Japanese food has developed over the course of many centuries in Japan. Each age of Japanese history has had its own impact on the cuisine included in Japanese fare, with the elitism of the medieval era, the pragmatism of the Shogun era and the massive modernization of the 20th century with so many western influences. Japanese cuisine, also known as nihon ryori or washoku is any traditional Japanese food that existed prior to the influence of Western culture in Japan in 1868. The Japanese style prior to 1868 is often noted for being seasonal with a focus on presentation and ingredient quality.
The Japanese cuisine is usually defined by its combination of food staples like noodles and rice with soup and a okazu (meat, fish, vegetable, tofu) to add flavor to the staple. Flavoring is often done with low fat, high sodium things like soy sauce, miso, and dashi.
Most standard Japanese meals consist of three okazu and one soup, with multiple styles of cooking for each okazu, including methods such as sashimi (raw) grilled, boiled, deep fried, steamed, or dressed. Cookbooks will often be broken down into these categories for this reason. Additional chapters in these books will cover things like sushi, noodles, rice, and soups, as well as desserts in separate sections. Menus are also often divided by the cooking method.
Seafood is a common okazu ingredient because of Japan’s location on the water with a lower emphasis on eating meat from animals due to their rarity. Additionally, the Shinto and Buddhist perspectives have had profound effects on the use of meat in dishes.
Rice – Rice served in Japan is of the Japonica variety and is a vital part of Japanese cuisine and history. It was once considered so vital that it was one of the primary measures of currency in the country. Often, it is served in a bowl and is known as gohan. Rice dishes include the likes of Kayu, Okayu, donburi, and Sushi.
Noodles - Noodles are another vital part of Japanese cuisine, coming in the form of Soba (buckwheat) and Udon (wheat) noodles which are often served either hot or cold. Ramen noodles have become popular only in the last 100 years or so.
The introduction of Western style cuisine in 1868 with the Meiji Restoration and the end of national seclusion greatly changed how most Japanese households ate. Western food, also known as Yoshoku permeated new restaurants and dishes Japan. Today, numerous common Yoshoku dishes have been adapted and are now treated as Japanese, served with miso and rice and eaten with chopsticks. Common examples include deep fried foods, curries, spaghetti, hamburger, and Katsus.
Popular regional dishes specific to certain parts of Japan abound and are often called Kyodo Ryori. Most local dishes are now available around the country due to the easy access to the ingredients and includes things like Okonomiyaki and Tokyo-style Sushi. Zoni soup, Soba broth, and Dashi-flavored dishes are all further examples.
Rice Eggs Fruit Meat Mushrooms Noodles Beans Flour Fu Seaweed Soy Vegetables
Finned Fish Shellfish Roe Crab Sea Mammals
There are certain Japanese dishes that are only served during festivals and special events including:
Sake is a type of rice wine specific to Japan that is created by fermenting rice. It is not served with rice as it is seen as being the same in regards to the meal’s balance. Shochu is another Japanese alcohol, a distilled beverage created from barley, rice, or sweet potatoes.
Outside of Japan, Japanese Food is a commonly available commodity, served in fast food style settings as well as expensive restaurants in almost every country. Sushi and Teriyaki are the best known exports with Sushi becoming a highly regarded healthy food alternative in North American, Asia, and Europe. Teriyaki restaurants in many countries serve quick service, low cost food with various forms of meat, vegetables and tofu with rice and sauce.
Kamaboko is a popular export to South Korea where it is known as eomuk and is sold boiled on a skewer. Taiwan has also adopted many Japanese dishes including Tempura and oden.
Ramen, which originated in China has been reimported to China in recent years and throughout the world in the form of popular restaurant chains, quick heat packages for home and work, and noodle only dishes.
Donburi is a single bowl dish of white rice with a single topping:
Sushi is a Japanese originated dish of rice marinated in vinegar and topped with numerous ingredients, often fish.
Noodles are a common rice replacement in many Japanese meals, though they can often come together as well.
Soba – Thin buckwheat noodles. Two varieties: Nihon-Soba and Okinawa Soba. Udon – Thick wheat noodles with any of a number of toppings such as dashi or curry.
Bread is a non-native food to Japan but has become very popular since it was introduced in the 1500s.