Tempura, sukiyaki, sashimi, sushi – even the words
used to describe the most basic of Japanese dishes and Japanese cuisine are exotic and
beautiful. Japanese cuisine is easily one of the healthiest in the
world, with its concentration on fresh fish, seafood, rice and
vegetables. The pungent sauces and delicate flavors of fresh foods
complement each other beautifully, and the methods of presentation turn
even simple meals into beautiful events.
The Japanese have easily a dozen different names
for rice, depending on how it is prepared and what it is served with.
The most common meal is a rice bowl, a bowl of white rice served with
various toppings or ingredients mixed in. So popular is it that the Rice
Bowl has even made its way into the world of Western convenience foods
alongside ramen noodles. Domburi is a bowl of rice topped with another
food: domburi tendon, for instance, is rice topped with tempura and
domburi gyudon is rice topped with beef. The Japanese adopted fried rice
from the Chinese, and a century ago, when curry was first introduced,
developed Kare Raisu, curry rice. It is now such a popular dish that
there are many fast-food restaurants that serve several versions of it
in take-away bowls.
Besides white rice served as a side dish, Japanese
cuisine also features onigiri – rice balls wrapped in seaweed, often
with a ‘surprise’ in the middle, and kayu, a thin gruel made of rice
that resembles oatmeal.
As an island nation, it’s not surprising that
seafood is featured in Japanese cuisine. Sushi and sashimi both are raw
fish and seafood with various spices. Impeccably fresh fish is the
secret to wonderful sashimi and sushi, served with wasabi and soya
sauce. The Japanese love of beauty and simplicity turns slices and
chunks of raw fish into miniature works of art. Fish sliced so
it’s transparent may be arranged on a platter in a delicate fan that
alternates pink-fleshed salmon with paler slices of fish. Sushi is
typically arranged to best display the colors and textures to their best
advantage, turning the platter and plate into palettes for the artistry
of the chef.
Traditionally, meat plays a minor role in the
Japanese diet, though it has been taking a larger and larger role over
the past fifty years as Japan becomes more westernized. Beef, chicken
and pork may be served with several meals a week now. One of the more
popular meat cuisine is ‘yakitori’ – chicken grilled on a skewer and
served with sauce. A typical quick lunch might include a skewer of
yakitori and a rice bowl with sushi sauce.
In an interesting twist, Japan has imported dishes
from other cuisines and ‘Japanized’ them, adopting them as part of their
own cuisines. Korokke, for instance, are croquettes adopted from those
introduced by the English last century. In Japan, the most common
filling is a mixture of mashed potatoes and minced meat. Other Soshoyu –
western dishes that have made their way into Japanese everyday cuisine
include ‘omuraisu’, a rice omelet, and hambagau, the Japanized version
of an American hamburger.