Seasonal ingredients, traditional cooking techniques and unique eating etiquette all contribute to the diverse dishes characteristic of Japanese cuisine.
As an island nation, Japan has developed its own original cuisine, but one can see influences from Portugal, China, and even the United States in some modern Japanese dishes.
The Basics Of Japanese Cooking
The fundamentals of Japanese cuisine include fresh, high-quality seasonal ingredients and the artistic presentation of dishes. Most Japanese dishes are created by combining regional staples, such as rice or noodles, with soup, fish, meat, flavorings and vegetables.
Most Japanese consume fresh fish and seafood on a daily basis. Shellfish, such as squid, octopus and sea urchin, as well as varieties of crab, tuna, and other finned fish are popular ingredients in numerous Japanese dishes, including sushi and sashimi.
Due in part to the large Buddhist influence many Japanese are vegetarians and commonly eat soy products, such as miso, edamame, tofu and seaweed in its various forms.
Popular Japanese vegetables include daikon, sweet potato, cucumber, eggplant, mushrooms, and pickled gourds and roots.
The Flavors Of Japan
Traditionalists say that authentic Japanese food is not complete without three essential flavorings: soy sauce, miso and dashi.
Dashi is a fish stock made from dried kelp and flakes of tuna, called bonito. Although not essential, sesame seeds and oil, as well as ginger, wasabi and mirin are important flavor elements.
Japanese rice is a short-grain variety and generally a staple for every meal. If a Japanese meal doesn't include rice, a variety of noodles can take its place. Soba, udon and somen noodles are traditional Japanese noodles, often served with a broth or a dipping sauce.
Grilled and deep-fried dishes are equally popular in Japanese cuisine. Tempura batter is a light and flavorful way to deep-fry vegetables, meat, seafood or tofu. Teriyaki, yakitori, and unagi (eel) are served hot off the grill.
Green tea is a centuries-old beverage in Japan. In fact, green tea holds an almost sacred role in Japanese society, dating back to the origins of tea ceremonies in Taoism and Zen Buddhism.
Sake, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice, is served cold, warm or hot at meals and during certain rituals.
Every season brings fresh ingredients and different dishes to the Japanese table. Whether you are a vegetarian, a seafood lover or someone who simply likes to try new things, traditional Japanese cuisine is certainly worth trying.