Japanese Food

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JAPANESE CUISINE - Understand what Japanese cuisine is, where the Japanese cuisine comes from and why.

Similar to Chinese cuisine, there is a concept of staple (main) foods (主食, shushoku) prepared from five carbohydrate-rich cereals (五穀: 米, 麦, 粟, 豆, 黍 or 稗, or rice, wheats and oats, foxtail millet, beans, proso millet or Echinochloa) and main and side dishes (副食, fukushoku, or more commonly, おかず, okazu) of which role is adding flavors to staple foods. Okazu are usually designed "salty" to eat with shushoku with synergistic harmonization and basically not expected to have them alone in Japan.

A standard Japanese meal nearly always consists of a bowl of cooked white Japanese rice (gohan) as shushoku with accompanying tsukemono (pickles), a bowl of soup, and a variety of dishes known as okazu - fish, meat, vegetable, etc.

Traditional Japanese meals are sometimes classified by the number of okazu which accompany the rice and soup. The simplest Japanese meal, for example, consists of ichijū-issai (一汁一菜; "one soup, one side" or "one dish meal"). This means soup, rice and pickles, and one accompanying dish. A traditional Japanese breakfast, for example, usually consists of miso soup, rice, a pickled vegetable and grilled fish. The standard traditional meal, however, is called ichijū-sansai (一汁三菜; "one soup, three sides"), or soup, rice & pickles, and three dishes, each employing a different cooking technique. The dishes may be raw fish (sashimi), or grilled, simmered (sometimes called boiled in translations from Japanese), steamed, deep fried, vinegared, or dressed dishes. Ichijū-sansai often finishes with pickles such as umeboshi and green tea.

This Japanese view of a meal is reflected in the organization of traditional Japanese cookbooks. Chapters are organized according to cooking techniques: fried foods, steamed foods, and grilled foods, for example, and not according to particular ingredients (e.g., chicken or beef) as are western cookbooks. There may also be chapters devoted to soups, sushi, rice, noodles, and sweets.

Since Japan is an island nation, its people consume much seafood including fish, shellfish, octopus, squid, crab, lobster, shrimp, whale and seaweed. Although not known as a meat eating country, very few Japanese consider themselves vegetarians. It is particularly difficult to find vegetarian cuisine in Japan, as even vegetable dishes are prepared with fish stock or garnishes. Beef, pork and chicken are commonly eaten and have become part of everyday cuisine. Lamb is eaten in colder parts of Japan but is not well liked in the remainder of the country.

Noodles, originating from China, have become an essential part of Japanese cuisine, usually (but not always) as an alternative to a rice-based meal. There are two traditional types of noodle, soba and udon. Made from buckwheat flour, soba (蕎麦) is a thin, brown noodle. Made from wheat flour, udon (うどん) is a thick, white noodle. Both are generally served in a soy-flavored fish broth with various vegetables. A more recent import from China, dating to the early 19th century, is ramen (ラーメン; Chinese wheat noodles), which has become extremely popular. Ramen is served in a variety of soup stocks ranging from soy sauce/fish stock to butter/pork stock.

Although most Japanese eschew eating insects, there are a couple of exceptions. In some regions, grasshoppers (inago) and bee larvae (hachinoko) are not uncommon dishes. The larvae of a species of caddis fly (zaza-mushi), harvested from the Tenryu river as it flows through Ina City, is also boiled and canned, or boiled and then saut�ed in soy sauce and sugar. Salamander is eaten as well in places.