About the food of Japan

Hikone Castle. Photo by Jnn

Have you ever noticed how big Japan is? The upper half of Japan has as many cold snowy days as the lower half has hot tropical days. From top to bottom, she’s long, lean and filled to the brim with glorious food.

That being said, I’m focusing in. Getting in the zone. Talking about just a couple of  Japanese dishes that make me sit back in awe.

Because, there’s no denying it. Japan has some of the prettiest food around.

And for good reason: Japanese food is art.

Yamagata. Photo by Toto; Kabira Bay, Photo by Highland. Tottori Sand Dunes. Photo by Geofrog; Mount Yari. Photo by Alpsdake.

Just take sushi [Recipe], for example. The Japanese have long enjoyed this traditional – yet meticulous – preparation of rolled vinegar rice  [Recipe], vegetables and raw fish. While it’s roots trace back indefinitely, the form of sushi we know and love today was developed in the 1800’s by Hanaya Yohei as a convenience food. Even still, each sushi roll is artfully arranged – a mosaic of ingredients. One bite and you’ll get just enough of everything – a balanced experience all around.

Then there’s Bento  [Recipe], or the artful arrangement of food in compartmentalized boxes for convenient and portioned out lunches. Bento has been happening since the 12th century, gradually evolving into the cute-fest we see today. From bentos for adults – simple protein, vegetable, rice, and sweet – to bentos for kids – loaded up with faces cut into eggs, rice made into bears, etc – there’s something for all personalities.

For dessert, there’s a number of notable treats. Most people have heard of green tea ice cream, but there is also ice cream wrapped in mochi, or glutinous rice pounded into a dough. But what really gets me excited are the strange textures that you can find in Japanese desserts and drinks. For example, I just learned about kōhii zerii, or coffee jello. While coffee jello is not that unusual by itself, it’s what they do with it that really makes it special…. The Japanese love to mix coffee jello with drinks – such as evaporated or condensed milks [Recipe], iced coffee, milkshakes, or even piled onto an ice cream sundae. The concept is at once stunning and a delight texturally.

Yosuien, Wakayama, Wakayama prefecture, Japan. Photo by Highland

So those are my highlights.

What about you? What are your favorite Japanese foods?

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Comments

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    I have a vested interest here as my wife is Japanese!

    To me, Japanese food is all about that mix of sweet and savoury tastes. If there’s two ingrediants that define it best it’s probably dashi (stock, usually made with fish) and mirin (a sweet rice wine). I have too many favourites to name but miso glazed black cod has to be one of them as does (in my opinion) the world’s greatest soup – Ramen. I also love the whole Izakaya idea- which is food designed to go with alcohol, often things like Yakitori and tempura. Kind of like their version of tapas I guess. The most refined and beautiful food is Kaiseki, particularly that from Kyoto but it’s not that easy to make at home! One last thing, Japanese food is very much based on seasonal ingrediants.

    Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!
    Paul

  2. Jessica Bennett says:

    I recently found fresh udon noodles at my local international market, so I’ve been on an udon soup kick this past year- I take the noodles and fresh veggies from the farmers market, and the dashi I make from dried bonito and seaweed and then add some seaweed as a garnish (and to get some iodine in my diet). I also really like edamame and a limited amount of sushi (mostly uni, tamago, and avocado rolls). And being a frequent Vinegar City visitor, sometimes I just like eating a bowl of rice with rice vinegar.

  3. elisa waller says:

    YAY!….Amanda is taking Japanese this semester…and she’s really the one who has encouragesd me to look more closely at Japense art and culture…starting around 4th grade till now…Im so happy for this meal…Konnichiwa Japan!!!! <3

  4. You definitely should make spaghetti with ketchup as part of your Japanese menu. Though invented less than 70 years ago (by a chef in Yokohama) this is a well-loved Japanese dish. It’s called Spaghetti Naporitan. Sometimes they saute bacon and green peppers and add it to the ketchup.

    You can read about it at the end of this restaurant review. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/30/dining/reviews/30unde.html Or read more here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naporitan

  5. Sasha Martin says:

    Paul – say hello to your wife! Tell her I hope she loves this week’s celebration of Japanese food. :)

    Jessica – Udon soup is one of my favorite “sick time” foods – for a while that’s all I ate when I had the flu – even trumping chicken noodle!

    Elisa – I took a year of Japanese in 7th grade and loved it. A beautiful language!

    Brian – it seems as ketchup is nearly universal! who knew…

  6. I’m just beginning to learn about Japanese food. My husband’s grandmother is a tiny old Japanese woman who married an American soldier after WWII. He grew up eating Japanese food, but it’s still new to me. I’m having fun tasting things that my German-heritage family would never have imagined eating when I was growing up! My first foray into actually cooking Japanese food was when I first met Grandma Tomoko. She taught me to make maka sushi, with pickled fish, daikon, ginger, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. I’m so lucky to have been able to learn from a pro!

  7. Reiko Danzi says:

    My mom is from Japan and came to the US in the 60’s. I feel very fortunate to have been raised with Japanese culture and food. There are so many dishes that I love I wouldn’t even know where to start. I now have a husbanc and 3 children who also embrace Japanese foods as well. My mom introduced my children to many things in their early years. We make lots of sushi at home and everyone loves noodles…ramen, yakisoba, somen and udon. My one wish is to meet my mother’s family someday. Both of my grandparents are deceased and unfortunately did not get the chance to ever meet them.

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