When you think about Japanese food, the first thing that springs to mind is Sushi, right? However, with its long history and influences from other cultures, particularly Chinese and more recently European, there’s so much more than Sushi… Find out more below!
Traditional Japanese Food
Being an island nation, seafood was the staple food in Japan for thousands of years, and traditionally most meals were made up of white rice, along with one or more Okazu, which is basically a side for the rice. Okazu is typically some sort of fish, vegetable or tofu dish and more recently meat, served up with miso soup and pickles (tsukemono). Rice is almost always dished as an individual portion in a small bowl called a chawan, which is also used for tea! Flavours would be kept separately in traditional meals (rather than mixing everything together as we would with sausages and mash!). Putting your Okazu onto your rice would be frowned upon in traditional culture.
As with most Japanese culture, artistry is a vital part of cuisine; everything has its place. Even in small restaurants, there’s an elegance which you might not expect. Kaiseki and Honzen-ryori are classic Japanese meals that are as ascetically pleasing as they are tasty!
This little rebel takes everything above and chucks it out the Ryokan window! Donburi is a tasty “rice bowl dish” which has oversized bowls, filled with rice, grilled/fried fish, meat or tofu – actually pretty much anything you can think of can be cooked up and made into a variation of Donburi. It’s tasty, hearty and varied; you really can’t go wrong! Sauces vary from delicate soy sauce and stock to bold, spicy orange tekkadon sauce (and everything in between).
Donburi is becoming more well known worldwide with its strong, yet simple, flavours and filling dishes. We can’t recommend it enough!
It goes without saying that Sushi is one of the greatest gifts to the world from Japan, it’s delicate, tasty and slightly ceremonial. There’s something special about eating Sushi!
Sushi has its origins in another dish which is now known as Nare-Zushi, where rice was fermented and fish salted for months to prevent the fish from spoiling (in a similar way to the way meats were salted or cured to preserve them in European cultures). Nare-Zushi started to become a vital part of Japenese culture, as well as the main source of protein.
However, Sushi had its real birth during the Edo period (1603-1868) where fresh fish was served with rice in the way that we see it today. Edo is also where the famous Bento box (take away Sushi dishes) became popular and now can be found worldwide.
There are many types of Sushi fillings & toppings, ranging from raw fish, meats, vegetables or seafood all wrapped in seaweed or omelette. There are also many variations of the style of sushi too, from Nori (Makizushi), Temaki (cone-shaped rolls), Futomaki (thick rolls), to name but a few, there’s a Sushi to suit everyone!
Sushi has certainly made its mark on western culture, with there being a range of Western-style Sushi dishes, from the famous California roll to a Sushi Burrito?!
Worldwide Japanese Adaptations
As much as Japanese food has influenced the world, Japan has taken some of the best bits from other cultures too.
You can thank the British for this one (trust us!). The British brought curry over to Japan in the Meiji period (1868-1912). The most famous Japanese variation is the Katsu curry, which is found all over the world and Japan… sooo tasty!
Although famous as a Japanese dish, ramen comes from China originally. Tasty wheat noodles in a brothy-stock with many variations of topping, ramen is a warming bowl of goodness. You can also have ramen with soba (thin buckwheat) or udon noodles (thick buckwheat).
Make sure you try the Tonkotsu ramen, usually made with meat broth and soy or miso and served with soba noodles… it’s so earthy and delicious!
Inspired by simple, but classic, Italian dishes, the Japanese now use pasta with prawns, lobster and crab, served with a sea urchin sauce.
It’s very common to find Korean BBQ restaurants around Japan. The food is tasty and very diverse: think meat skewers, different types of fish, vegetables and kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage & green beans).