Japanese cuisine is becoming more and more popular all over the world yet many people don’t know much about what it entails. We are going to help you discover the gastronomy of the Empire of the Rising Sun and the many culinary specialities it has to offer.
If you decide to take a trip to Japan, on Wimdu, you will find accommodation in many areas across the country. That is the easy part. The more difficult element of your trip will be deciding which of the wonderful dishes to try first: fish, meat, noodles… One thing is for sure though, there is something for every taste and unlike what one might believe, Japanese cuisine is quite accessible and affordable.
In most countries, spices are essential condiments in cooking, used to enhance taste and add flavour. In Japanese cuisine, spices are very present in cooking. Here are the most popular:
- Wasabi is a plant very similar to horseradish and usually comes in the form of a green paste. Watch your tongue with wasabi – it’s very hot!
- Horseradish, also very hot and peppery, is usually grated into food. Unlike chilli pepper, the spicy effect fades after each bite.
- Ginger, famous for its aphrodisiac effects, is used in Japanese cuisine to refresh the palate between two different kinds of sushi. It is often marinated in rice vinegar.
- Soybean is a plant used for dietary reasons because it is protein-rich. Soy is necessary for making tofu.
As Japan is an island, it has access to a vast variety of fish. Fish is the highlight of a Japanese menu and the ingredient used most, eaten by locals much more than meat. Among the fish available, you will find:
- Horse mackerel, served for breakfast, is often dried and then grilled. You can also eat it raw, fried or found in sashimi.
- Pacific saury is a seasonal fish that you will only find during autumn. It is mostly grilled and accompanied by daikon (a Japanese white radish) and citrus fruit.
- Pufferfish (Fugu) has some poisonous parts so you have to trust the chef who prepares it! However, the chef must be certified by the state to be allowed to cook pufferfish. It is usually served sliced with a citrus sauce (ponzu).
- Eel is very popular in Japan and is mostly served cut into fillets which are grilled over a wood fire. The eel is also seasoned with pepper (sansho) and served with a sweet-salty sauce.
- Tuna is used for quality sushi, but also other dishes. You will find different types of tuna (with different names) varying in quality and fat percentage. The most sought after is Ôma Tuna.
- Salmon, also eaten raw, is the main ingredient in sushi or sashimi. The Japanese also consume salmon grilled over a wood fire or smoked, among other ways.
The Japanese also eat meat and poultry, although in smaller quantities than fish. Here are some different meats and poultry you can find in Japan:
- Beef is served in different ways but the most popular is cut in slivers and accompanied by rice. Kobe beef is appreciated internationally due to its reputation as being tender and tasty.
- Chicken is grilled, breaded or skewered, among other ways. Yakitori-ya are restaurants specialized in grilled chicken skewers.
- Pork is eaten breaded or grilled. Breaded pork chops are served in Tonkatsu-ya restaurants, which are specialized in deep-fried dishes.
Certain drinks are a must in Japan’s culture. Many colleagues meet after work so that they can drink together and relax after a long day. Here are some drinks you will find during your trip to Japan:
- Tea: there is a wide variety of teas (black, green, yellow, white etc.) available. The various teas are obtained by treating the harvested leaves in different ways.
- Water: it seems obvious but since the 2011 nuclear events, water is contaminated and despite reduced radioactivity, restrictions remain high. Japan still has some water brands whose source is Mount Fuji.
- Whiskey: Japanese whiskey is internationally recognized thanks to its high quality and the fact that it has won many awards in worldwide competitions.
- Wine: wine is very popular in Japan because consumers believe in its therapeutic virtues.
- Beer: another popular drink. They have very good industrial beers in Japan.
- Sake: sake is made of rice alcohol and is usually served during family or business meals.
Japanese fruits have a long standing good reputation. They are delicious but often very expensive and travellers are generally amazed by their size, regularity and beauty. Here are some fruits found in stores and markets in Japan:
- Ume, a Japanese plum that is used in desserts and is also the standard aroma for syrups (like grenadine). This fruit is also used for medicinal purposes.
- Kaki (Japanese Persimmon) is the most popular dessert in Japan. You will find it on all tables, especially during banquets.
- Yuzu is a Japanese lemon used to make various dishes and drinks and its zest is added to different broths. When it matures, the fruit is also used for cooking sweet produce such as jams, cakes or tea.
- Nashi is a Japanese pear of brown colour spotted with yellow dots, which at first sight looks like an apple by its texture and appearance.
6. Japanese culinary specialities
Japan has many culinary specialities you don’t want to miss. We compiled a selection of the best.
- Sukiyaki is a Japanese fondue or stew that consists of beef cut into thin slices and raw vegetables (mushrooms, konjac noodles, Chinese cabbage and tofu). Everything is marinated in a sauce called warishita.
- Okonomiyaki (Osaka and Nara) or Monjayaki (Tokyo) is a kind of pancake filled with ingredients such as seafood, beef, chicken or vegetables.
- Ramen is a typical Japanese dish consisting of a broth with noodles and fish or meat seasoned with soy sauce. It was imported from China at the beginning of the 20th century.
- Sushi, which you already know thanks to its immense popularity across Europe. Typically Japanese, it is composed of a vinegar rice with raw fish or seafood wrapped in dried seaweed.
- Sashimi is very similar to sushi. It is composed of a vinegar rice with raw fish on the top. Sashimi is not covered with seaweed.