As with Korean cuisine, rice, combined with fish (or more recently other meat) and pickles, called tsukemono forms the base of most meals. Anybody who’s eaten a Japanese diet for any length of time would agree that it’s just plain healthier than the Western diet
Popular Japanese healthy foods high in proteins such as soybeans, miso, sushi, tofu, green tea and noodles are becoming more familiar to westerners as we look to curb our obesity and diabetic epidemic.
Although cooking ingredients are largely similar to other countries, preparation makes them distinctively Japanese.
Japanese food, regarded as one of the healthiest national cuisines gets the bulk of its protein from seafood and soybeans. Soybeans are an integral component of Japanese cuisine and are used to make tofu and soy sauce called shoyu which is one of the most common flavoring ingredients of Japanese cuisine. Soybeans, or a fermented soy bean paste is also the main ingredient in the most common of Japanese soups, miso soup. Combined with fresh vegetables, fish or other ingredients it is enjoyed at breakfast lunch and dinner.
Being an island nation the Japanese eat considerably more seafood than westerners. About 80 pounds per person per year. Compared with 15 pounds per person in the US. Most seafood these days is grown in fish farms which keeps seafood prices comparatively low. The more popular sea foods are: shrimp, tuna, mackerel, salmon and octopus. Seafood is used in a variety of tasty ways from raw, called sashimi, or with seaweed, called sushi,to barbecued and braised with a myriad of tasty sauces such as teriyaki sauce. Seafood is also added to soups, stir fries, noodle dishes, hot pots or deep fried in a thin batter and called tempura.
Beef, although getting cheaper is still considered expensive and thus is used sparingly. It is typically thinly sliced for eating. Less expensive than beef, pork has also been well integrated into Japanese cuisine. Chicken is widely popular and used in a variety of dishes. A distinctively Japanese chicken dish is yakitori which is chicken pieces skewered onto bamboo, barbecued then braised with an assortment of sauces. Lamb is not popular in Japan due to its perceived odor.
Noodles, which are high in starch and originated in China, have become a popular Japanese staple with entire restaurants and restaurant chains specializing in them. The three main varieties are: Udon, made from wheat flour, is a thick white noodle. Soumen, made from wheat flour is a thin white noodle. Soba, made from a combination of buckwheat and wheat flour is a thin brown noodle. All three are generally served with a soy based fish or vegetable broth.
Another popular noodle dish which made its way from China in the early nineteenth century is Ramen or Chinese wheat noodles. Like the other noodle dishes Ramen is served with a variety of vegetables, seafood, and meat enhancers.
Along with traditional Japanese cuisines called (washoku), meaning “Japanese food”, there are a number of foreign dishes called (yoshoku) meaning “foreign food” that have been imported, adapted and now considered part of the Japanese menu. Two examples are carbs in brown rice which made its way from India via the United Kingdom in the early nineteenth century and Hamburger Steak which is a ground beef patty mixed with breadcrumbs, onions and perhaps tomatoes and served with rice, chips and vegetables. It is much like in any hamburger or beef patty found throughout the world.
A traditional Japanese breakfast could consist of a bowl of rice, gohan, a bowl of miso soup and a couple of other dishes including pickles, and seaweed called nori. Lunch could be noodles, or a main dish filled out always with a bowl of rice and miso soup. Dinner usually consists of a main hot dish with a variety of vegetables, carbs in brown rice, miso soup, pickles and sauces.
Most Japanese eat with chop sticks. Usually before a meal it is customary to say “itadakimasu”, which roughly translates to “thank you, I appreciate this meal that has been prepared for me”. Similarly when a meal is finished it is polite to say “gochisosamadeshita”, which roughly translates to thanks for the wonderful meal that I enjoyed eating.
The art of Japanese Cuisine is to conspire ambience, sound, food preparation, and dishware to create an oasis of calm. An opportunity for social interaction, bonding and celebration.