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Japanese cuisine is the food—ingredients, preparation and way of eating—of Japan. The traditional food of Japan is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes, each in its own utensil, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. The side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Fish is common in the traditional cuisine. It is often grilled. Fish may be served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter as tempura.
Apart from rice, staples include noodles, such as soba and udon. Japan has many simmered dishes such as fish products in broth called oden, or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga. Foreign food, in particular Chinese food in the form of noodles in soup called ramen and fried dumplings, gyoza, and western food such as curry and hamburger steaks are commonly found in Japan. Historically, the Japanese shunned meat, but with the modernization of Japan in the 1860s, meat-based dishes such as tonkatsu became common.
Japan has an indigenous form of sweets called wagashi, which include ingredients such as red bean paste, as well as its indigenous rice wine sake.
Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi, has now become popular throughout the world.
Japanese cuisine is based on combining the staple food which is steamed white rice or gohan (御飯) with one or several okazu or main dishes and side dishes. This may be accompanied by a clear or miso soup and some tsukemono (pickles).
The phrase ichijū-sansai (一汁三菜 "one soup, three sides" ) refers to the makeup of a typical meal served, but has roots in classic kaiseki and honzen cuisine. The term is also used to describe the first course served in standard kaiseki cuisine nowadays.
Rice is served in its own small bowl (chawan), and each course item is placed on its own small plate (sara) or bowl (hachi) for each individual portion. This is done even at home. It contrasts with the Western-style dinners at home, where each individual takes helpings from the large tureens and plates of food presented at the middle of the dining table. Japanese style traditionally abhors different flavored dishes touching each other on a single plate, so different dishes are given their own individual plates as mentioned, or are partitioned using leaves, etc. This is why in take-out sushi the tamagoyaki egg and fish, or Blue-backed fish and white-fleshed fish are carefully separated. Placing okazu on top of rice and "soiling" it is also frowned upon by old-fashioned etiquette.
The small rice bowl or chawan (lit. "tea bowl") doubles as a word for the large tea bowls in tea ceremonies. Thus in common colloquy the drinking cup is referred to as yunomi-jawan or yunomi for the purpose of distinction.
In the olden days, among the nobility, each course of a full-course Japanese meal would be brought on serving trays called zen (膳), which were originally platformed trays or small dining tables. In the modern age, faldstool trays or stackup type legged trays may still be seen used in zashiki, i.e. tatami-mat rooms, for large banquets or at a ryokan type inn. Some restaurants might use the suffix -zen (膳) as a classier though dated synonym to the more familiar teishoku (定食), since the latter basically is a term for a combo meal served at a taishū-shokudō, akin to a diner. Teishoku means a meal of fixed menu, a dinner à prix fixe served at shokudō (食堂 "dining hall" ) or ryōriten (料理店 "restaurant" ), which is somewhat vague (shokudō can mean a diner type restaurant or a corporate lunch hall); but e.g. Ishikawa, Hiroyoshi (石川弘義) (1991). Taishū bunka jiten (snippet). Kōbundō. p. 516. defines it as fare served at teishoku-shokudō (定食食堂 "teishoku dining hall" ), etc., a diner-like establishment.
Seasonality means taking advantage of the "bounty of the mountains" (e.g. bamboo shoots in spring, chestnuts in the fall) as well as the "bounty of the sea" as they come into season. The hatsu-gatsuo or the first catch of skipjack tunas that arrives with the Kuroshio Current has traditionally been greatly prized.
If something becomes available rather earlier than usual, the first crop or early catch is called hashiri.
Use of (inedible) tree leaves and branches as decor is also characteristic of Japanese cuisine. Maple leaves are often floated on water to exude coolness or ryō (涼), sprigs of nandina are popularly used. The haran (Aspidistra) and sasa bamboo leaves were often cut into shapes, and placed underneath or used as separators.
A characteristic of traditional Japanese food is the sparing use of meat (mammal meat), oils and fats, and dairy products. Use of soy sauce, miso, and umeboshi makes them high in salt content, though there are low-sodium versions of these available nowadays.
As Japan is an island nation surrounded by an ocean its people have always taken advantage of the abundant seafood supply. It is the opinion of some food scholars that the Japanese diet always relied mainly on "grains with vegetables or seaweeds as main, with fowl meat secondary, and mammal meat in slight amounts," even before the advent of Buddhism which placed an even stronger taboo. The eating of "four-legged creatures" (四足 yotsuashi ) was spoken of as taboo, unclean, or something to be avoided by personal choice through the Edo Period. But under this definition Whale meat and suppon (terrapin) would not be regarded as taboo four-legged meat. Meat-eating never went completely out of existence in Japan. Eating wild game, as opposed to domesticated livestock, tended to be regarded as acceptable, and slaughtered hare is counted using the measure word wa (羽), normally used for birds.)
Vegetable consumption has dwindled while processed foods have become more prominent in Japanese households due to the rising costs of general foodstuffs.
Traditional Japanese food, generally speaking, is not prepared using a lot of food oils. An exception is deep fried types of preparation was introduced during the Edo Period due to influence from Western foods (once called nanban-ryōri (南蛮料理) and Chinese foods, and became commonplace with the availability of oil due to increased productivity. Examples of these such as Tempura, aburaage, satsumaage are now part of established traditional Japanese cuisine. Words such as tempura or hiryōzu (synonymous with ganmodoki) are said to be of Portuguese origin.
Also, certain homey or rustic sort of traditional Japanese foods such as kinpira, hijiki, kiriboshi daikon usually involves stir frying in some oil before stewing in soy sauce flavoring. Some standard osōzai or ''obanzai''(ja) dishes feature stir fried Japanese greens with age or chirimen-jako(ja) (dried small fish, young sardines).
Traditional Japanese food is typically flavored using a combination of dashi, soy sauce, sake and mirin, vinegar, sugar, and salt. These are typically the only flavorings used when grilling or braising an item. During cooking, a modest number of herbs and spices are used as a hint or accent, or as a means to remove fishy or gamy odor, and include ginger, and takanotsume (鷹の爪) red pepper. This contrasts conceptually with e.g., barbecue or stew where a blend of seasonings is used before and during cooking.[original research?]
Only after a main dish has completed its cooking are spice elements such as minced ginger and various pungent herbs added as a garnish, called tsuma. In some underseasoned dishes, a dollop of wasabi, and grated daikon (daikon-oroshi), or Japanese mustard are provided as condiment. A sprig of mitsuba, a piece of yuzu rind floated on soups are called ukimi. Minced shiso leaves and myoga often serve as yakumi, or a type of condiment to go with tataki of katsuo or soba. Minced or crumpled nori and flakes of aonori are seaweeds used as an herb of sorts.
In the aforementioned stock phrase ichijū-sansai (一汁三菜 "one soup, three sides" ), the word sai (菜) has the basic meaning of "vegetable", but secondarily means any accompanying dish including fish or meat. It figures in the Japanese word for appetizer, zensai (前菜); main dish, shusai (主菜); or sōzai (惣菜) (formal synonym for okazu - considered somewhat of a housewife's term).
The o-hitashi or hitashi-mono (おひたし ) is boiled green-leaf vegetables bunched and cut to size, steeped in dashi broth, eaten with dashes of soy sauce. Another item is sunomono (酢の物 lit "vinegar item" ), which could be made with wakame seaweed, or be something like a kōhaku namasu (紅白なます "red white namasu" ) made from thin toothpick slices of daikon and carrot. The so-called vinegar that is blended with the ingredient here is often sanbaizu(ja) (三杯酢 "three cupful/spoonful vinegar" ) which is a blend of vinegar, mirin, and soy sauce. A tosazu(ja) (土佐酢 "Tosa vinegar" ) adds katsuo dashi to this. Note sparing use of oil, compared with Western salads.
An aemono(ja) (和え物) is another group of items, describable as a sort of "tossed salad" or "dressed" (though aemono also includes thin strips of squid or fish sashimi (itozukuri) etc. similarly prepared). One types are goma-ae (胡麻和え) where usually vegetables such as green beens are tossed with white or black sesame seeds ground in a suribachi mortar bowl, flavored additionally with sugar and soy sauce. Shira-ae (白和え) adds tofu (bean curd) in the mix. An aemono is tossed with vinegar-white miso mix and uses wakegi scallion and baka-gai (バカガイ or 馬鹿貝 a trough shell (Mactra sinensis) as standard.
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Below are listed some of the most common:
Kaiseki, closely associated with tea ceremony (chanoyu), is a high form of hospitality through cuisine. The style is minimalist, extolling the aesthetics of wabi-sabi. Like the tea ceremony, appreciation of the diningware and vessels is part of the experience. In the modern standard form, the first course consists of ichijū-sansai (one soup, three dishes), followed by the serving of sake accompanied by dish(es) plated on a square wooden bordered tray of sorts called hassun (八寸). Sometimes another element called shiizakana (強肴) is served to complement the sake, for guests who are heavier drinkers.
The tea ceremony kaiseki is often confounded with another kaiseki-ryōri (会席料理), which is an outgrowth of meals served at a gathering for haiku and renga composition, which turned into a term for sumptuous sake-accompanied banquet, or shuen (酒宴).
Strictly vegetarian food is rare since even vegetable dishes are flavored with the ubiquitous dashi stock, usually made with katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna flakes), and are therefore pescetarian more often than carnivorous. An exception is shōjin-ryōri (精進料理), vegetarian dishes developed by Buddhist monks. However, the advertised shōjin-ryōri at public eating places includes some non-vegetarian elements.
In regards to vegetarianism, it is worth mentioning fucha-ryōri(ja) (普茶料理), introduced from China by the Ōbaku sect (a sub-sect of Zen Buddhism), and which some sources still regard as part of "Japanese cuisine". The sect in Japan was founded by the priest Ingen (d. 1673), and is headquartered in Uji, Kyoto. The Japanese name for the common green bean takes after this priest who allegedly introduced the New World crop via China. An interesting aspect of the fucha-ryōri practiced at the temple is the wealth of modoki-ryōri (もどき料理 "mock foods" ), one example being mock-eel, made from strained tofu, with nori seaweed used expertly to mimic the black skin. The secret ingredient used is grated gobo (burdock) roots.
Rice has been the staple food for the Japanese historically. Its fundamental importance is evident from the fact that the word for cooked rice gohan and meshi, also stands for a "meal.".
Rice used to be consumed for almost every meal. But there has been a shift in dietary habits, so that a large segment of the population will have bread for breakfast, and have noodles (especially ramen, and even instant cup-o-noodles) for lunch.
Japanese rice is short grain and becomes sticky when cooked. Most rice is sold as hakumai ("white rice"), with the outer portion of the grains (nuka) polished away. Unpolished rice (genmai) is considered less delicious by most people, but its popularity has been increasing recently because gemmai is more nutritious and healthier than hakumai.
Japanese noodles, such as soba and udon, are eaten as a standalone, and usually not with a side dish, in terms of general custom. It may have toppings, but they are called gu (具). The fried battered shrimp tempura sitting in a bowl of tempura-soba would be referred to as "the shrimp" or "the tempura", and not so much be referred to as a topping (gu). The identical toppings, if served as a dish to be eaten with plain white rice could be called okazu, so these terms are context-sensitive.
Hot noodles are usually served in a bowl already steeped in their broth and are called kakesoba or kakeudon. Cold soba arrive unseasoned and heaped atop a zaru or seiro, and are picked up with a chopstick and dunked in their dip sauce. The broth is a soy-dashi-mirin type of mix; the dip is similar but more concentrated (heavier on soy sauce).
In the simple form, yakumi (condiments and spices) such as shichimi, nori, finely chopped scallions, wasabi, etc. are added to the noodles, besides the broth/dip sauce.
Udon may also be eaten in kama-age style, piping hot straight out of the boiling pot, and eaten with plain soy sauce and sometimes with raw egg also.
See also the list of sweets.
Sake is a rice wine that typically contains 12%~20% alcohol and is made by multiple fermentation of rice. At traditional meals, it is considered an equivalent to rice and is not simultaneously taken with other rice-based dishes. Side dishes for sake are particularly called sakana or otsumami.
Japanese cuisine offers a vast array of regional specialties known as kyōdo-ryōri (郷土料理), many of them originating from dishes prepared using traditional recipes with local ingredients. Foods from the Kanto region taste very strong. For example the dashi-based broth for serving udon noodles is heavy on dark soy sauce, similar to soba broth. On the other hand Kansai region foods are lightly seasoned, with clear udon noodles made with light soy sauce.
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, 箱膳) or flat floor trays were set before each diner. Larger low tables (chabudai, ちゃぶ台) that accommodated entire families were gaining popularity by the beginning of the 20th century, but these gave way to Western-style dining tables and chairs by the end of the 20th century.
Traditional Japanese table setting is to place a bowl of rice on your left and to place a bowl of miso soup on your right side at the table. Behind these, each okazu is served on its own individual plate. Based on the standard three okazu formula, behind the rice and soup are three flat plates to hold the three okazu; one to far back left, one at far back right, and one in the center. Pickled vegetables are often served on the side but are not counted as part of the three okazu. Chopsticks are generally placed at the very front of the tray near the diner with pointed ends facing left and supported by a chopstick rest, or hashioki.
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Many restaurants and homes in Japan are equipped with Western-style chairs and tables. However, traditional Japanese low tables and cushions, usually found on tatami floors, are still very common. Tatami mats, which are made of straw, can be easily damaged and are hard to clean, thus shoes or any type of footwear are always taken off when stepping on tatami floors.
When dining in a traditional tatami room, sitting upright on the floor is common. In a casual setting, men usually sit with their feet crossed and women sit with both legs to one side. Only men are supposed to sit cross-legged. The formal way of sitting for both sexes is a kneeling style known as seiza. To sit in a seiza position, one kneels on the floor with legs folded under the thighs and the buttocks resting on the heels.
When dining out in a restaurant, the host will guide you to your seat and it is polite to wait to be seated. The honored or eldest guest will usually be seated at the center of the table farthest from the entrance. In the home, the most important guest is also seated farthest away from the entrance. If there is an alcove or tokonoma in the room, the guest is seated in front of it. The host sits next to or closest to the entrance.
In Japan, it is customary to say itadakimasu (lit. "I [humbly] receive") before starting to eat a meal. When saying itadakimasu, both hands are put together in front of the chest or on the lap. Itadakimasu is preceded by complimenting the appearance of food. The Japanese attach as much importance to the aesthetic arrangement of the food as its actual taste. Before touching the food, it is polite to compliment the host on his artistry. Remember also to wait for the honored or eldest guest at the table to start eating before you do. Another customary and important etiquette is to say go-chisō-sama deshita (lit. "It was a feast") to the host after the meal and the restaurant staff when leaving.
Before eating, most dining places will provide either a hot or cold towel or a plastic-wrapped wet napkin (o-shibori). This is for cleaning hands before eating (and not after). It is rude to use them to wash the face or any part of the body other than the hands though some Japanese men use their o-shibori to wipe their faces in less formal places. Accept o-shibori with both hands when a server hands you the towel. When finished, fold or roll up your oshibori and place it on the table. It is impolite to use o-shibori towels to wipe any spills on the table.
The rice or the soup is eaten by picking up the bowl with the left hand and using chopsticks (hashi) with the right, or vice versa if you are left-handed. Traditionally, chopsticks were held in the right hand and the bowl in the left – in fact, Japanese children were taught to distinguish left from right as "the right hand holds the chopsticks, the left hand holds the bowl" – but left-handed eating is acceptable today. Bowls may be lifted to the mouth, but should not be touched by the mouth except when drinking soup. The Japanese customarily slurp ramen soup. It is considered polite because it shows the chef that you are enjoying your meal. Other reasons for the Japanese slurping is that it allows them to eat the hot noodles quickly so the noodles do not get too soft and also because it is thought to improve the flavor of the dish.
Soy sauce (shōyu) is not usually poured over most foods at the table; a dipping dish is usually provided. Soy sauce is, however, meant to be poured directly onto tōfu and grated daikon dishes, and in the raw egg when preparing tamago-kake-gohan ("egg on rice"). In particular, soy sauce should never be poured onto rice or soup.
The proper usage of chopsticks (hashi) is the most important table etiquette in Japan. Chopsticks are never left sticking vertically into rice, as this resembles incense sticks (which are usually placed vertically in sand) during offerings to the dead. This may easily offend some Japanese people. Using chopsticks to spear food or to point is also frowned upon and it is considered very bad manners to bite chopsticks. Other important chopsticks rules to remember include the following:
When taking food from a communal dish, unless they are family or very close friends, one should turn the chopsticks around to grab the food; it is considered more sanitary. Alternatively, one could have a separate set of chopsticks for communal dishes.
If sharing food with someone else, move it directly from one plate to another. Never pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another, as this recalls passing bones during a funeral.
It is customary to eat rice to the last grain. Being a picky eater is frowned on, and it is not customary to ask for special requests or substitutions at restaurants. It is considered ungrateful to make these requests especially in circumstances where you are being hosted, as in a business dinner environment. After eating, try to move all your dishes back to the same position they were at the start of the meal. This includes replacing the lids on dishes and putting your chopsticks on the chopstick holder or back into their paper slip. Good manners dictate that you respect the selections of the host.
Even in informal situations, drinking alcohol starts with a toast (kanpai, 乾杯) when everyone is ready. Do not start drinking until everybody is served and has finished the toast ("Japanese Table Manners", 2008). It is not customary to pour oneself a drink; rather, people are expected to keep each other's drinks topped up. When someone moves to pour your drink you should hold your glass with both hands and thank them.
In Japanese tradition some dishes are strongly tied to a festival or event. These dishes include:
In some regions every 1st and 15th day of the month people eat a mixture of rice and azuki (azuki meshi (小豆飯), see Sekihan).
Japan today abounds with home-grown, loosely Western-style food. Many of these were invented in the wake of the 1868 Meiji restoration and the end of national seclusion, when the sudden influx of foreign (in particular, Western) culture led to many restaurants serving Western food, known as yōshoku (洋食), a shortened form of seiyōshoku (西洋食) lit. Western cuisine, opening up in cities. Restaurants that serve these foods are called yōshokuya (洋食屋), lit. Western cuisine restaurants.
Many yōshoku items from that time have been adapted to a degree that they are now considered Japanese and are an integral part of any Japanese family menu. Many are served alongside rice and miso soup, and eaten with chopsticks. Yet, due to their origins these are still categorized as yōshoku as opposed to the more traditional washoku (和食), lit. Japanese cuisine.
Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients.
Tonkatsu is a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet.
Curry was introduced to Japan by the British in the Meiji era. Japanese curry is unlike Indian or any other forms of curry. Japanese versions of curry can be found in foods such as curry udon, curry bread, and "katsu-curry", tonkatsu served with curry.
Hamburger chains include McDonald's, Burger King, First Kitchen, Lotteria and MOS Burger. Many chains developed uniquely Japanese versions of American fast food such as the teriyaki burger, kinpira rice burger, fried shrimp burgers, and green tea milkshakes.
High-class Japanese chefs have preserved many Italian seafood dishes that are forgotten in other countries. These include pasta with prawns, lobster (a specialty known in Italy as pasta all'aragosta), crab (an Italian specialty; in Japan it is served with a different species of crab), and pasta with sea urchin sauce (sea urchin pasta being a specialty of the Puglia region).
Many countries have imported portions of Japanese cuisine. Some may adhere to the traditional preparations of the cuisines, but in some cultures the dishes have been adapted to fit the palate of the local populace.
In Canada, Japanese cuisine has become quite popular. Sushi, sashimi, and instant ramen are highly popular at opposite ends of the income scale, with instant ramen being a common low-budget meal. Sushi and sashimi takeout began in Toronto and Vancouver, but is now common throughout Canada. The largest supermarket chains all carry basic sushi and sashimi, and Japanese ingredients and instant ramen are readily available in most supermarkets. Most mid-sized mall food courts feature fast-food teppan cooking. Izakaya restaurants have gained a surge of popularity.
Japanese cuisine is an integral part of food culture in Hawaii as well as in other parts of the United States. Popular items are sushi, sashimi, and teriyaki. Kamaboko, known locally as fish cake, is a staple of saimin, a noodle soup. Sushi, long regarded as quite exotic in the west until the 1970s, has become a popular health food in parts of North America, Western Europe and Asia.
In Mexico, certain Japanese restaurants have created what is known as "Sushi Mexicano", in which spicy sauces and ingredients accompany the dish or are integrated in sushi rolls. The habanero and serrano chiles have become nearly standard and are referred to as chiles toreados, as they are fried, diced and tossed over a dish upon request. A popular sushi topping, "Tampico", is made by blending chiles, mayonnaise, and crab imitation. Cream cheese and avocado is usually added to makizushi.
Kamaboko is popular street food in South Korea, where it is known as eomuk (어묵) or odeng (오뎅). It is usually boiled on a skewer in broth and sold from street restaurant carts where they can be eaten with alcoholic beverage, especially soju. In the winter, deep-fried eomuk-on-a-stick (known alternatively as "hot-bar") is sold.
Taiwan has adapted many Japanese food items. A Taiwanese version of tempura, only barely resembling the original, is known as 天婦羅 or 甜不辣 (tianbula). Taiwanese versions of oden is known locally as oren (黑輪) or 關東煮 Kwantung stew.
Ramen, of Chinese origin, has been exported back to China in recent years where it is known as ri shi la mian (日式拉麵, "Japanese lamian"). Japanese ramen chains serve ramen alongside distinctly Japanese dishes such as tempura and yakitori. Skewered versions of oden is a common convenience store item in Shanghai where it is known as aódiǎn (熬点).
In Australia, there are one or two sushi bars in every shopping center.
In Brazil, Japanese food is widespread due to the large Japanese-Brazilian population living in the country, which represents the largest Japanese community living outside Japan. Over the past years, many restaurant chains such as Koni Store have opened, selling typical dishes such as the popular temaki. Yakisoba, which is readily available in all supermarkets, and often included in non-Japanese restaurant menus.
In February 2012, the Agency for Cultural Affairs recommended that 'Washoku: Traditional Dietary Cultures of the Japanese' be added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
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