes – The potatoes will absorb flavors well when they are still warm. So add rice vinegar, salt, and pepper, except for the mayonnaise! Read next.
- Let the potatoes cool – Hold on to the mayo. If you mix mayonnaise while the potatoes are hot, the mayonnaise will separate. Therefore, work on the other ingredients while the potatoes cool down. It‘s a good idea to start cooking the potatoes first to give them plenty of cooling time.
- Gradually add mayonnaise – We all want to use less mayonnaise, but it is the main flavor so you just can‘t skimp here. I suggest adding just two-thirds of the mayo first, then taste to see if you want to add the rest. Sometimes, a sprinkle of salt can bring out the flavors you need.
- Chill the potato salad before serving – Not only does it taste better, but chilling also gives time for the flavors to meld together.
What to Serve with Japanese Potato Salad
You can‘t beat the versatility of this salad! For that reason, it’s a dish that you can pair with just about anything. Some other ways I like to enjoy Japanese Potato Salad are alongside Karaage (fried chicken) or Hambagu (Japanese hamburger steak).
If you’re having a barbecue or attending a potluck, see my list of Japanese recipes that go perfectly with this potato salad.
It’s rare that we have leftovers of this dish in my house. But when we do, I love making these Potato Salad Pork Rolls.
Japanese Potato Salad
- 2 russet potatoes (1.15 lb)
- 2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt (for cooking the potatoes)
- ¼ cup frozen or canned corn
- 1 large egg (50 g each w/o shell)
- 1 Persian cucumber (or ½ Japanese cucumber; 3 oz, 90 g)
- 2 inches carrot (2 oz, 60 g)
- 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt (divided; for the cucumber and carrot)
- 2 slices Black Forest ham (1.9 oz, 54 g)
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Prepare the Potatoes
- Peel 2 russet potatoes and cut them into 1½-inch (3.8 cm) pieces (I usually cut one russet potato into four pieces). They should be roughly the same size so that they’ll cook evenly.
- Put the potatoes in a medium pot and add cold water to cover by 1 inch (2.5 cm). Add 2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt to the pot and turn on the heat to medium high. Cover with the lid, leaving it slightly ajar to avoid a boil-over. Tip: Start cooking the potatoes in cold water to heat them up slowly so they cook through evenly. While you‘re cooking and cooling the potatoes, prepare the other ingredients (see next section).
- Once the water is boiling, remove the lid and reduce the heat to medium. Cook on a gentle boil until a skewer pierces a potato smoothly, about 15 minutes.
- Drain the water completely from the pot using the lid to hold back the potatoes. Put the pot with the potatoes back onto the stove over medium heat to evaporate any remaining water completely, shaking the pot constantly to avoid sticking. When there is no liquid left, remove the pot from the heat.
- Mash the potatoes lightly, leaving some small chunks for texture. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl.
- While the potatoes are hot, add 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (unseasoned) and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside to cool.
To Prepare the Other Ingredients
- While the potatoes are cooking, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Boil ¼ cup frozen or canned corn for 5 minutes (or follow the package instructions.)
- Drain the corn in a fine-mesh sieve and set aside to cool. Add 1 large egg (50 g each w/o shell) to the same pot and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Turn on the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Once boiling, set a timer for 11–12 minutes and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
- When the timer goes off, shock the egg in cold water until cool. Remove and discard the shell.
- Slice the boiled egg and chop it into smaller pieces. Set aside to cool.
- Peel 1 Persian cucumber (leave some skin on to create a striped pattern), and thinly slice it. Tip: If you‘re using a large cucumber, you may need to cut it in half or quarters lengthwise before slicing it.
- Cut 2 inches carrot in half or quarters lengthwise, and then cut into super-thin slices. You may use a mandoline slicer to cut it thinly. Tip: If your slices are very thick, salting in next step may not work. Instead, cover them with water and microwave for a few minutes until a skewer can pierce the carrot smoothly; don’t overcook them or they will get mushy. Drain the water and let cool. If you use this method, skip the salting process.
- Sprinkle half of 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt over the cucumber slices, knead them with your hands, and let them stand until they release their moisture, about 5 minutes. Tip: Salt draws out moisture from the vegetables through osmosis. This process keeps them from releasing moisture into the salad and diluting the flavors.
- Sprinkle the other half of 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt over the carrot slices, knead them with your hands, and let them stand until they release their moisture, about 5–7 minutes.
- Put the cucumber and carrot slices in a sieve and quickly rinse under cold running water to remove the salt.
- Squeeze the cucumber and carrot slices to remove any moisture and set aside.
- Cut 2 slices Black Forest ham into 1-inch (2.5-cm) thin strips and set aside.
- Add all the ingredients to the bowl of the cooled potatoes and mix all together.
- Add two-thirds of 6 Tbsp Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise and combine well.
- Taste to see if you want to add more mayonnaise. I added the remaining one-third of it. Refrigerate the potato salad for 30–60 minutes before serving.
- You can pair this versatle Japanese Potato Salad with just about anything. I like to serve it with Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken) and Hambagu (Japanese Hamburger Steak). For a barbecue or potluck, see my list of Japanese recipes that go perfectly with this potato salad. It‘s a classic addition to your bento lunchbox, too! If you have leftovers, try making my childhood favorite Potato Salad Pork Rolls.
- You can keep the leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 3–4 days.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Aug 31, 2011. The post has been updated with new images and a new video on June 28, 2021, and republished with updated content on June 20, 2023.