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Cuisine of Japan

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.

Table of contents
1 Domestic food
2 Traditional Japanese Table Settings
3 Essential Japanese Ingredients
4 Essential Japanese Flavorings
5 Famous Japanese Foods & Dishes
6 Japanese Influence on other Cuisines
7 Imported/Adapted Foods
8 Food Trivia
9 See also:
10 References
11 External Links:

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

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).

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: