The Japanese are known for their mouth-watering cuisine and if you need proof of its popularity then look no further than the hundreds of Japanese restaurants that are springing up across Australia. Not a lot of people are brave enough to attempt cooking it themselves at home because it is so complicated and uses so many hard to come by ingredients. Japanese food in Japan is very seasonal and chefs take inspiration from what is growing on the land and what is caught in the sea at various times of year. Modern homes and restaurants eat around a table but traditionally food would have been eaten on a straw mat or tray on the floor.
This article will give you some idea of what to expect if you go for a traditional Japanese meal.
Starters tend to be presented on individual plates, or separated on a plate with (inedible) leaves. The Japanese believe it is abhorrent for different flavors to touch one another so this individual plate system is used throughout every meal, even at home. One might expect to get a miso soup which is a very watery but flavor some dish. You might also see pickled vegetables, fish and sushi as a starter, along with vegetables lightly boiled in broth. The Japanese go easy on herbs and flavorings – their main seasonings come from soy sauce, salt and pepper, vinegar and sake but they are used extremely subtly.
Japanese food is based on its staple ingredient – steamed white rice, which is short-grained and sticky when cooked. Along with rice they use various types of noodles such as soba and udon. This will appear in its own little bowl. Fish is the staple protein and will figure in every meal – for example a battered fish dish (called tempura). Traditionally the Japanese never ate meat, but the modernization of Japan in the 1860s relaxed these rules a little and it now not uncommon to find meat in a typical meal.
The Japanese have their own sweet – called wagashi – which is often served as a dessert, along with some alcoholic rice wine sake.
Extras and Etiquette
At the beginning of your meal you’ll be given a hot towel – this is for cleaning your hands before you eat. Alongside your meal you will typically be given some green tea, a bowl to wash your fingers in, and a little bowl of soy sauce. You’ll be expected to use chopsticks – It is considered extremely important in Japanese culture, and there is a very strict etiquette on how use them properly. It is considered impolite to either make special requests, or to leave any food on your plate.
Japanese cuisine is varied, interesting and colorful and it’s no wonder the rest of the worlds want a taste of what it offers. Sushi restaurants are more popular than ever and most supermarkets now stock staple ingredients. So, master the art of using chopsticks, find your local restaurant and give it a go!
Liam Mathew is a sous chef at a Japanese restaurant in Docklands. He knows about Japanese cuisine and blogs about the changes in food culture in Australia during his free time.