Showcasing the Mediterranean diet and Asian diet  
 
 

Japanese cuisine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The foundation of a traditionally prepared Japanese meal is often rice—usually short grain rice. In fact, rice is such a major part of the Japanese diet that the word for cooked rice, meshi, means "meal."

Noodles are another popular starchy staple in Japanese cookery. There are many different varieties of noodle commonly eaten in Japan but three of the most popular types are somen (very thin wheat noodles), soba (made with a combination of buckwheat and wheat), and udon (thick wheat noodles).

A feast from the sea

To accompany rice and noodles many different combinations of ingredients are used. Because Japan is surrounded by sea, it's little surprise that fish and shellfish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and shrimp are extremely popular. Indeed, despite their diet becoming more Westernized in recent years, Japanese people still consume over 80 pounds of seafood per person each year (this compares to only 15 pounds per person each year in the United States). This seafood is used in a myriad of tasty ways: eaten with rice, vegetables and seasonings; added to soups, noodle dishes, stir-fries and hot-pots; deep-fried in a light batter and served as tempura; or barbecued and served with tasty sauces and dressings such as teriyaki sauce.

Another highly popular way the Japanese love to eat seafood is in the form of sushi and sashimi. There are two main types of sushi, nigiri-zushi, which is vinegared rice hand-formed into oval shapes and topped with various raw and cooked seafood, and maki-zushi which is vinegared rice combined with seafood and vegetables then wrapped in an edible seaweed called nori and sliced into rounds. Sashimi is made up of very fresh thinly sliced raw fish such as tuna and salmon. Both sushi and sashimi are eaten with shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) and wasabi (a hot green Japanese horseradish). Gari (pickled ginger slices) is used to cleanse the palate between pieces of sushi.

Soy: a gift from the gods

Soybeans have played an integral role in Japanese cuisine for many centuries. Indeed, according to ancient Japanese mythology soybeans are a gift from the gods. The highly prized soybean, which is rich in high-quality protein, is used to make tofu and soy sauce (shoyu), which is the single most important flavoring ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

Soybeans also form the base of the most highly regarded of all soups in Japan—miso soup. It's made up of a mix of miso (a fermented soybean paste) and a delicate fish and sea kelp stock called dashi. Miso soup is traditionally enjoyed any time of the day including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Plant foods

Japanese cuisine includes many other plant-based foods apart from rice, noodles and sea vegetables. Many of these foods are also common in Western kitchens such as scallions, cucumber, mushrooms, melons, sesame seeds, eggplant, apples, avocados, carrots, asparagus and sweet potato. Other plant foods that are common in Japanese cooking, but are less familiar to Western cooks, include bamboo shoots, snow peas, a type of squash called kabocha and a type of radish called daikon.

Beef, dairy and poultry

Beef has never been a staple part of traditional Japanese cuisine, and it was even banned from being eaten in Japan until a little over one hundred years ago due to Buddhist teachings. On the occasions when red meat is eaten as part of a Japanese meal, it is typically thinly sliced and used sparingly, more as a flavor enhancer. Dairy foods are also rarely eaten. Poultry and eggs, on the other hand, are traditionally eaten more regularly. Eggs are sometimes hard-boiled and sliced into soups or turned into omelets which are cut and folded and eaten as part of a sushi meal. Chicken is often marinated and grilled or sliced and added to hot-pots. Another popular way of serving chicken is yakitori-style—cut into pieces, skewered on bamboo, barbecued and served with a sweet and savory sauce.

Beverages and desserts

By far the most popular beverage in Japan is tea, and in particular green tea which has been drunk in Japan since ancient times. The two most popular alcoholic beverages in Japan are sake (rice wine) and beer. Alcoholic drinks are generally consumed in moderation with meals.

Exotic desserts have never featured prominently in traditional Japanese cuisine. Instead, fresh fruit is commonly eaten after a meal.

 

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