Japanese cuisine is in a league of its own. It’s intricately tied to Japanese culture and traditions and is amongst the only three national cuisines to be officially recognised by the United Nations for its cultural impact. UNESCO has included Japanese cuisine in its Intangible Cultural Heritage list, recognising the fact that its preservation is crucial for its survival.
So, how familiar are you with this unique Asian cuisine? Let’s take a closer look at some of the key elements involved in Japanese cuisine.
Rice Is a Staple
Most Japanese dishes have one thing in common: rice. This staple is included in all sorts of meals, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You’ll find a rice component paired with most dishes, making it a key part of the Japanese diet. We don’t mean just any kind of rice, though. The Japanese are particular about the type of rice they consume and prefer short-grained and sticky rice. This is largely due to the convenience of eating it with chopsticks, as sticky rice is easier to pick up.
Another interesting thing about the inclusion of rice in Japanese cuisine is that it’s usually unseasoned. Most dishes include plain boiled rice that hasn’t been flavoured with additional sauces or spices. The idea is to keep the rice bland initially and flavour it with other foods added to the dish, retaining the rice’s natural taste and aroma. From stir-fry bowls to sushi, plain sticky rice has made its way into most Japanese dishes.
Ramen Is a Popular Comfort Food
When they’re not eating rice, the Japanese turn to noodles. More specifically, they consume ramen noodles, which have become a popular comfort food in Japanese cuisine.
Ramen is a noodle dish comprising ramen noodles, stock, a choice of protein, veggies, and boiled eggs. It exists in various forms and has evolved over the years. Japanese chefs are constantly introducing new ingredients and flavours to the dish to give it another dimension. The base, however, typically includes the aforementioned components.
A bowl of ramen offers all kinds of possibilities. You’ll find elegant and innovative versions at the top restaurants and can get a more homey, familiar flavour from a ramen bowl bought from a street vendor. Pick and choose your desired elements and enjoy devouring a bowl of freshly prepared ramen!
The Food Focuses on Colour
Have you ever noticed that Japanese dishes are always colourful and vibrant? This is done intentionally. The Japanese make it a point to include as much colour into their dishes as possible, creating aesthetically pleasing meals. In fact, it’s recommended to incorporate at least five colours into each meal for a more balanced dining experience.
Think of the sushi platters and ramen/rice bowls you see in Japanese restaurants. How many colours can you recall? The combination of rice, noodles, meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, herbs, and/or fruits allow for a colourful assortment. Japanese cuisine truly exhibits the saying, “You eat with your eyes first,” ensuring that diners are presented with colourful plates filled with healthy and seasonal ingredients.
Bright orange fish, white rice, green Matcha, black seaweed, purple cabbage, golden-brown stock—the distinct colours of each element stand out and complement the remaining components of the dish.
Everything Is Intentional
Speaking of intentionally adding colourful elements to the dishes, here’s another interesting fact about Japanese cuisine: everything you see on your plate is intentional. From the choice of ingredients and garnishing to the plating style and vessels used, there’s a reason behind each aspect of the dish’s preparation and presentation.
Japanese cuisine aims to make dining a convenient and enjoyable experience. For instance, it incorporates sticky rice to allow diners to easily pick up bite-sized portions with chopsticks. Similarly, the cuts made across the meat make it easier to chew and adhere to the rice better. Essentially, everything on the plate either enhances the flavour, reminds the diner of Japanese traditions, or simplifies the dining experience.
Traditional Tableware Is a Part of Japanese Cuisine
Japanese cuisine gives tremendous importance to the tableware used. The types of serving vessels and cutlery play a significant role in enhancing Japanese traditions that give high value to the aesthetics involved.
Bamboo utensils, such as bamboo serving tongs and bamboo cutlery, are prominently used to highlight the traditional Japanese values. Bamboo chopsticks are also a crucial part of Japanese tableware and are used with various dishes. Overall, Japanese cuisine incorporates minimalistic tableware and may include natural elements such as bamboo leaves to signify the ingredients’ and foods’ origins.
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