The Japanese love their food. This can be seen by the number of
people who eat out, even in a time of recession, and the number
of food-related programs on TV. Tell someone that you're taking
a trip to Hokkaido and the first thing they'll do is insist that
you try the seafood while you're there or the Okonomiyaki in Osaka
and so on. While sushi has become increasingly popular in the
West, most Japanese food remains pretty much unknown. Japanese
restaurants around the world have tended to cater for Japanese
tourists and have been priced accordingly, ie. expensive. But
in Japan there is a huge variety of food available at prices ranging
from a month's salary to very reasonable.
Sashimi & sushi | Domburimono
| Tempura | Sukiyaki
| Shabu-shabu | Okonomiyaki
Sashimi and sushi
These two dishes are often thought to be one and the same. Sashimi
consists of thin slices of raw fish or other seafood served with
spicy Japanese horseradish (wasabi) and shoyu while
sushi consists of the same, served on vinegared
rice, but also includes cooked seafood, vegetables and egg. Another
form of sushi is norimaki, or sushi roll, in which the filling is rolled in rice with a
covering of nori. Cheap sushi is available at supermarkets or
at kaiten-zushi restaurants, where customers sit at a counter and choose what
they want from a conveyor belt.
These dishes consist of a bowl (domburi) of rice covered
with one of a variety of toppings such as boiled
beef (gyudon), chicken and egg (oyakodon), deep-fried
shrimp (tendon) or deep-fried pork cutlet and egg
(katsudon). They are often eaten as part of a reasonably priced 'lunch
set', with miso soup and pickles.
Seafood or vegetables dipped in batter and deep-fried, tempura
is served with a dipping sauce and daikon. The word 'tempura'
comes from the Portuguese 'tempero' (gravy or sauce) and this dish dates
from the mid-16th century, when Portuguese and Spanish culture
was first introduced to Japan. Tempura can be served with a side
bowl of rice and soup or on a bowl of rice (tendon) or noodles
(tempura udon, tempura soba).
This is a savoury stew of vegetables and beef cooked in a large
nabe and dipped in a bowl of beaten raw egg. The vegetables usually
used are green onion, shiitake mushrooms and chrysanthemum leaves
(shungiku). Also added are tofu and gelatinous noodles (shirataki) and the ingredients are cooked in a sauce made of soy sauce,
sugar and sweet cooking sake (mirin).
For this dish, diners dip paper-thin slices of beef in a pot of
boiling water and stock for a few seconds and then dip the cooked
beef in sesame sauce (goma dare) before eating. Later, vegetables such as enoki mushrooms and
Chinese cabbage, tofu and shirataki are added. When cooked, these
are dipped in a soy and citrus sauce (ponzu). After the beef and vegetables have been finished, udon can
be added to the pot and eaten with the broth. Other flavorings
used include crushed garlic, chives and daikon. Economical (for
those with a big appetite) all-you-can-eat meals are common in
Ingredients for sukiyaki
Okonomiyaki topped with sauce and ginger
This can best be described as a savory Japanese pancake. Chopped
vegetables and meat or seafood are mixed with batter and cooked
on a griddle. Like a pancake, the okonomiyaki is flipped over
and cooked on both sides. It is then topped with a special sauce
and mayonnaise and sprinkled with nori and dried fish flakes
(katsuobushi). Variations include adding a fried egg or soba.
Yakitori itself means broiled chicken. Various cuts of chicken,
including heart, liver and cartilage are cooked on skewers over
a charcoal grill. Also cooked this way at yakitori restaurants
(yakitoriya) are an assortment of vegetables such as green
peppers (piman), garlic cloves (ninniku) and onions
(negi). They are flavored using either a tangy sauce
(tare) or salt (shio). The menu will usually contain a variety of other foods as well.
Yakitoriya are usually laid-back places where the food is a snack
to accompany drinking.
Japanese people started consuming a lot more meat after WWII and a drop in beef prices in the early 1990s led to yakiniku restaurants
becoming ubiquitous across the country. The term translates literally as "grilled meat," and it
consists of bite-size pieces of beef (and to a lesser extent pork, chicken, seafood and vegetables)
that are grilled at the diner's table. Though overseas it is usually called "Japanese barbeque," in
Japan it is often translated as "Korean barbeque."