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  Wikipedia: Cuisine of Japan

Wikipedia: Cuisine of Japan
Cuisine of Japan
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

There are many views of what is fundamental to Japanese cuisine. Many think of sushi or the elegant stylized formal kaiseki meals that originated as part of the Japanese tea ceremony. Many Japanese, however, think of the everyday food of the Japanese people--especially that existing before the end of the Meiji Era (1868 - 1912) or before World War II. Few modern urban Japanese know their traditional cuisine.

Domestic food

Traditional Japanese cuisine is dominated by white rice, and few meals would be complete without it. Anything else served during a meal--fish, meat, vegetables, pickles--is considered a side dish. Side dishes are served to enhance the taste of the rice. Traditional Japanese meals are named by the number of side dishes that accompany the rice and soup that are nearly always served. The simplest Japanese meal, for example, consists of Ichiju-Issai ("soup plus one" or "one dish meal"). This means soup, rice, and one accompanying side dish--usually a pickled vegetable like daikon. A traditional Japanese breakfast, for example, usually consists of miso soup, rice, and a pickled vegetable. The most common meal, however, is called Ichiju-Sansai ("soup plus three")--soup, rice, and three side dishes, each employing a different cooking technique. The three side dishes are usually raw fish (sashimi), a grilled dish, and a simmered (sometimes called boiled in translations from Japanese) dish -- although steamed, deep fried, vinegared, or dressed dishes may replace the grilled or simmered dishes. Ichiju-Sansai often finishes with pickled vegetables and green tea. One type of pickled food that is popular is Ume.

This uniquely Japanese view of a meal is reflected in the organization of traditional Japanese cookbooks. Chapters are organized according to cooking techniques: fried foods, steamed foods, and grilled foods, for example, and not according to particular ingredients (e.g., chicken or beef) as are western cookbooks. There are also usually chapters devoted to soups, sushi, rice, noodles, and sweets.

Being an island nation, its people take in much seafood including fish, shells, octopus/squid, crabs/lobsters/shrimp and seaweed. Although not known as a meat eating country very few Japanese consider themselves vegetarians by any sense of the word.

Noodles although mostly from China have become so much a part of Japanese cuisine that they are sometimes considered Japanese and also make up a fair portion of dishes in Japan with ramen and udon being the nost notable.

Traditional Japanese Table Settings

The traditional Japanese table setting has varied considerably over the centuries, depending primarily on the type of table common during a given era. Before the 19th century, small individual box tables (hakozen) or flat floor trays were set before each diner. Larger low tables (chabudai) that accommodated entire families were becoming popular by the beginning of the 20th century, but these gave way almost entirely to western style dining tables and chairs by the end of the 20th century.

Traditional table settings are based on the classic meal formula, Ichiju Sansai, or "soup plus three." Typically, five separate bowls and plates are set before the diner. Nearest the diner are the rice bowl on the left and the soup bowl on the right. Behind these are three flat plates to hold the three side dishes, one to far back left (on which might be served a simmered dish), one at far back right (on which might be served a grilled dish), and one in center of the tray (on which might be served boiled greens). Pickled vegetables are often served as well, and eaten at the end of the meal, but are not counted as part of three side dishes.

Chopsticks are generally placed at the very front of the tray near the diner with pointed ends facing left and supported by a chopstick holder.

Essential Japanese Ingredients

Essential Japanese Flavorings

It is not generally thought possible to make authentic Japanese food without shoyu and dashi.

Famous Japanese Foods & Dishes

  • Deep-Fried dishes (Agemono)
  • Donburi - one-bowl dishes of hot steamed rice with various savory toppings
    • Katsudon - deep-fried breaded cutlet of pork (tonkatsudon), chicken (chicken katsudon) or fish (e.g., maguro katsudon)
    • Oyakodon - Chicken and egg (''Mother and Child)) donburi dish
    • Gyudon - seasoned beef donburi dish
    • Tempuradon - deep-fried batter-coated bite-sized foods
  • Grilled and Pan-Fried dishes (Yakimono)
    • Teriyaki - grilled, broiled, or pan-fried meat, fish, chicken or vegetables glazed with a sweetened soy sauce.
    • Gyoza - savory Japanese dumplings, often filled with pork, tofu or vegetables
    • Hamachi Kama - grilled yellow tails jaw and cheek bone
    • Okonomiyaki - pan-fried batter cakes with various savory toppings
    • Yakitori - chicken kebabs Japanese style
    • Takoyaki - a spherical, fried dumpling consisting primarily of octopus and batter
    • Yakisoba - Japanese style fried noodles
  • Nabemono (Hot Pot Cooking)
    • Sukiyaki - mixture of noodles, thinly sliced beef, egg and vegetables boiled in a shallow pan
    • Motsunabe - cow intestine, hakusai (bok choi) and various vegetables are cooked in a light soup base
    • Kimuchinabe - similar to motsunabe, except with a kimuchi base and using thinly sliced pork. Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish, but it has also become very popular in Japan, particularly in the southern island of Kyushu, which is situated closest to South Korea.
  • Noodles (Menrui)
    • Soba - thin brown buckwheat noodles served chilled with various toppings or in hot broth
    • Ramen - thin light yellow noodle served in hot broth with various toppings; thought to be of Chinese origin, it is a popular and common item in Japan
    • Udon - thick wheat noodle served with various toppings or in a hot shoyu and dashi broth.
    • Champon - yellow noodles of medium thickness served with a great variety of seafood and vegetable toppings in a hot broth; originated in Nagasaki as a cheap food for students
  • Other
    • Agedashi Tofu - cubes of deep-fried silken tofu served in hot broth
    • Bento or Obento - combination meal served in a wooden box
    • Hiyayakko-cold tofu dish
    • Osechi - Traditional food eaten at the New Year
  • Rice (Gohanmono)
  • Sashimi - slices of fresh seafood served with a dipping sauce and simple garnishes
    • Fugu - poison blowfish, a uniquely Japanese specialty
  • Soups (Suimono & Shirumono)
    • Miso soup - soup made with miso, dashi and seasonal ingredients like fish, kamaboko, onions, clams, potato, etc.
    • Dangojiru - soup made with dumplings along with seaweed, tofu, lotus root, or any number of other vegetables and roots
    • Butajiru - similar to Dangojiru, except with pork being its principle ingredient
  • Sushi - Vinegared rice topped or mixed with various fresh ingredients.
  • Sweets
    • Wagashi - Japanese-style sweets
      • Anmitsu- a traditional Japanese dessert.
      • Mochi - steamed sweet rice pounded into a solid mass
      • Manju - sticky rice surrounding a sweet bean center
      • Dango - rice dumpling
      • Kakigori
      • Oshiruko - a warm, sweet red bean (an) soup with mochi - rice cake
      • Uiro - a steamed cake made of rice flour
      • Taiyaki - a fried, fish-shaped cake, usually with a sweet filling such as an - red bean paste
    • Yogashi - Western-style sweets
      • Kasutera - sponge cake
      • mirucurepu - "mille crepe" - layered crepe
      • kompeito - crystal sugar candy
      • Macha Ice (Green tea ice cream) - green tea flavored ice cream

Japanese Influence on other Cuisines

United States

Teppanyaki is said to be an American invention, as is the California roll, and while the former has been well received in Japan the latter has not and has, at worst, been termed not Sushi by Japanese people. However thanks to some recent trends in American culture such as Iron Chef and Benihana, Japanese culinary culture is slowly fusing its way into American life. Japanese food, which had been quite exotic in the West as late as the 1970s, is now quite at home in parts of the continental United States, and has become an integral part of food culture in Hawaii.

Imported/Adapted Foods

As in most countries, Japan incorporates imported favorites from across the world (mostly from Asia, Europe and to a lesser extent the Americas). French, Italian and Spanish cuisine is of particular interest to Japanese people. Many imported foods are made suitable for the Japanese palette by reducing the degree of flavor (Korean kimchi which is considered very spicy and strong in odor is only slightly zesty unless authentic). Other changes include substituting the main ingredient or adding an ingredient which might be considered taboo in its country of origin (such as sliced, boiled eggs, corn and shrimp on pizza).

A number of foreign dishes have been adapted to a degree that they are practically considered Japanese, and are an integral part of any Japanese family menu. Perhaps the best example is curry rice, which was imported in the 19th century by way of the United Kingdom, and has little resemblance to the original Indian dish. Another example is "hamburg steak", which is a ground beef patty (often greatly extended with filler) smothered in gravy and served with a side of white rice and vegetables. Both of the above can be found in almost any "yo-shoku", or "Western food" restaurant in Japan.

Portions of western food are often smaller than than their counterparts in their home countries. This is often referred to as 'Tokyo Size' by both Japanese and foreigners and accounts for the slim Japanese figure. The smaller portion is typically more expensive than the original, larger version.

Food Trivia

Unknown to most people including many Japanese is that Tempura is not a Japanese dish but actually from Portugal and was introduced in the 16th century. Over the centuries it has become very Japanese and many items ranging from shrimp, eggplant, squash and carrots can be tempura-ed.

See also:


Tsuji, Shizuo. (1980). Japanese cooking: A simple Art. Kodansha International/USA, New York.

Kumakura Isao, (1999). Table Manners Then and Now, Japanecho, Vol. 27 No. 1.

External Links:

  • Yasuko-san's Home Cooking gives a personal view of traditional recipes and traditional Japanese food.
  • A Japanese Cookbook for Kids has very authentic Japanese dishes (like miso soup) suitable for children to prepare.
  • Emiko Kaminuma's Cooking Time--Recipes from one of Japan's most successful television cooking programs.
  • Bob & Angie's Japanese Cooking. A site originally hosted by Osaka Gas Company, Bob & Angie's has recipes, cooking advice, information about Japanese ingredients, and much more. No longer updated, but full of useful information.
  • The World of Kikkoman. Official site of Kikkoman Soy Sauce and other Kikkoman products. For information about Japanese cuisine, see their "Food Forum" links.
  • Hiroko's Kitchen. Web site of world-famous author, Hiroko Shimbo, author of The Japanese Kitchen (2001). Harvard Common Press.
  • Japanese cuisine basic techniques - Step by step instructions from the Tsuji cooking academy.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona