Many dishes exist that are presented as Japanese cuisine. The next time you are at a Japanese restaurant try identifying some of the classic features explored below.
First, one of the most iconic characteristics of Japanese cuisine is that the menu is built around a bowl of white rice. Many dishes are seasoned and prepared to pair well with this central dish. The dishes that surround the white rice are called ""okazu"". Customarily, in addition to the white rice, Japanese cuisine consists of a soup and three side dishes. In the case of a lavish meal served to guests, two soup dishes and five side dishes are served. Miso soup is the most common type of soup.
A second characteristic is that many of its ingredients come from the sea. Salmon, horse mackerel, tuna and saury are among the most frequently eaten. Not only seafood, but sometimes river fish are also used as an ingredient.
Third, an abundance of vegetables is a dominant feature of Japanese cooking. Turnips, leeks, carrots, and onions are some examples of vegetables commonly used. Wild vegetables and mushrooms harvested from forests and mountains are also eaten. Mushrooms, such as shimeji mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms make frequent appearances. Another ingredient with an important role, soybeans are also used in a variety of ways.
Lastly, in general, the amount of seasoning is kept low, and cooking that enhances the natural flavor of the ingredients is preferred. In traditional Japanese cuisine, the only seasonings used are sugar, salt, sake and miso. Additionally, dashi, a soup made by boiling bonito and kelp, is widely used in Japanese cooking, and delicious dashi is considered essential for any good chef.
There are traditional menus that incorporate the above characteristics. Here we will take a close look at four of them: Two type of Kaiseki ryori, Honzen ryori, and Shoshin ryori.
The Two Types of Kaiseki Ryori
In Japanese cuisine, there are two types of ""Kaiseki ryori"" that are pronounced the same but are written with different kanji characters. Both are types of opulent course meals for guests. The first type of Kaiseki ryori (懐石料理) is a type of cuisine served before Japanese tea ceremony. The second type of Kaiseki ryori (会席料理), on the other hand, is served for the purpose of enjoying sake--Japanese liquor.
The order in which the dishes are served is as follows.
Kaiseki cuisine (懐石料理)
- Rice, miso soup, and sashimi
- Nimono (simmered vegetables)
- Fish dish (mainly grilled fish)
- First dish (usually wild vegetables)
- A soup that is not miso soup (called ""osuimono"")
- Second dish (usually seafood)
- A small portion of rice and pickles
Kaiseki cuisine (会席料理)
- Osuimono (soup)
- Sashimi (called sashimori)
- Grilled fish Nimono (simmered vegetables)
- First dish
- Rice, miso soup, and pickles
Honzen ryori is a traditional style of Japanese cuisine that was established around the 14th century. In honzen ryori, several dishes are arranged on a small table called "gozen". Unlike tables in the West, the gozen is a personal table provided to each guest that is used while sitting directly on the ground. In the past, this was the daily dining style of the samurai, but nowadays, it can be experienced at banquets and parties in Japan. The number of gozen varies depending on the size of the party or banquet and the importance of the guests, and generally one to five gozen are prepared. The number of dishes served increases in accordance with the number of gozen.
Shojin Ryori is originally a meal for Japanese Budhist monks. Monks are strictly forbidden to kill animals, so they do not eat any food that contains meat, eggs and milk. Therefore, in their strictly vegetarian diet, dishes are prepared without these ingredients. As a substitute for meat, soybeans, which are rich in protein, are often used.
Test your knowledge!
Traditional Japanese cooking has many characteristics that are full of meaning that may go unnoticed to the untrained eye. Other features, like the use of seasonal ingredients are readily recognized in other cuisines of the world. The focus on vegetables is another area that is gaining in appreciation, as vegetarianism is becoming increasingly popular. If you ever have the chance to visit Japan, try at least one of these menu types with this article as a guide!