Japanese cuisine encompasses the regional and traditional foods of Japan, which have developed through centuries of social and economic changes. Let’s see some amazing facts and trivia about it!
1.Japanese cuisine is based on combining the staple food, which is steamed white rice or gohan (御飯?), with one or several okazu or main dishes and side dishes. This may be accompanied by a clear or miso soup and tsukemono (pickles).
2. The phrase ichijū-sansai (一汁三菜?, “one soup, three sides”) refers to the makeup of a typical meal served, but has roots in classic kaiseki, honzen, and yūsoku cuisine.
3. The term is also used to describe the first course served in standard kaiseki cuisine nowadays.
4. Rice is served in its own small bowl (chawan), and each course item is placed on its own small plate (sara) or bowl (hachi) for each individual portion.
5. This is done even at home. It contrasts with the Western-style dinners at home, where each individual takes helpings from the large serving dishes of food presented at the middle of the dining table. Japanese style traditionally abhors different flavored dishes touching each other on a single plate, so different dishes are given their own individual plates as mentioned, or are partitioned using leaves, etc. Placing okazu on top of rice and “soiling” it is also frowned upon by old-fashioned etiquette.
6. Though this tradition originated from Classical Chinese dining formalities, especially after the adoption of Buddhism with its tea ceremony, and became most popular and common during and after the Kamakura period, such as the Kaiseki.
7. Japanese cuisine keeps such tradition still, whereas in modern times such practice is in sharp contrast to present day Chinese cuisine, where placing food on rice is standard.
8. However the exception is the popular donburi.
9. The small rice bowl or chawan (lit. “tea bowl”) doubles as a word for the large tea bowls in tea ceremonies.
10. Thus in common speech, the drinking cup is referred to as yunomi-jawan or yunomi for the purpose of distinction.
11. In the olden days, among the nobility, each course of a full-course Japanese meal would be brought on serving napkins called zen (膳?), which were originally platformed trays or small dining tables.
12. In the modern age, faldstool trays or stackup-type legged trays may still be seen used in zashiki, i.e. tatami-mat rooms, for large banquets or at a ryokan type inn.
13. Some restaurants might use the suffix -zen as a more sophisticated though dated synonym to the more familiar teishoku, since the latter basically is a term for a combo meal served at a taishū-shokudō, akin to a diner.
14. Emphasis is placed on seasonality of food or shun and dishes are designed to herald the arrival of the four seasons or calendar months.
15. Seasonality means taking advantage of the “fruit of the mountains”, bamboo shoots in spring, chestnuts in the fall, as well as the “fruit of the sea” as they come into season.
16. Thus the first catch of skipjack tunas that arrives with the Kuroshio Current has traditionally been greatly prized.
17. If something becomes available rather earlier than usual, the first crop or early catch is called hashiri.
18. Use of (inedible) tree leaves and branches as decor is also characteristic of Japanese cuisine.
19. Maple leaves are often floated on water to exude coolness or ryō (涼?), sprigs of nandina are popularly used.
20. The haran (Aspidistra) and sasa bamboo leaves were often cut into shapes, and placed underneath or used as separators
21. A characteristic of traditional Japanese food is the sparing use of red meat, oils and fats, and dairy products.
22. Use of ingredients such as soy sauce, miso, and umeboshi tends to result in dishes with high salt content, though there are low-sodium versions of these available.
23. Kaiseki, closely associated with tea ceremony (chanoyu), is a high form of hospitality through cuisine.
24. The style is minimalist, extolling the aesthetics of wabi-sabi.
25. Like the tea ceremony, appreciation of the diningware and vessels is part of the experience. In the modern standard form, the first course consists of ichijū-sansai (one soup, three dishes), followed by the serving of sake accompanied by dish(es) plated on a square wooden bordered tray of sorts called hassun.
26. Sometimes another element called shiizakana is served to complement the sake, for guests who are heavier drinkers.
27. The tea ceremony kaiseki(懐石) is often confounded with another kaiseki-ryōri (会席料理?), which is an outgrowth of meals served at a gathering for haiku and renga composition, which turned into a term for sumptuous sake-accompanied banquet, or shuen
28. Rice has been the staple food for the Japanese historically.
29. Its fundamental importance is evident from the fact that the word for cooked rice, gohan and meshi, also stands for a “meal”.
30. While rice has a long history of cultivation in Japan, its use as a staple has not been universal. Notably, in northern areas (northern Honshū and Hokkaidō), other grain such as wheat were more common into the 19th century.
31. In most of Japan, rice used to be consumed for almost every meal, and although a 2007 survey showed that 70% of Japanese still eat it once or twice a day, its popularity is now declining. In the 20th century there has been a shift in dietary habits, with an increasing number of people choosing wheat based products (such as bread and noodles) over rice.
32. Japanese rice is short-grained and becomes sticky when cooked. Most rice is sold as hakumai , with the outer portion of the grains polished away.
33. Unpolished brown rice is considered less desirable, but its popularity has been increasing.
34. Japanese noodles often substitute for a rice-based meal. Soba (thin, grayish-brown noodles containing buckwheat flour) and udon (thick wheat noodles) are the main traditional noodles, while ramen is a modern import and now very popular. There are also other, less common noodles.
35. Japanese noodles, such as soba and udon, are eaten as a standalone, and usually not with a side dish, in terms of general custom.
36. It may have toppings, but they are called gu . The fried battered shrimp tempura sitting in a bowl of tempura-soba would be referred to as “the shrimp” or “the tempura”, and not so much be referred to as a topping (gu).
37. The identical toppings, if served as a dish to be eaten with plain white rice could be called okazu, so these terms are context-sensitive.
38. Hot noodles are usually served in a bowl already steeped in their broth and are called kakesoba or kakeudon.
39. Cold soba arrive unseasoned and heaped atop a zaru or seiro, and are picked up with a chopstick and dunked in their dip sauce.
40. The broth is a soy-dashi-mirin type of mix; the dip is similar but more concentrated (heavier on soy sauce).
41. In the simple form, yakumi (condiments and spices) such as shichimi, nori, finely chopped scallions, wasabi, etc. are added to the noodles, besides the broth/dip sauce.
42. Udon may also be eaten in kama-age style, piping hot straight out of the boiling pot, and eaten with plain soy sauce and sometimes with raw egg also.