John Ng’s Essentials

5 Things the Zen Box Izakaya chef can’t live without

Five things chef John Ng of Zen Box Izakaya can’t live without:

Japanese cuisine:

Obento-ya and Tanpopo. They really do a good job of retaining the cultural aspect, not just focusing on sushi. They both look at the whole culinary scene and the variety of different foods.

Japanese staples:

Kombu (sea kelp), different types of soy sauce, (lighter and darker ones have different flavors), sweet cooking wine, bonito flakes—all of those make a basic dashi broth (see his recipe at You want rice vinegar, miso paste, and white, red, and cooking sake. Surdyk’s has the best selection of drinking sake, but I would go to United Noodle for cooking sake.

Right-hand woman:

My wife, co-owner, and front-of-house maven Lina Goh and I separate business from life. Know your duties. Everything has to be transparent: That’s key to working together.

Food community:

The chefs of this town are so supportive of each other. Like Thomas Kim and Kat Melgaard of The Rabbit Hole and Steven Brown of Tilia. We were in Burch the other night; it was so good. You have to have 100 percent commitment and skill to do this job, but also be open-minded about learning from others.

Dish that reminds him of home:

Chinese-style steamed fish that my mother would prepare. For Asians, fish is sacred to us. When we would have celebrations or holidays, my mother would always have that whole steamed fish on the table.


Online extra:

Dashi Broth Recipe
Makes 3c.

From the kitchen of John Ng, chef at Zen Box Izakaya in Minneapolis
1 piece (approximately 2”x 4”) kombu kelp
3½  c. water
1 oz. (30 g) katsuoboshi (bonito flakes) OR 5 whole pieces dried shiitake mushrooms (for vegetarian)

Rinse kombu (and dried shiitake mushroom if vegetarian option) with cold water, then soak in warm water overnight. Bring water from the overnight soak to a boil, then simmer over stovetop for 15 minutes. Skim white foam from top. Add katsuoboshi in simmered kombu water. Continue cooking for 1 minute. Strain kombu and katsuoboshi or shiitake mushroom. Keep the broth for future use in miso soup.

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