The Japanese Connection : Serving since 1985
Japanese Cuisine: History, Culture, Facts
Japanese food is renowned for its presentation, the freshness of its ingredients, and for its long-reaching history. Although it is, perhaps, rice which immediately comes to mind when we imagine Japanese cuisine, as we will discuss, the food of Japan is ingrained into the culture and history of the country, and is extensive, diverse, and – most importantly – delicious...
It was after the Jomon period – ending in around 400 BC – that Japanese society transitioned from hunter-gatherer to agriculture-based. After this crucial turning point, the cultivation of short-grain rice began. From then on, rice became the crucial element of any Japanese meal. During the Tang dynasty, the country was heavily influenced by Chinese culture, and there were a series of bans on the consumption of various meats, including chicken, monkeys, dogs, horses, cattle and even fish. The other key marker of China's influence upon Japan was the introduction of chopsticks, used initially only by the nobility.
It was only after the end of the Tang dynasty, around 800 AD, that Japan began to develop its culture – and this included its food. From this point, the use of chopsticks became universal, and developments in Japanese cuisine were numerous, leading to its refinement. Traditional meals during this period included fish, fruits, bowls of rice and soup, nuts and cakes, and finishing with rice wine sake.
During the Kamakura period, vegetarianism began to spread, thanks to Buddhist philosophy, and there was a move toward simplicity in dining, such as in samurai cuisine. Another instance of this paring down of an aspect of culture can be found in dress at that time: with the evolution – or perhaps devolution - from traditional Chinese clothing to the kimono.
Today, Japanese food combines key foods such as rice or noodles with okazu – meals made from meat, fish, vegetables or tofu, and flavoured with miso or soy sauce – and a soup. A typical meal would include many okazu, often cooked in different styles, for example, grilled, raw, steamed or deep-fried. Although fish has always been a crucial part of the Japanese diet, it is only relatively recently that meat-eating has become prominent; on the other hand, strictly vegetarian food is scarce due to dishes being flavoured with dashi stock. In the past century, there has been an influx of Westernised dishes (Yoshoku) consumed in Japan, for example, Korokke, potato and mince croquettes; Hamubagu, a hamburger steak; and Omuraisu, rice wrapped in an omelette, served with ketchup or gravy.
Rice: Needless to say, rice is a Japanese staple and has been one for more than 2 millennia. It features many dishes – for example, rice bowl, Donburi, Onigiri, Kare Raisu, Chazuke, Fried Rice, and Kayu.
Seafood: Because Japan is an island nation, seafood is plenteous and has always been a vital, fresh, and nutritious part of the country's cuisine. Fish and seafood can be eaten boiled, raw, grilled, steamed, deep fried or dried, and in meals such as Yakizakana and Sashimi.
Meat: Only eaten relatively recently, there are now a vast variety of Japanese meat dishes. Tonkatsu is pork cutlets which are deep-fried and often served with shredded cabbage and rice. Nikujaga is simple meat and potatoes and is incredibly popular, while Yakitori are chicken pieces grilled and skewered.
Noodles: Noodles are a healthy and tasty alternative to rice and enjoy great popularity in Japan. Examples include Soba, Ramen (prepared in a soup), Udon (thicker noodles), Somen and Yakisoba.
Other favourites: Nabe dishes are hot pots featuring vegetables, seafood and meat. Examples include Sukiyaki, Shabu-Shabu and Oden. Meanwhile, tofu, miso and natto comprise the many Japanese meals made up of soya beans. Agedashi Tofu is deep-fried tofu pieces dipped in soya, while Miso Soup can be an accompaniment to breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gyoza is dumplings with a filling, such as meat and vegetables. Tsukemono pickles, while Tempura has vast popularity worldwide.
When dining in Japan, you should be aware of the following rules of etiquette:
Chopsticks – should never be pointed, used to pierce food, and should not be crossed when placed on the chopstick rest.
Be willing to try some of everything offered, especially when dining as someone's guest – adventurous eating is admired!
Rice is generally eaten down to the last grain – and if you do not want any more, this rule is to be followed; if you leave a small amount in the bowl, this will be taken as an indicator that you want a refill...