Japanese meals are known for their simple, healthy ingredients, as well as their subtle flavors. While both rice and fish are staples of Japanese cuisine, vegetables and occasionally meat, especially chicken, is also part of this ethnic fare. Although some consider Japanese food to be bland, the main drive behind Japanese cooking is to let the natural flavors of the ingredients speak for themselves.In traditional Japanese cooking, women prepare the meals that are then eaten at a low table where guests sit on the floor with their legs crossed beneath them. Unlike most other types of cuisine, Japanese meals are eaten with unique utensils, namely with chopsticks. Guests may bring small bowls of soup to their mouths and sip the soup out of the directly. However, larger plates are expected to stay on the table.Here is a run-down how typical Japanese food is served at each meal:
- Breakfast: A traditional Japanese breakfast tends to consist of a bowl of miso soup with green onions and tofu, Japanese-style pickles, a piece of fish and rice. This meal is filling and nutritious without weighing down the stomach.
- Lunch: Mid-day meals, lighter than breakfasts, usually consist of rice and bite-size items like fish cakes, particularly if lunch is not eaten at home.
- Dinner: The last meal of the day generally includes rice, soup and sometimes a piece of meat.
While rice is clearly a staple of Japanese food, some substitute noodles.If you are cooking traditional Japanese food for the first time, you”ll have to learn how to prepare seven different items:
- dashi, a simple soup stock
- steamed rice
- sushi rice
- tempura batter
- tamagoyaki, a rolled omelet
- teriyaki sauce
- tofu miso soup.
The Ultimate Japanese Eating Experience
Although Japanese food tends to have subtler flavors than other ethnic foods, learning how to enhance flavor subtleties without over powering them is a difficult culinary skill to master. Along with cooking Japanese food, presenting it on a plate and eating it both come with their own set of rules that truly define the Japanese culinary experience as both minimalist and utilitarian.
Because Japan is an island, seafood has always been a popular, central part of Japanese meals. While you will come across cooked fish, most associate Japanese cuisine with raw fish, namely sushi. In general, sushi is a bite-sized mound of rice either wrapped in seaweed with fish or served with a piece of fish on top. However, fish isn”t always part of sushi. Vegetables, such as cucumbers, and eggs are also traditional parts of sushi rolls.Sushi tends to come in four varieties:
- Maki-zushi: small, coin-sized cylinders wrapped in seaweed and filled with rice and other ingredients. Maki sushi tends to come in six to eight-piece servings per order. Rice may be on the inside and/or outside of these rolls.
- Nigiri zushi: flatter, rectangular beds of rice generally topped with a slice of raw fish. Larger than individual maki pieces, nigiri has two pieces per order.
- Sashimi: slices of raw fish without any rice or vegetables. Sashimi comes in servings of four to eight slices of fish.
- Temaki-zushi: a cone-like piece filled with rice, fish and vegetables. As the largest individual piece of each type of sushi, temaki has one piece per order. This type of sushi roll is also known as a “handroll.”
The rice used in sushi rolls is different from the steamed rice that comes as a side for other Japanese dishes. To make the stickier variety of sushi rice, chefs add rice vinegar, sugar, salt and sometimes sake to short grained rice. By doing this, the rice clumps together better and is easier to shape in a variety of ways, depending on the roll requested. To order sushi rolls, call the fish you want and then the type of roll. For example, an order of “tuna maki” will get you six to eight smaller pieces of tuna wrapped in rice and seaweed. Many Japanese restaurants tend to offer variations on traditional rolls, such as the pizza roll, the dynamite roll and the Philadelphia roll. If you are dining at a new Japanese restaurant, check its menu for any new variations.
Fish: The Japanese Staple Food
Because of its location and its Buddhist roots, Japan”s primary protein has been seafood. Some of the fish you can expect to find in Japanese cuisine includes:
- yellow tail.
Authentic Japanese Food: Whats Hot and Whats Not
While traditional Japanese dishes are quite popular, Western culture has had an impact on Japanese food. Known as yōshoku, western variations include:
- Furai: deep fried or breaded seafood that may be served with cabbage soup
- Katsuretsu: deep-fried meat served with cabbage soup
- Korokke: breaded mashed potatoes with minced meat patties
- Nikujaga, meat and potato stew.
Just as western cultures have influenced Japanese cuisine, so too has the Japanese style of cooking influenced them. Along with the popularity of sushi restaurants, spices such as wasabi, ginger and soy are becoming evermore present in upscale restaurants around the world.
Japanese Food: Fact and Fiction
Authentic Japanese cuisine is more than just fish and rice. While the flavors are subtle, creating and showcasing this type of subtlety is difficult to master. Next time you are at a Japanese restaurant, raise your sake or Sapporo and shout “Kampai!” (cheers) to wonderful meal you are about to enjoy!